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Fan Polls: Fighter of the Year

28
Dec

FIGHTER OF THE YEAR VOTING RESULTS

Manny Pacquiao: 88 percent
Antonio Margarito: 6 percent
Joe Calzaghe: 4 percent
Juan Manuel Marquez: 2 percent

Note: These are not the official RING awards. Those will be announced on Jan. 27 in the magazine.

Before Dec. 6, there was a lot of debate as to who would be the Fighter of the Year.

The three frontrunners for the honor – Manny Pacquiao, Antonio Margarito and Joe Calzaghe – had set themselves apart from the rest of the world-class field in 2008 but not from each other.

All agreed that if Pacquiao upset the odds and beat Oscar De La Hoya in their curious catchweight clash on Dec. 6, the Filipino icon would be the clear choice, but most concluded that was a big if.

Well, someone forgot to tell Pacquiao and his trainer Freddie Roach, who drew up the blueprint his prize pupil followed expertly to bewilder and batter De La Hoya to a profoundly one-sided eighth-round stoppage that still has much of the boxing world shaking its head in disbelief.

How big was Pacquiao’s victory over De La Hoya?

The magnitude of ‘The Golden Beatdown’ made most forget about Pacquiao’s other two victories this year – his March 15 split-decision over Juan Manuel Marquez in their instant classic rematch and his June 28 ninth-round TKO of David Diaz.

Those victories earned Pacquiao his third and fourth titles in as many weight classes (his fourth and fifth belts if you count “the people’s title” he won when he beat Marco Antonio Barrera the first time). Not bad for a fighter who just turned 30.

Also lost in the post-fight euphoria of Pacquiao-De La Hoya was the manner in which the current pound-for-pound king won his three fights this year.

To the casual observer, Pacquiao was just too fast, fresh and frenetic for Marquez, Diaz and De La Hoya, but this is an oversimplification of those fights that doesn’t give the fabulous Filipino the credit he deserves for maturing as a boxer.

This year Pacquiao came into his own as fighter. All of the years Roach has dedicated to correcting Pacquiao’s technical mistakes, developing defensive moves, and completing his offense in the gym paid off in 2008.

The version of Pacquiao that won junior lightweight and lightweight titles this year was not the same little ball of fire that won flyweight and junior featherweight belts. He’s still relentless but he’s no longer reckless. He doesn’t gamble in the ring anymore, he takes calculated risks.

In other words, Pacquiao still has heart, but he’s added brain to his game.

Fans and media can argue about the verdict of Pacquiao’s narrow points win over Marquez, but what can’t be debated is that he actually boxed with the Mexican technician. Pacquiao was able to time, feint and counter-punch a master counter-puncher.

Diaz could have been described as the “weakest link” among lightweight titleholders when Pacquiao challenged him. He could even be dismissed as “limited” or “one-dimensional.” But nobody can deny that the Chicagoan is as tough as they come.

And nobody can deny that Pacquiao punished Diaz more than any of the once-beaten ’96 U.S. Olympian’s previous 36 foes had. But Pacquiao didn’t merely bludgeon Diaz into submission, he out-classed the gutsy pressure fighter in every conceivable way – controlling the pace and distance with his footwork while setting up his power-punch combinations with impeccable timing.

Pacquiao did the same thing to De La Hoya, but he had to follow a strict strategy in order to pull it off and he did so with the confidence and fluidity of a natural-born boxer.

As per Roach’s gameplan, Pacquaio employed every move a smaller, quicker, more-mobile southpaw should do against a taller, rangier, orthodox boxer with a good jab, and he was untouchable in doing so.

That’s a good thing because Pacquiao’s fanatical Filipino fans aren’t yet ready for their hero to ride off into the sunset.

Lucky for them – and the sport – Pacquiao is as well-preserved as a 13-year veteran with 53 pro bouts can be. His new-found boxing ability ensures that he can fight on for at least another few years if he wishes, and with showdowns against Ricky Hatton and Floyd Mayweather Jr. already in discussion, the 2008 Fighter of the Year has a good shot at winning the same honor next year.

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