2008: The Year of The Pac-man
By Rizwaan Zahid: There are many words to describe this past year in the sport of boxing. The word lackluster comes into mind for the heavyweights, (the same word as the last few years), but if there are two words that best describe the year 2008 for boxing, those two words are Manny Pacquaio. The Pac-man has improved more and more after each fight, not only this year, but in the past few years. He was once known as a one-dimensional â€˜straight right straight leftâ€™ fighter. But if there was ever a year that proved that theory wrong and showed just how great the Filipino fighter is, it was 2008.
March 15th was Pacquiaoâ€™s first fight of 2008 and it proved to be the toughest challenge for him, as he fought Juan Manuel Marquez in a rematch of one the most difficult fights of his career. In the first fight, Pacquiao was able to knock Marquez down three times in the first round, however Marquez was able to fight back to earn a controversial draw. It took four years to finally have a rematch, but the fight lived up the hype and fit the PPVs title of â€œUnfinished Business."
Marquez struggled in the first six rounds of the first encounter as he had trouble picking up Pacquaioâ€™s straight left hand. The opening two stanzas of the second fight though saw Juan countering Pacquaioâ€™s left with his right hand and even when the left landed, Marquez seemed to take it well. The third round started with both measuring each other, however Marquez landed a crisp counter right that momentarily wobbled the Filipino star. Mannyâ€™s timing was off and it seemed as if for the first time, Manny was hesitant at being his usual aggressive self. That all changed in the last ten seconds as a short inside left put Marquez on his backside. Marquez rose from the canvas and was wobbled again in the dying seconds of the rounds but the ropes were able to hold him up.
The bout progressed and both fighters continued to have their moments. Manny had to deal with even more adversity, since he had a cut on his eye which resulted in a head butt. The blood continued to flow into Pacquaioâ€™s eye obstructing his vision and distracting him from the Mexican fighter in front of him. Manny rose to the challenge though and continued to fight and managed to win a split decision in the end, with the knockdown in the third round winning him the fight.
A rematch was called for by Marquezâ€™s camp during the post-fight press conference, but Manny decided to move up to 135 against David Diaz. Manny was a heavy favourite even though he was moving up in weight but it was pretty obvious that he would have the speed advantage over the courageous Diaz. From the opening bell it was evident that this fight was a mis-match. Manny landed at will and threw 88 punches a round. The question already started - not if Diaz would be stopped, but simply when and should his corner stop the fight. Diazâ€™s face was a bloody mess to say the least and it was clear that he was too brave for his own good. Diaz tried everything possible to win some rounds â€“ go southpaw, box, brawl â€“ but nothing worked as he was constantly wobbled by lefts and rights from Pac-man. Finally after a nine round beat down, Diaz fell from a counter left hand and referee Vic Drakulich, who had been closely watching Diazâ€™s condition for a few rounds, waved the fight off the second Diaz hit the deck without even starting a count.
It was two fights in two divisions, and two wins producing two world titles.
There were many rumours as to who would be Pacquaioâ€™s next opponent. After Floyd Mayweather announced his retirement leaving Oscar without a date for his â€œretirement fightâ€, many opponents were mentioned however none were of great caliber. Sergio Mora and a 170 pounded Felix Trinidad were among the names mentioned. Pacquaio was first said to be too small but after being convinced by Freddie Roach, the mega fight between Manny and Oscar was made. Many including myself criticized the fight as it was by far a fight more about money for Oscar De La Hoya and Pacquiao than anything else. The fact that Oscar was willing to go down to 147 to make this fight happen indicated that this was the fight he wanted and that was mainly because the opponent was such an attraction as well. Simply put, even if Oscar won, it would not do anything for his career, and his retirement fight would be remembered as a win over a junior lightweight. He deliberately chose this opponent over the many popular welterweights in the division and he had excuses for not fighting Antonio Margarito (he did not want to fight a Mexican), or Miguel Cotto (he did not want to fight a Puerto Rican since his wife is Puerto Rican).
Many experts in the sport picked Oscar to eventually catch up to Pacquaio and knock him out. On the other hand, as the date for the fight came closer many started picking the Filipino to simply outwork De La Hoya and win a close decision since the drainage to make weight would take a toll on Oscarâ€™s body. While the latter part was true, no one expected Pacquiao to give the beating that he did and force Oscar to quit on his stool.
The first round was the closest out of all of them and it was still Mannyâ€™s speed winning the round as most of his punches went straight through Oscarâ€™s guard. Rights, lefts, hooks, crosses, counters â€“ everything seemed to be landing on Oscarâ€™s face and as the bout progressed the poster boy of the sport was starting to look more and more like a victim on an episode of ER. His eyes were being swollen shut and the fight was stopped by Oscarâ€™s corner after the eighth round giving not only the win to Pacquiao, but also presenting him as not only one of if not the best fighter in the world, but now the biggest name in boxing. The fame, the fortune and the popularity and the credit will continue to grow.
But what does 2009 hold for the #1 fighter in the world?
Hatton is likely to be next for Pacquaio and although the bout is not written in stone just yet, most expect the fight to be in May with Las Vegas being the venue. The bout is probably going to be at 140 as well, a weight that Pacquaio should be pretty comfortable with. Whatâ€™s intriguing about this fight is that both men bring massive crowds and fans along with them, probably more than any other two fighters in the sport. Oscar was always known for attracting fans and having a large fan base, but the number of Pacquaio fanatics continues to grow. Hatton looked brilliant in his last outing against Paulie Malignaggi, but Malignaggi is no Manny Pacquaio in speed, power or aggression. Perhaps in hair and fashion, but thatâ€™s a different issue.
Hatton has never faced a fighter like Pacquaio stylistically. Although he had to deal with the speed of Floyd Mayweather, having a fast and aggressive southpaw such as Pacquaio is something completely different. Manny is in for a tough challenge as well though. Hatton is relentless in his dedication and courage and because of the two styles the fighters have, this bout already has the potential to be fight of the year.
Pacquaio is likely to be slated as the favourite and most expect him to get by Hatton. Hattonâ€™s new trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr. believes that his fighter will be able to break down Manny. Pending Manny beats Hatton, comparisons will obviously be made to Hattonâ€™s other loss to the former #1 fighter in the world, and Hattonâ€™s trainerâ€™s son, Floyd Mayweather. Comparisons have already started after Mannyâ€™s win over Oscar, and if he is able to beat Hatton in convincing fashion, expect the potential showdown between the two fighters to be discussed.
A super-fight between Pacquiao and Mayweather would never have been thought of years ago when the two were in completely different divisions. Pacquiao was at the featherweight division and also junior lightweight while Floyd was moving up to welterweight. However with Pacquiao now at 140 and people already speculating Floydâ€™s return to the ring this year, most likely at 147, the fight seems to be an obvious one. Floyd has not fought a fighter with such speed and aggression, and Manny himself has never seen a fighter with the accuracy and agility of Mayweather. If the fight does come off, one can bet it will be one for the ages.
There are many other potential fights for Pacquaio out there as well, including a third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, since many would argue that the two still have unfinished business. Regardless of who he fights, itâ€™s obvious that Pacquaio has emerged as not only the best fighter in the sport, but now heâ€™s most likely going to be regarded as the most popular. If these fights come out, than 2009 could be the year of the Pacman as well. If Pacquiao continues to impress the way he does, it will become the decade of the Pacman, and in the end, the era of the Pacman.
The beginning of the rest of the era, starts in 2009.
I'm gonna have to be killed before I lose, and I ain't going to die easy - Muhammad Ali