Manny Pacquiao confirms his status as lord of the rings
Hit record: Pacquiao lands another punch to the head of Cotto
Modesty and greatness seldom go hand in hand, but in Manny Pacquiao they do.
The brilliant and engaging Filipino mastered Miguel Cotto, stopping the Puerto Rican in the twelfth round to become WBO welterweight champion at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the early hours of yesterday, then batted off all the plaudits being thrown at him with a shy smile.
“I always tell myself that I am just an ordinary fighter, but I have to beat the best fighters and sometimes I can,” he said.
Pacquiao, 30, is far from ordinary. When he beat Oscar De La Hoya in the same ring 11 months ago, comparisons were made to Henry Armstrong — a three-weight world champion when there were only eight titles. But as his reputation has grown, so have the comparisons. Pacquiao is now grouped with Muhammad Ali, for his impact outside the ring as much as his achievements in it.
“He’s the best fighter I have ever seen and that includes Ali, Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard,” Bob Arum, his promoter, said. “Who would have believed that when he was fighting the likes of [Marco Antonio] Barrera and [Érik] Morales that he would be fighting all these big guys and destroying them?”
“Manny doesn’t know what he has achieved, he’s not a historian of the sport,” Freddie Roach, his trainer, said. “He is the greatest fighter of his era.”
It could be that we are living in an age of two all-time greats, a view that would certainly be heartening to Ricky Hatton, who was knocked out by both. The easy-going grace and ever-present smile of Pacquiao contrast heavily with the bling and big talk of Floyd Mayweather Jr, but with both now occupying the same weight division, a match — which would most likely be the biggest of all time — could be too big to avoid.
“That’s the fight the world wants to see,” Roach said. But things are never that easy. Arum used to promote Mayweather and there is little love lost between them. Discussions will not be as easy as both taking a 50-50 split. Sometimes reputations mean more on the negotiating table than in the ring.
“If Mayweather wants to fight Manny, let him call me,” Arum said, although that is unlikely to be an approach that is ever made. Instead, Richard Schaefer, the chief executive of Golden Boy, which has promoted Mayweather’s recent bouts, is likely to act an a middleman in talks.
Things are complicated further because Pacquiao intends to run for Congress in the Philippines in May next year. Arum has spoken about wanting him to box on March 13, possibly in Dallas, but that could be too soon for a promotion the size of Pacquiao-Mayweather.
The bottom line comes down to whether Mayweather, who has been regularly accused of taking few risks, fancies the job. There is no doubt that Pacquiao is willing.
Few who witnessed Pacquiao’s latest step towards sporting immortality would be backing Mayweather with any confidence.
In the absence of Mayweather, his father, Floyd Sr, was on hand to show the sort of family loyalty that sometimes seems to have been missing. “I think Li’l Floyd whups his ass,” Floyd Sr said, before adding: “If he asks me, I’d say don’t take the fight. I have my reasons.”
Counting Pacquiao’s world titles depends on whether one includes his win over Ricky Hatton in May — for the IBO and Ring magazine light- welterweight titles — and his 2003 victory over Barrera for the Ring magazine featherweight title. If you do, his tally now stands at a remarkable seven at seven different weights, one more than the record of De La Hoya.
That Pacquiao began his career as a light-flyweight, nine divisions below welterweight, makes his achievements all the more extraordinary. Had he started out as a protected prospect, rather than fighting his way off the streets in a faraway land, he would probably be approaching double figures for world titles.
In the past 20 months alone, Pacquiao has boxed in four divisions, from super-featherweight to welterweight. His career has been one big challenge after another and he has met each one in thrilling style.
Conventional wisdom was that Pacquiao would have the speed, but that Cotto would be bigger and stronger; a genuine welterweight, a brilliant boxer and a fierce puncher. For five rounds it was one of the most exciting bouts of recent times. Then Pacquiao took control. He had the edge in speed and power.
In the first round, Cotto’s jab found Pacquiao with surprising ease, but, in a memorable second round, Pacquiao’s speed began to baffle Cotto as he doubled up hooks and whipped over his mesmerising, powerful lefts. Cotto, though, responded well, hammering back hooks as Pacquiao fired off combinations.
The pace kept up in the third as Pacquiao jumped in with a right-left to the body, followed by a right hook to the side of the head that dropped Cotto to his knees. Cotto was straight back on the offensive, landing a peach of a left uppercut.
The fourth was another classic as Pacquiao landed a six-punch combination, only for Cotto to force the Filipino back on to the ropes and unload.
Then came the decisive moment of the bout as Pacquiao worked his way off the ropes and landed a huge left cross that staggered Cotto across the ring and back to the floor.
From then there was only one winner, with Pacquiao’s speed and accuracy always having the upper hand over Cotto’s effort and desire. By the ninth, Cotto looked badly battered and went into survival mode, boxing entirely on the back foot.
Cotto, though, was always firing back and it took until 55 seconds into the final round, when two hard lefts landed, for Kenny Bayless, the referee, to find sufficient excuse to stop it.
“I’m still proud. I’ve fought everyone, but Manny’s one of the best boxers of all time,” Cotto said. And the lumps on the brilliant Puerto Rican’s face were testament to just how great Pacquiao is.