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5 victories that made Pacquiao great

04
Nov

Manny Pacquiao has crammed many great moments into an almost-16-year professional boxing career, most coming after he relocated to the United States in 2001.

Every victory seemed to become more important — and more spectacular — than the previous one as he progressed rapidly from raw talent to multi-time titleholder, to star, to superstar and finally to icon.

And he isn’t finished. He faces Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in an attempt to win a major title in an unprecedented eighth weight division.

RingTV.com looks at five victories that lifted Pacquiao to the top of his profession, changing the perception of him each time he had his hand raised. They are presented in chronological order.

PACQUIAO TKO 6 LEHLOHONOLO LEDWABA
Date, location: June 23, 2001, Las Vegas
Weight: Junior featherweight (122 pounds)
At stake: Ledwaba’s title
Records: Pacquiao 32-2 (24 KOs); Ledwaba 33-1-1 (21 KOs)
Background: Pacquiao had already won and lost a major flyweight title by this time but was a virtual unknown when he agreed to face Ledwaba on only two week’s notice and shortly after he began working with Freddie Roach. The Filipino, in shape because he had been training for another fight, had the gifts we see today — athleticism, speed and a powerful left — but was relatively one-dimensional. “He was a good fighter when he got here,” Roach said. “He was one-handed, though, always looking for the knockout with his big left hand. He didn’t have much of a right. He relied on the left tremendously. If he didn’t hit you with his left, he’d probably lose the fight, but he had enough power to knock people out with one punch.” Meanwhile, Ledwaba had won 23 consecutive fights — including five title defenses — and was a rising star. The fight, on the Oscar De La Hoya-Javier Castillejo undercard, was seen as such a mismatch that no odds were posted. Thus, the fact Pacquiao battered the South African from the opening bell to the moment his foe lay helpless on the canvas was a sensation that left everyone present wide-eyed. It would’ve been too early to declare that a star was born. However, clearly, this little dynamo from the Philippines had something special.

PACQUIAO TKO 11 MARCO ANTONIO BARRERA
Date, location: Nov. 15, 2003, San Antonio
Weight: Featherweight (126 pounds)
At stake: THE RING magazine championship
Records: Pacquiao; Barrera 57-3 (40 KOs)
Background: Pacquiao fought a series of quality fighters after his upset of Ledwaba — failing to win only when his fight against Agapito Sanchez was ruled a draw after Pacquiao was cut by a head butt — but this was different. Barrera was the true big leagues, a future Hall of Famer who was at least near his prime and one third of a trio of gifted Mexicans who would help define Pacquiao’s career. The task was formidable. Pacquiao would be fighting for the first time at 126 pounds and was in hostile, pro-Barrera territory in Texas. No one could quibble with the odds: 4-1 in Barrera’s favor. None of the above mattered once the opening bell sounded, though. Pacquiao, a better boxer under Roach and the same physical marvel, was too good and much too fast as he overwhelmed the veteran. Pacquiao went down in the first but quickly got to his feet and dominated the rest of the way, putting his foe down in the third and 11th rounds and forcing one of the proud warrior’s cornerman to stop the slaughter. “This a fight that will shake up the boxing world,” HBO commentator Larry Merchant said in the waning moments of the fight. It certainly did. Pacquiao had arrived.

PACQUIAO TKO 10 ERIK MORALES
Date, location: Jan. 21, 2006, Las Vegas
Weight: Junior lightweight (130 pounds)
At stake: Title eliminator
Records: Pacquiao 40-3-2 (31 KOs); Morales 48-3 (32 KOs)
Background: Pacquiao appeared to be vulnerable going into the rematch with the second of the talented Mexican trio. He fought to a controversial draw against great counter-puncher Juan Manuel Marquez in 2004 and lost a close, but unanimous decision to Morales the previous March — Pacquiao’s last loss. The Filipino had proved he could compete with the best but wasn’t invincible. Morales had begun in his previous fight (a one-sided decision loss to Zahir Raheem) a shocking string of four consecutive defeats that led to his “retirement.” However, no one knew about Morales’ decline at the time. This was deemed a significant challenge by everyone, including Pacquiao, whose training for the fight reportedly was feverish. Morales, being the great champion he was, acquitted himself fairly well for much of the fight but the bottom line was this: Pacquiao was improving markedly with every fight under Roach while Morales had begun to decline. Pacquiao gradually broke the Mexican down and put him down twice in the final round, the second time prompting the referee to end it. Pacquiao would go on to stop him again and compile a stunning record of 5-1-1 against the great Mexican trio, thus earning a moniker he detests: “Mexicutioner.”

PACQUIAO TKO 8 OSCAR DE LA HOYA
Date, location: Dec. 6, 2008, Las Vegas
Weight: Welterweight (147 pounds)
At stake: Non-title fight
Records: Pacquiao 48-3-2 (36 KOs); De La Hoya 39-5 (30 KOs)
Background: Manny Pacquiao fight at 147 pounds? Against Oscar De La Hoya? Absurd, many observers cried. The naturally small man had never weighed more than 134¾ pounds for a fight. He’d get hurt. After all, De La Hoya had fought twice at middleweight. “At first, I said no,” Roach said. “Then I started thinking about it. ÔǪ I had worked with Oscar. I knew he had trouble with southpaws and speed.” He also had trouble with an aging body and a questionable diet leading up to the fight, which appeared to leave the then-35-year-old drained on fight night. The result was stunning. Pacquiao, demonstrating all he learned through his fists, was so good and so fast that one of the greatest fighters of his time could barely defend himself. Pacquiao pounded De La Hoya mercilessly, almost putting him down in a hard-to-watch seventh round. And that was it. De La Hoya remained on his stool after that round, symbolically handing the mantel of boxing’s biggest attraction to his younger foe. The fight wasn’t competitive but probably will be remembered as Pacquiao’s most-important victory. Someone asked Pacquaio immediately after the fight what De La Hoya said to him in the ring. “Well, he told me I was the best fighter in the whole world.” No doubt.

PACQUIAO TKO 2 RICKY HATTON
Date, location: May 2, 2009, Las Vegas
Weight: Junior welterweight (140pounds)
At stake: Hatton’s RING magazine title
Records: Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 KOs); Hatton (45-1, 32 KOs)
Background: Hatton was the third consecutive opponent of Pacquiao who theoretically had a size and strength advantage, David Diaz being the first and De La Hoya the second. Hatton also had a track record. The extremely tough Briton had lost only once in his career, to Floyd Mayweather Jr. No shame there. Once again, Pacquiao faced a legitimate threat. The days of Pacquiao being the underdog were behind him, though. Most observers, now thoroughly convinced of his ability, figured his ever-improving skills and speed would be too much for Hatton too. In the end, though, the deciding factor was power. Pacquiao put Hatton down twice in the first round, the underdog simply walking into punches he couldn’t see. That was nothing compared to what followed, though. Pacquiao and Hatton stood face to face in the middle of the ring in the closing seconds of the second round when, BAM!, a left hook for the ages found Hatton’s jaw and knocked him unconscious. Roach was asked whether he had ever seen a better punch. “Not that hard,” he said. “… He turned that over so frickin perfectly, so naturally. I knew he wasn’t getting up.” The impact, which drew gasps from the crowd, still reverberates in boxing. Pacquiao at that moment went from the best fighter in the world to a legend, one of the greatest ever to lace up gloves.

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]

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