Pacquiao cements status as top fighter

by Tim Dahlberg

The Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas — Manny Pacquiao was more concerned with the set list for his upcoming concert than he was with Floyd Mayweather Jr. The fight every boxing fan wants to see may never happen, but Pacquiao had a firm date to sing at Lake Tahoe before heading home and taking up his more formal duties as a lawmaker in the Philippines.

All was well early Sunday after Pacquiao cemented his claim as boxing’s best by giving Antonio Margarito such a brutal beating that he went to the hospital.

Margarito remained in the hospital on Sunday and promoter Bob Arum said the boxer has a broken right eye socket and will have surgery Tuesday in Texas.

About the only problem for Pacquiao was that he couldn’t sign autographs for adoring fans because he had trouble holding a pen.

“My hands are swollen and they really hurt,” Pacquiao said.

Small wonder, considering Pacquiao had just spent 12 rounds bouncing those hands off of Margarito’s head. He hit Margarito from almost every angle and with stunning accuracy, closing both his eyes and bloodying his face while dominating every round of their 150-pound (67-kg) showdown.

It was a virtuoso performance, though not terribly surprising since boxing fans have come to expect that from the little superstar. Size never mattered on a night when speed ruled and the crowd of 41,734 at Cowboys Stadium roared at every combination.

Pacquiao’s mother got so caught up in the excitement that she briefly fainted as the fight ended. Most everyone else stayed upright, watching in delight as Pacquiao finished off a night’s work by kneeling down in a neutral corner and saying a prayer of thanks.

The lopsided win gave Pacquiao his eighth title in as many weight classes in a remarkable career that began with him fighting at 107 pounds (48 kg) as a teenager in the Philippines. He was in charge the entire way, battering Margarito so badly that Pacquiao was pleading with the referee to stop the fight in the 11th round so his opponent wouldn’t have to take any more punishment.

“I told the referee, ‘Look at his eyes, look at his cuts,’ ” Pacquiao said. “I did not want to damage him permanently. That’s not what boxing is about.”

No sooner had the judges handed in their tallies, though, than Pacquiao was answering questions about the one fighter he has yet to beat. Mayweather may be the only credible opponent left for Pacquiao, though promoter Bob Arum talked after the fight about a possible bout with Shane Mosley or a third fight against Juan Manuel Marquez.

But the lawmaker made it clear he was tired of the politics of boxing when it comes to the one fight that matters most.

“I don’t want to talk about Floyd Mayweather,” Pacquiao said. “If there’s a decision I’ll take it to Bob Arum.”

If Mayweather spent $65 to watch the pay-per-view he may be even more reluctant to fight Pacquiao than before. He also has legal problems stemming from an altercation with the mother of his children that could interfere with a possible fight in the spring, but Arum believes that if Mayweather really wants to fight then the bout could be made.

Margarito was supposed to be a rugged test for Pacquiao, if only because he was so much bigger. But it was clear from the opening round that Pacquiao would have no trouble landing punches up the middle even though he gave away 7.5 kg and nearly 13 cm in height.

Margarito was plenty game, advancing forward throughout the fight while trying to land big punches to the head. But he paid a terrible price as Pacquiao carved up his face and had him fighting bloodied and nearly blind in the late rounds.

“There was no way I was going to quit,” he said. “I’m a Mexican, we fight until the end.”

That end finally came when the bell sounded to mercifully end the 12th round, though the outcome was never in doubt since the middle rounds. Pacquiao seemed to let up on Margarito in the final round, giving up a possible knockout to take compassion on his opponent.

Back home, where even crime stops when Pacquiao fights, the end touched off celebrations across the country. President Benigno Aquino III, who is attending the APEC summit in Japan, rushed back to his hotel room to catch the bout and sent his congratulations.

Boxing has never seen anything like Pacquiao, whose string of recent performances has reinvigorated the sport.

Mayweather may be in his future, but there may be a point where Pacquiao doesn’t need Mayweather anymore.