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Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009

Pacqiuao assumes place among greats


By TIM DAHLBERG
The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Manny Pacquiao had a hat perched jauntily on his head, a bandage wrapped neatly around his right ear. His real work done for the night, he was heading down the Las Vegas Strip to sing a few songs with his band.

News photo
Who's next?: Manny Pacquiao has bested every challenge thrown at him in recent years to claim his place among boxing's greats. AP PHOTO

Everyone was invited, but there was a catch.

"Of course, you have to buy tickets for the concert," Pacquiao said.

Not a problem. Anyone who watched Pacquiao cement his place in boxing lore Saturday night by giving Miguel Cotto a terrible beating would have gladly paid a few more bucks to see him in action again, even if it was with a microphone in his hands.

Heck, he was so good they might have paid to watch him tie his shoelaces, if he didn't already have people in his entourage to do that for him.

Across town, his opponent was at the hospital, getting some tests to make sure Pacquiao's fists didn't cause any permanent damage. Cotto wasn't taking any chances, and all it took was one look at his bloody and misshapen face to know it was a wise decision.

Across an ocean, a grateful country celebrated the kind of hero they never dreamed possible. For a few brief hours the devastation of a typhoon was forgotten, and even the Filipino army took a break from chasing rebels to cheer Pacquiao on.

They used to have him as their own. Not many people outside the Philippines paid much attention to the little fighter with the big hands even as he kept moving up in weight over the years and winning gaudy green belts by the handful along the way.

But now they're going to have to share Manny Pacquiao. Greatness comes with a price, and it's hard to argue that Pacquiao hasn't now earned a spot among boxing's greats.

Maybe not Muhammad Ali great, as promoter Bob Arum was trying to claim when he said Pacquiao was better than any fighter he ever promoted, including Ali. But it's Arum's job to build Pacquiao up, especially with negotiations for a possible megafight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. expected to begin this week.

Still, no fighter had ever won titles in seven different weight classes, even in an era where titles are as common as platinum blondes in the MGM Grand casino. And no fighter in recent times has had the kind of year Pacquiao wrapped up by stopping a game but outclassed Cotto 55 seconds into the 12th round of their welterweight title fight.

He leaped into the public consciousness 11 months ago by making Oscar De La Hoya quit on his stool, giving him such a beating that he retired. He followed that by knocking Ricky Hatton stiff in the second round with a left hand that left Hatton contemplating his mortality.

And then came Saturday night, when he put on six more pounds to fight the supposedly bigger and harder punching Cotto. It looked early as if it may have been a mistake, with Cotto controlling the action in the first round with a sharp jab and accurate punches.

But Pacquiao was, he would say later, just testing Cotto's power. He had no problem with the idea of mixing it up with the big puncher, but first he wanted to see just what he was getting into.

That done, the fight quickly heated up. The two went after each other in the second round, trading punches with a fury before the bell sounded and they went back to their respective corners.

"Just look out for his left hand," Cotto's trainer, Joe Santiago, told his fighter. "It's all he's got."

Bad advice. Less than a minute into the third round, it was a right hand from Pacquiao that put Cotto down for the first time. He was up quickly and the two continued battling at a frenzied pace late into the fourth round when Pacquiao threw a huge left hand as Cotto was moving forward and dropped him for the second time.

Cotto was never the same after that and Pacquiao was relentless in administering a beating that sent blood flowing down Cotto's face, staining his white trunks pink. By the ninth round he was taking such punishment that his wife and young son got up from their ringside seats and left the arena, unable to watch any further.

Once again, Pacquiao had not just beaten a world class fighter, but systematically dismantled him. He did it in his usual — and very unusual — style, bouncing in and out and throwing punches from all angles in a frenetic style never before seen in boxing.

"I didn't know from where the punches were coming," Cotto said.

When it was all over, Pacquiao had another one of those green belts and his large entourage probably had a few more members. Cotto had inflicted some damage of his own, marking up Pacquiao's face and causing his right ear to have to be bandaged, but Pacquiao wasn't going to miss his own party.

He warmed up by crooning a few verses of "Sometimes When We Touch" at the postfight press conference, then headed out the door for the stage at the Mandalay Bay, his entourage just behind.

The singing was so-so, though no one was going to say that to the champ.

On this night he had earned the right to do whatever he wanted.



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