Filipino ring icon Manny Pacquiao defied all the odds – bookmakers, height, weight class, experience and popularity — but one thing’s for sure, he brought with him to this fight — a fighting heart and the support of 90 million Filipinos, in upsetting Oscar “Golden Boy” De La Hoya in their welterweight Dream Match (Dream Mismatch) at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas.
The victory validated Pacman’s status as the world’s top pound-for-pound fighter.
There was no knockdown but a relentless Pacquiao gave De La Hoya all that he could handle, before the “Golden Boy” called it quits at the end of the eighth round, prompting referee Tony Weeks to declare the Filipino the winner by technical knockout.
It was only the second time in De La Hoya’s 16-year pro career that he was stopped in a fight, and it was made even more shocking because it came at the hands of a fighter who fought at just 129 pounds months earlier.
“You’re still my idol,” Pacquiao told him.
“No, you’re my idol,” De La Hoya said.
The jampacked MGM Grand Garden Arena was littered with celebrities from both sports and entertainment.
Among the athletic greats past and present who were part of the audience were NBA greats Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson and boxing superstars Juan Diaz, Israel Vazquez, brothers Juan Manuel and Rafael Vasquez, Winky Wright, Monty Barret, “Iron Mike” Tyson, Thomas “The Hitman” hearns, Vernon Forrest, Shane Mosely, Bernard Hopkins, Antonio Margarito and Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton.
From the entertainment world were singer Marc Anthony and wife, singer-actress Jennifer Lopez, Usher, two-time Oscar winner Russel Crowe, Desperate Housewife co-stars Jesse Metcalf and Eva Longoria, Mario Lopez, comedian George Lopez and actor Mark Wahlberg, who had previously been stopped by the Wild Card gym in Los Angeles to watch Pacquiao train.
Two of the three ringside judges scored all eight rounds for Pacquiao, while a third gave De La Hoya only the first round. The Associated Press scored every round for the winner.
The stoppage came after a late flurry from Pacquiao in the eighth round, where De La Hoya started to show some signs of life after getting overwhelmed in the first eight rounds.
Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 knockouts) came up two weight classes to fight for his biggest purse ever, while De La Hoya dropped down to meet him at 147 pounds.
The four-division champion and current WBC lightweight king is expected to earn close to $15 million for this fight, which includes a guaranteed purse — reportedly $6 million — and his share of the pay-per-view pie.
“I think I did well tonight,” Pacquiao said. “I controlled [the] fight. We worked on my speed in the gym and I think that was the key in this fight.”
“Thank you God for giving me the strength. I don’t think he would last long. I was still careful even though I was in control,” he said.
“We knew we had him after the first round,” Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach said. “He had no legs, he was hesitant and he was shot.”
The 29-year-old Filipino, who won his ninth fight in a row, has improved to 20-1 since 1999, his lone loss a 2005 decision to Mexican Erik Morales. He raised his record to 48 wins, including 35 knockouts, three losses and two draws.
“He’s just a great fighter,” the 35-year-old De La Hoya conceded. “He fought a tremendous fight. He was the better fighter and he deserves this win. I give him all the credit all the world.”