(STAR) By Abac Cordero - Manny Pacquiao came out from a listless start bleeding from a ghastly cut to chase down and knock out Mexican challenger Jorge Solis in the eighth round of a title fight Saturday in a victory laced with political undertones in a nation gripped with election fever.

The 28-year-old Pacquiao kept his WBC (World Boxing Council) international super featherweight crown by stopping the previously unbeaten Solis in 1:16 of the round with a flurry of blows that floored the Mexican twice. The champion shifted to attack mode after being stung by a headbutt that led to a nasty cut above the left eyebrow in the sixth round.

As in past fights by the Filipino icon, the country stood still at midday and rejoiced as referee Vic Drakulich counted out the Mexican flat on his back under the ropes.

It triggered a frenzied celebration at the Alamodome, scene of Pacquiao’s greatest triumph over Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003, and back home.

President Arroyo lauded Pacquiao’s victory and urged Filipinos to use the win as an inspiration to battle poverty and other social ills, adding, "Manny stands for the dream of every Filipino in the ring of life and the arena of the future."

The Chief Executive issued her statement from the St. Luke’s hospital in Quezon City, where she has been watching over her husband, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, who had a high-risk open-heart surgery last week.

Many candidates running in the May 14 congressional and local elections used the boxing match to campaign. In fact, followers of Pacquiao, himself a congressional aspirant, said the General Santos native virtually put his political ambition on the line by taking on the untested but dangerous Solis.

Pacquiao has repeatedly said the fight had nothing to do with the elections where he would contest the congressional seat with incumbent Darlene Antonino-Custodio, who gamely cheered her political rival during the bout.

But his legal counsel and General Santos City pointman, Franklin Gacal, said later that he almost fell off his seat when he saw Pacquiao bleeding as a result of the accidental headbutt.

"Kinabahan talaga ako (I became nervous)," he said. "Nakakarga sa laban ang kandidatura ni Manny (His candidacy lies on the this fight)."

Pacquiao, who is expected to earn no less than $4 million for this fight, is scheduled to fly back to Manila Sunday evening. The moment he steps out of the airport, the celebration, and campaigning would continue.

The Filipino champ had trouble connecting in the opening rounds as Solis, using his advantage in reach and height, proved slippery and up to the challenge. The Mexican showed great head and body movement that often left the Filipino’s punches either short or wide.

The cut served as a wake-up call for Pacquiao that he could not fool around with Solis who carried an unbeaten 32-0 record into the ring. Two rounds later, the fight ended with the native of Guadalajara wobbling to his corner.

Solis fell into the waiting arms of his younger brother and world champion Ulises. He sat on a stool for nearly 10 minutes before he was escorted out of the ring.

"It was hard to fight that type of a fighter. He has long arms and good head movement. I took it easy in the early rounds," Pacquiao said.

Asked about his plans, Pacquiao said he might fight as early as September.

"I will fight anybody — anybody at 130 pounds. But we have negotiations with (Juan Manuel) Marquez (the reigning WBC champion)," said Pacquiao.

But first, he has to face a tougher fight.

It’s the type of fight Pacquiao has never fought before. – with AP


Manila, April 15, 2007 (STAR) First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo will not be on the ringside this time, or be able to watch his favorite boxing champion Manny Pacquio on television. His doctors will just do the cheering for him.

Dr. Juliet Gopez-Cervantes, main attending physician of the presidential spouse, issued a very stern directive to Pacquiao to win over Mexican boxer Jorge Solis today, and make Mr. Arroyo happy.

Otherwise, a defeat of the Filipino boxing legend from General Santos City might not be taken lightly by the First Gentleman’s now "very stable" heart.

Mr. Arroyo, a known supporter of the Filipino boxing champ from General Santos City, underwent a 10-hour "high risk" open-heart surgery, which included an aneurysmectomy and triple bypass, after doctors diagnosed him with a dissecting aortic aneurysm last Monday.

Although doctors have declared him now "off danger" as all of his vital organs are already functioning, they would not take chances.

"I don’t think we could let him watch it (Pacquiao-Solis fight). Because he might get excited (if Pacquiao performs well)," Cervantes said. "And he might feel bad if Pacquiao will not win."

"Maybe we will just watch it for him. We’ll tell him if Pacquiao wins. But if Pacquiao loses, we will just keep quiet his blood pressure might rise," she also said.

Mr. Arroyo has been a constant figure in almost all of the recent boxing matches of Pacquiao.

Pacquiao is set to fight with Solis today in San Antonio, Texas. – Katherine G. Adraneda

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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