By Ronnie Nathanielsz
Filipino ring idol and national treasure Manny Pacquiao cemented his place among the legends of boxing with a spectacular ninth round knockout over Mexican-American David Diaz before Pacquiao’s wildly cheering countrymen at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
Pacquiao who has been described by boxing writers as the “Mexecutioner” because of his demolition of Mexican legends Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik “El Terrible Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez and battered pretenders like undefeated Jorge Solis. Hector Velasquez, Emmanuel Lucero and Gabriel Mira lived up to his billing by an execution-style annihilation of the game but utterly outclassed Diaz.
A crowd of 8,326 watched Pacquiao fulfill his quest to re-write history by becoming the first Filipino and indeed the first Asian to win four world titles not counting the Ring Magazine featherweight championship which he won when he
mauled Marco Antonio Barrera into submission in eleven rounds in November 2003 in the Alamadome in Texas , home of the San Antonio Spurs.
This time around it was the NBA champions Boston Celtics who were at special ringside to cheer Pacquiao who had invited them to watch the fight. Pacquiao endeared himself to the Celtics when, despite training in Los Angeles he picked the Celtics as his favorite team to beat the Lakers and when they did their admiration for one another was strengthened even further.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen went into Pacquiao’s crowded dressing room after the fight to congratulate the No.1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world who put on a display that overwhelmingly justified his Ring Magazine choice. Even if Floyd Mayweather Jr hadn’t retired, editor-in-chief Nigel Collins would have had a hard time not recognizing Pacquiao as No.1 based on his near flawless performance against Diaz.
Pacquiao who plays basketball with almost the same passion as he displays in the ring said he was “so happy to see my idols, the Boston Celtics.”
Despite moving up to 135 pounds Pacquiao’s speed didn’t seem to diminish at all especially against a much slower Diaz who himself admitted he didn’t see the cracking left hook that dropped him face down in the ninth round after Pacquiao set him up with a stinging right straight.
It was as clinical an execution fight fans could ever witness and it began from the opening bell when Pacquiao exploded with vicious combinations that accentuated his speed. Pacquiao whose skills have been honed to perfection by celebrated trainer Freddie Roach showed exemplary footwork, new-found weapons in the hook and the uppercut and a stinging right straight that went with his devastating left.
Following Roach’s fight-plan throughout, Pacquiao didn’t allow Diaz the luxury of getting him pinned against the ropes and bludgeoned with body shots but spun out of trouble on a few occasions he was driven there and kept the fight in the center of the ring where his vaunted speed, literally killed any hope that Diaz nursed in his courageous heart.
Round after round Pacquiao ripped into the 1996 Olympian in a gold medal performance, inflicted a cut across the bridge of the lightweight champion’s nose and then opened up a nasty gash on his right eyebrow that began to ooze with blood prompting referee Vic Drakulich to have the ringside physician take a look at it not once but twice.
Instructed by assistant trainer Buboy Fernandez to feint with the right and then throw an uppercut Pacquiao hurt Diaz in round eight and when Diaz went to his corner at the end of the round he was seen shaking his head in disbelief.
Pacquiao sensed by this time that the fight had been taken out of the game Diaz and after rocking Diaz with a right he threw a right straight and as the 135 pound champion moved forward cracked him with a thunderous, perfectly-timed left hook sending Diaz crashing to the canvas flat on his face. Drakulich counted Diaz out at 2:24 of round nine.
In a post-fight interview Pacquiao said it was not easy to move up in weight but he was “lucky that God gave me the strength” Pacquiao said he felt “stronger” at 135 pounds and “it would be better to stay at 135 or I can fight at 140 pounds.”
He said he was “not worried about taking the punches” of the naturally heavier Diaz although he credited Diaz with being “the toughest opponent I ever had. I was surprised that he took a lot of strong punches, power punches and still stood up.” Later on Pacquiao conceded “he did hurt me one time during the fight.”
Diaz said he didn’t think Pacquiao “was that fast.” He said he “saw Manny getting a little tired a little bit at the end” and said to himself his tactic of trying to wear Pacquiao down was working but “he caught me with a good shot and that’s the way it goes. Sometimes you got to go out and say he was the better man tonight.”
Diaz admitted he didn’t see the punch that decked him, coming . “I was thinking he doesn’t hit that hard and then I was on the floor and I looked up and said what the heck. My hats off to him (Pacquiao). He is a great, great fighter and more than what I expected. You got to tip your hat off to him and say you are f—king good and that’s what Manny was.”
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said “Manny is a great fighter and when he trains hard like he did, there’s nobody that can beat him. He really is a phenomenon. People say he is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. I believe he is.”
Arum said at present there are a lot of good lightweights for Pacquiao to fight but that WBA super featherweight champion Edwin Valero who has won all his fights by knockout would be a good fight. He also mentioned lightweight champion Nate Campbell.
Arum said Pacquiao’s lifestyle in the past was a drawback and that he and Roach had decided to put him in the gym in Los Angeles because there is no training in the Philippines anymore. Arum pointed out “look the shape he is in. Look how many punches he threw and didn’t get tired.”
For Roach who had predicted Pacquiao would win by a knockout in the eighth or ninth round his prized possession carried out his fight plan “to the tee. I am very proud of Manny.”
Pacquiao dedicated his victory to the victims of the recent devastating typhoon and said his “inspiration was drawn from those who suffered” even as he promised to provide whatever help he could when he returns home.
Pacquiao succeeded where the late great Hall-of-Famer Gabriel “Flash” Elorde failed when he twice fought Puerto Rican Carlos Ortiz for the world lightweight title and was stopped on both occasions in the 14th round, the second by knockout which was the first in Elorde’s illustrious career as world junior lightweight champion for almost seven-and-a-half years.