Manny Pacquiao is greeted by fans upon his return to the Wild Card gym. Abac Cordero]

LOS ANGELES, DECEMBER 10, 2008 (STAR) By Abac Cordero - Manny Pacquiao considers his victory over Oscar dela Hoya as the best of them all – bar none.

“Ito na ang pinakamasaya (This one’s the happiest),” said the Filipino pound-for-pound champion who cemented his very lofty status by scoring an eighth-round TKO win in their “Dream Match” bout last Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. (Related stories on A-33)

Pacquiao had been in some many great battles, 53 fights (48-3-2) as a pro, but said nothing compares to this one which he considered the biggest fight of his life.

He ranked his top five fights.

“Ranked second is the (Marco Antonio) Barrera fight,” he said, referring to his 2003 showdown with the “Baby-Faced Assassin” whom he knocked out in the 11th round in San Antonio, Texas. He was a 4-1 underdog in that fight.

“And next to that at number three is the (Lehlo) Ledwaba fight,” he said.

The fight against the South African opened the doors to his greatness. He was a last minute replacement for Enrique Sanchez, and didn’t waste time to introduce himself to the world by scoring a sensational sixth-round stoppage.

Larry Merchant, the great boxing commentator, said after that fight that he didn’t know anything about Pacquiao, and added, “but now I want to see more of him.”

And he did.

Pacquiao said at No. 4 is his 10th round victory over Erik Morales in January of 2006, one that avenged his bitter and bloody loss to the Tijuana superstar a year ago. Rounding up the top five for Pacquiao is his second KO win over Morales in November of 2006.

“Pero walang ka-rate ito (But nothing comes close to this),” he said, again looking back to the Dela Hoya fight where he was the underdog.

“Even the commentator of ESPN apologized to me for saying that this fight was going to be a mismatch. What they didn’t know was that the mismatch was on my favor,” said Pacquiao.

“More people believed in Dela Hoya. Even Wakee Salud (his adviser) kept on saying it would be very difficult to win. But I told him to relax, and I will prove him wrong.”

“To me this is unbelievable – fighting in three different weight divisions in one year. I don’t think it has even been done before,” he said.

Pacquiao defeated Juan Manuel Marquez last March to win the WBC super-featherweight (130 lbs) crown, then returned to the ring last June to crush David Diaz for the WBC lightweight (135 lbs) title.

By beating Dela Hoya in their welterweight (147 lbs) contest, Pacquiao erased any other doubt that he is the world’s greatest fighter today.

“I think I’m part of history now,” he said.

“He’s just getting better and better every time. And I’m so proud of him. This makes me Trainer of the Year, and him Fighter of the Year,” Roach added.

Famous cutman says Manny's speed a killer Updated December 10, 2008 12:00 AM

LAS VEGAS – Motorists are often warned to keep their cars in cruise control because “speed kills.”

Last Saturday, veteran cutman Miguel Diaz of Argentina said it was Manny Pacquiao’s speed that “killed” Oscar de la Hoya not on the road but in the ring at the MGM Grand Garden Arena here.

Diaz, 70, has worked with more than 11 world champions and 27 other titleholders in a career as a trainer and cutman for nearly 40 years. His list of satisfied customers includes Erik Morales, Fernando Vargas, Israel Vazquez, Jorge Arce, James Toney, Miguel Cotto, Roger and Floyd Mayweather, Kelly Pavlik, Omar Niño Romero and Oscar Larios.

Known as “El Mago” (Spanish for “The Magician”), Diaz has lived in Las Vegas for over 35 years and operates his own gym.

Freddie Roach tapped Diaz to join him in Pacquiao’s corner for the De la Hoya bout when the Golden Boy pirated Joe Chavez who had previously worked with the Filipino icon.

Working with a Filipino fighter was nothing new for Diaz. In 1972, he recalled Bebot Elorde contracting his services to join lightweight contender Catalino Flores’ corner in a Los Angeles match.

“That was when I learned my first Filipino word – ‘tubig,’” chuckled Diaz. “If I remember right, Flores won.”

But Diaz has been on opposite corners, too. He was Larios’ cutman when the Mexican lost a decision to Pacquiao at the Araneta Coliseum in 2006. He was also jinxed by Pacquiao in working for Morales in the rubber match in 2006 and Jorge Solis in 2007. Diaz was Omar Niño Romero’s cutman when Brian Viloria lost his WBC lightflyweight title in 2006.

Diaz said before the bout, he knew if De la Hoya showed up like the Golden Boy of old, it wouldn’t be easy for Pacquiao to win.

“Pacquiao is a live underdog,” said Diaz, quoted by Steve Carp of the Las Vegas Review-Journal in his pre-fight analysis. “If the current De la Hoya shows up, Pacquiao stops him inside of 10 rounds. If the old De la Hoya, the one who beat up (Fernando) Vargas (in 2002), shows up, then it becomes a very interesting fight. I don’t think we’ll see that De la Hoya. He’s not the fighter he used to be.”

With the eighth round demolition, Diaz’ hunch was proved right.

“It was Manny’s speed that killed Oscar,” said Diaz who has been involved in over 200 world title fights. “Manny was just too fast. Sure, I didn’t think it would be that easy. Oscar is Oscar. But Manny is special because he fights for the Filipino people.”

Diaz started boxing at the age of eight and logged 27 amateur outings. Although his father Miguel Sr. was the South America lightweight champion in the 1920s, Diaz concentrated on corner work and never turned pro. He initially worked out of Johnny Tocco’s gym here. Now, Diaz has his own facility.

Last month, Diaz was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in Los Angeles.

“I’m very excited to be a part of this fight,” said Diaz, quoted by Carp. “I worked with De la Hoya many years ago before he became a world champion. I was with him when he fought Jorge Paez in 1994 and I have been against Pacquiao when he fought Solis in San Antonio last year. So I know both fighters.”

Roach said he got to know Diaz over 20 years ago as his own trainer. Eddie Futch was tied up with Larry Holmes and couldn’t focus on Roach, then a featherweight contender, so he called Diaz to pitch in. Roach described Diaz’ experience as “invaluable.”

“If Miguel sees something, he’ll tell me,” said Roach. “Joe’s (Chavez) a close friend of mine and he did a great job with Manny in the second (Juan Manuel) Marquez fight. But Miguel is great in his own right. I’m very pleased to have him with us for this fight.” Diaz said the Dream Match was “huge for our sport – you have two of the biggest names in boxing going head to head ... I’m just glad they’re letting me be part of it.”

Argentina – where Diaz is from – is a boxing hotbed with several world champions, including Pascual Perez (who decisioned Dommy Ursua in Manila in 1958), Juan Martin Coggi (who stopped Morris East in Mar del Plata in Buenos Aires in 1993), Carlos Monzon, Victor Galindez, Santos Laciar and Pedro Decima.

Ironically, Diaz became a boxing legend outside of his home country. He now lives part-time in Puerto Rico to train Cotto. – Joaquin Henson

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved