Pacquiao wins lightweight belt by flooring Diaz in 9th

Updated: June 29, 2008, 9:53 AM ET
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS -- Speed has been Manny Pacquiao's specialty ever since he was a scrawny 106-pound teenage brawler. When he stepped in the ring weighing 135 pounds on Saturday night, even his trainer wondered whether Pacquiao would lose some of his splendid speed with all that extra bulk.

That theory evaporated with one look at David Diaz's lacerated, bloody face, even before it hit the canvas in the ninth round. Not only did Pacquiao keep his pace while winning the WBC lightweight title with a ninth-round knockout, he got stronger along the way.

What a frightening thought for the rest of the talented lightweight division.

"I feel much, much stronger and more powerful at 135," said Pacquiao, the first Asian boxer to win title belts at four weights. "This is where I plan to stay. I did real well. I was really surprised it wasn't stopped sooner."

After winning a recognized championship fight at his fifth weight - including a nontitle victory over 126-pound king Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003 -- Pacquiao (47-3-2, 35 KOs) definitely has the credentials to qualify as boxing's mythical pound-for-pound champion.

His lightweight debut at the Mandalay Bay Events Center was every bit as action-packed as his long history of brawls at lower weights -- and like most of Pac-Man's victims, Diaz (34-2-1) just couldn't keep that ferocious pace.

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Pacquiao was relentless with his right hook, apparently capitalizing on something seen by trainer Freddie Roach in Diaz's defense.

"It was his speed," said Diaz, the game but overmatched champion. "It was all his speed. I could see the punches perfectly, but he was just too fast. He boxed me more than I thought he was going to box. I said to Freddie, 'It's the best I've ever seen him box.' Freddie said, 'Me too. That was our game plan.' "

Three months ago, Juan Manuel Marquez stretched Pacquiao to the limit before losing a split decision in the same ring in perhaps the year's best bout so far.

Pacquiao took much less punishment this time while winning every round on every judge's scorecard, but Diaz was remarkably tenacious in the face of nonstop attacks -- until Pacquiao sneaked home a left hand that dropped Diaz to the canvas.

Diaz, the likable but unlikely champion from Chicago, knew he faced long odds -- 4-to-1 at fight time -- in his second title defense. The former U.S. Olympian hung in despite severe cuts and weary legs that wobbled with each of Pacquiao's big punches.

"His punches are just too fast," Diaz told his corner after the sixth round.

[+] EnlargeManny Pacquiao and David Diaz
AP Photo/Jae C. HongFilipino star Manny Pacquiao stands over the U.S.'s David Diaz after his ninth-round knockout in Las Vegas. Pacquiao's knockout victory was his 35th.
Diaz's face was dripping blood by then, and both fighters' white

trunks were shaded pink by the eighth, when Pacquiao battered Diaz relentlessly. After Pacquiao's decisive punch in the ninth, referee Vic Drakulich stopped the bout before even counting to 10. Pacquiao tugged on Diaz's arm in compassion before leaping onto the ropes in celebration.

Pacquiao threw 788 punches to Diaz's 463, also landing 10 percent more of his blows. Pacquiao jabbed well, with remarkable discipline for an instinctual brawler, but Diaz was hurt most by the 180 power shots that connected.

Pacquiao started fighting as a scrawny 16-year-old in the Philippines, but he grew into a dynamic competitor who won world titles at 112, 122 and 130 pounds. Few of those victories gave Roach more pleasure than this disciplined effort.

"That was beautiful," Roach said. "The game plan was not to stand and trade, because Diaz is too dangerous. The plan was to go in and out, outbox him, do what Manny does best. He did everything that we asked him to do."

Some think Pacquiao's next move could be to bulk up five more pounds for a wildly lucrative fight with England's most popular plugger, Ricky Hatton. Pacquiao seems more likely to stick around to fight other lightweights -- perhaps 130-pound champion Edwin Valero or Humberto Soto, who lost a curious disqualification Saturday in an undercard bout.

"I can fight in November," Pacquiao said. "Who I fight is the job of my promoter [Bob Arum]."

Pacquiao has made his career on a series of exciting brawls with the best Mexican fighters of the post-Julio Cesar Chavez era, going 5-1-1 against Barrera, Erik Morales and Marquez, who lost a supermodel-thin split decision to Pacquiao last March.

Meanwhile, Diaz has made a career out of defying meager expectations, starting with two surprising victories over Zab Judah for a spot on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. After quitting the sport for nearly two years early in this decade, Diaz earned his title nearly two years ago in a stunning 10th-round knockout of Jose Armando Santa Cruz.

Mandalay Bay was filled largely with Filipino fans, including an overly optimistic man whose sign read, "Pac-Man, Marry Me!"


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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