Friday, June 27, 2008

Pacquiao thrives at natural weight class

By Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports Jun 29, 2:13 am EDT

From Yahoo Sports!
Yahoo! Sports

LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao made a statement with his fists on Saturday, battering David Diaz to claim the WBC lightweight title at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. But he also made a statement that could have larger implications for the sport and the safety of boxers.

Pacquiao could have made the super featherweight limit of 130 pounds again on Saturday if he had been forced to do so. But he listened to his body, moved up to a more sensible weight and put on arguably the best performance of his life.

It was no contest from the bout’s opening punch. Pacquiao was too quick and too strong and battered Diaz into submission before stopping him at 2:24 of the ninth with a crunching straight left hand.

Diaz crumbled face forward and lay at Pacquiao’s feet, a symbolic final scene of Pacquiao’s ultimate conquest.

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He was clearly the more gifted fighter, but choosing to move up five pounds and compete at 135 made a noticeable difference. Too many boxers attempt to squeeze every last ounce of weight from their body so they can fight in the lowest possible class. They do it in the belief that it will make them stronger at the lower weight, but it often dehydrates them and leaves them vulnerable to either lethargic performance or, worse, injury.

Pacquiao was able to eat and drink as he wanted during the week and was as strong as he’s been since he destroyed Lehlo Ledwaba in 2001.

“In boxing, they’ve been doing it for years, trying to fight as low as possible, but this proves that that’s a mistake and that you should fight at a more natural weight,” Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said.

Pacquiao was far quicker and faster than Diaz, who was often thinking of throwing a punch as Pacquiao landed his combinations and then danced safely away from danger.

But Roach’s work in fixing the holes in Pacquiao’s game was evident as well. Pacquiao used his movement to greater effect, popped his long-dormant right hand repeatedly and generally showed the entire package of offensive and defensive moves.

Pacquiao came into the fight ranked first in the Yahoo! Sports poll of the world’s top boxers in light of Floyd Mayweather’s retirement. But Roach said Saturday that he thought coming into the fight that WBA welterweight champion Miguel Cotto was a more complete fighter than Pacquiao.

No longer, however, does he believe that. And it’s not without justification, as Pacquiao displayed the variety in his game that he hadn’t even in wins over legendary boxers such as Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez.

“Manny surpassed Cotto tonight and it was because of all the work he’s been doing in the gym,” Roach said.

Pacquiao wouldn’t be drawn into the debate. He said it’s an honor if people consider him the best, but said his only goal is to satisfy his fans.

He did that on Saturday, becoming the first Filipino to win world titles in four weight classes as well as becoming the first from his nation to hold a lightweight title.

“I don’t compare my ability to other fighters,” said Pacquiao, who has now won eight in a row and is 47-3-2 overall. “I’m just a fighter who does my job and tries to make other people happy by putting on good fights.”

Likely up next is WBA super featherweight champion Edwin Valero, who is one of the game’s hardest punchers. But the long-range goal would be to land a bout with super lightweight champion Ricky Hatton, who has a November bout slated with IBF champion Paulie Malignaggi.

Roach suggested Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum consider paying a step aside fee to Malignaggi to allow a Pacquiao-Hatton fight in November.

“Paulie’s style is bad for Ricky and if he loses, it could blow what would be a huge fight,” Roach said.

A Pacquiao-Hatton fight might be the biggest of any fight that could be made in boxing other than one involving Oscar De La Hoya.

And while it seemed fair to assume prior to Saturday’s bout that Hatton would be far too big and far too strong for Pacquiao to pose a serious threat, no longer does that seem true.

“The guy is a tough, tough fighter,” Diaz said. “He’s so fast, incredibly fast, and he has a good sense in there.”

Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler said he felt Pacquiao was best suited at 135 pounds, but conceded that the lure of a bigger fight might force him to move one class higher.

Pacquiao began his career in 1995 as a 106-pounder and logic would seem to dictate that sooner or later, he’ll no longer be able to move up successfully.

On Saturday, though, he looked like he was made to be a lightweight.

“I never doubted what he could do, because he was telling me what it was taking out of him trying to make (130),” Arum said. “I’ve seen him when he was at the right weight and able to eat and didn’t have to starve himself and what I saw was a fighter who didn’t have to take a backseat to anyone. We saw that same kid tonight.”

Roach said he felt Saturday’s effort was Pacquiao’s best since the win over Ledwaba, which was the Filipino’s coming out party in the U.S.

By moving up to 135, Pacquiao not only gave himself new ground to conquer but he also made a statement to other fighters that it’s not necessary to starve one’s self to win an important fight.

“Good night all around,” Pacquiao said as he was leaving the post-fight news conference on Saturday. “This is the way I like it.”

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