[PHOTOS AT LEFT COURTESY OF YAHOO! SPORTS - Getty Images - Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines celebrates after defeating Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico during their WBO welterweight title fight on November 14, 2009 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. TOPSHOTS AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)]

LAS VEGAS, NOVEMBER 16, 2009 (STAR) By Abac Cordero – On a cold Saturday evening, Manny Pacquiao put on the hottest performance of his life, winning an unprecedented seventh world title in different weight classes, and this time making sure that he’ll be remembered forever as the greatest of them all.

It was nine degrees outside when the 30-year-old Filipino superstar waged war against the bigger Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico at the MGM Grand. The fight looked one-sided even if it wasn’t, and in the end, after almost 12 rounds, Pacquiao was declared winner via technical knockout.

Referee Kenny Bayless stepped in and waved his hands to put an end to the fight, a bloody one for Cotto, when the 29-year-old underdog took a big left to the head and looked ready to fall for the third time, pinned on a neutral corner. The end came in the 55-second mark of the final round.

“Takbo siya ng takbo. Ako naman parang mabangis na tigre (He kept on running while I looked like a ferocious tiger,” said Pacquiao in the post-fight press conference, all dressed up, and ready to treat his fans to a mini-concert at Mandalay Bay.

Pacquiao wore a fedora hat because his head was bandaged to protect his right ear where blood was sucked and drained by experts to help ease the pressure. He had a swollen right hand after all the blows he landed on his opponent.

Cotto skipped the press conference because he was taken to the hospital for precautionary measures.

Bob Arum of Top Rank, the promoter of both fighters, welcomed Pacquiao to the packed press center, almost an hour after the fight, as the greatest boxer of all time. It was the same thing he said after Pacquiao knocked out Ricky Hatton last May.

But this time, Arum felt he needed to say it once more.

“I am now going on record to say that Manny Pacquiao is the best boxer I’ve ever seen and that include Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard or Marvin Hagler. I have never, ever seen anyone like him,” said Arum of the new WBO welterweight champion.

“He is the greatest of all time,” Arum added, and not one from among those who packed the ballroom could disagree.

Except for Pacquiao, perhaps, winner of world titles in the flyweight, super-bantamweight, featherweight, super-featherweight, lightweight and junior welterweight. No other fighter in boxing history has won as many crowns in different weight classes.

“I don’t want to compare myself to anybody. I don’t want to compare my achievements to their achievements. All I do is fight, try to win my fights, and bring honor to my country or make the fans happy,” he said.

“I’m just an ordinary fighter,” he said, and his trainer, Freddie Roach, cut him short.

“You’re not ordinary,” said Roach, whose eyes lit up, and said, “You’re the greatest of our era.”

By the time the bout ended, Cotto’s blue corner had turned red with all the blood that flowed from cuts, or gashes, over and under his eyes, his nose, and lips. He was bleeding as early as the fourth round, and after the fight should have checked if Pacquiao had brass knuckles on.

In the ninth round, Cotto, who left the MGM stripped of his WBO welterweight title, started spitting blood to the canvas. You knew he was ready to go, but just wouldn’t yet.

Cotto did land heavy shots of his own, and from ringside, just 10 feet away from the action, Pacquiao looked hurt at times. But he tried not to show it, and succeeded, because each time Cotto connected, he also had something to trade, whether it was as strong or even stronger.

Pacquiao knocked Cotto down for the first time in the fight with a right hook to the head in the 2:10 mark of the third round. But he failed to finish off his opponent, and again in the next round, with only 12 seconds left, a left uppercut sent the Puerto Rican down on the center of the ring.

At some points of the match Pacquiao stood in front of Cotto or did a rope-a-dope, just covering up. But it was not a very good idea because Cotto managed to sneak in strong, powerful punches that made the fight look even or that he was getting hurt.

Cotto brought his bicycle into the ring in the seventh round and stayed away from Pacquiao. He must have felt that going toe-to-toe with the reigning pound-for-pound champion is no longer an option, and the best he could do was stay out of trouble and hope to land the lucky punch.

In the eighth he almost did. With another left jab that had landed early on, Cotto sent Pacquiao’s head tilting backwards that the Filipino must have seen the overhead lights of the grand arena that was filled with more than 16,000 screaming fans, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans and of any other race.

But Pacquiao, the fighter, countered with his own good shots, and connected with a good combination before the bell sounded just near Cotto’s corner. There seemed to taunt each other after the bell, and it looked like the Puerto Rican was to walk to the wrong corner but retreated to his own.

Pacquiao dribbled Cotto’s face with punches early in the ninth round and again the fight appeared to be headed toward the end. Cotto was in serious trouble, and it was just a matter of time, before he either falls down for good or the fight is stopped.

Cotto’s corner was a very busy one at the end of the ninth, and Pacquiao looked so tired punching he sat slouched on his stool. The next two rounds were all for Pacquiao, and Cotto’s handlers must be ready to throw the towels all the same time.

During breaks, the doctor and the referee were observing Cotto if he could still carry on with the fight. But as gallant as he is, the native of Caguas in Puerto Rico kept on, still looking for that one lucky punch that could turn it around. But it never came.

Once or twice, Pacquiao looked frustrated that Cotto kept on running away, bouncing around the ring, just to stay alive. And Pacquiao seemed to have motioned to the referee if there was anything Bayless could do to ask Cotto to engage.

Before the start of the final round, both fighters touched gloves at the center of the ring. In Cotto’s mind, perhaps, is that he’s do anything, and may even jump out of the ring, to avoid being knocked out. In a way he did, because he was up on his feet when the fight was stopped.

A little past seven, Cotto arrived at the fight arena, accompanied by his wife and kids and just a handful supporters. He hardly spoke to his companions and kept himself glued to whatever he was listening to on his Bose headphone.

Cotto was in smart casuals, wearing an embroidered long-sleeved shirt, and as tradition called for he went straight to the ringside section to watch the welterweight action between Alfonso Gomez and Jesus Sotto Karas.

It’s by tradition that Cotto, since he started his pro career in 2001, comes to the venue a little earlier to watch some of the action. It could be some sort of a psychological warm-up and only one other boxer shared that habit with him.

Larry Merchant, the ageless fight analyst, said that boxer is no less than Ali.

Pacquiao came in a few minutes later, with more family members and friends in tow. Still, there was his famous entourage which the fight commentators said make Pacquiao surroundings more like a circus the whole day.

On the giant screens inside the venue, as Yuri Foreman and Daniel Santos were trading heavy blows, Pacquiao was shown inside his dressing room, taking some instructions from his chief trainer.

Then the Filipino superstar was shown with his hands being wrapped by his cutman, Miguel Diaz, as someone who appeared to be a member of Team Cotto watched closely. He was smiling as usual.

By this time, Cotto’s hands were done, and the Puerto Rican was already in his fight uniform, shadow boxing inside his own hideout. He appeared to be in great shape. Later on, the hands of both boxers were checked and signed by the commission.

Richie Mepranum of Saranggani broke the ice for the Filipinos won a split decision over Ernie Marquez in their six-round, junior lightweight contest. Eden Sonsona followed suit, knocking out Eilon Kedem of New York in the second round of their bantamweight clash.

Notes: The gates to the arena opened at 3 o’clock, and shortly after came a steady flow of fight fans. Three hours later the opening bouts took place, and the arena, which could house 17,000 started to look like an entertainment center... It was packed an hour before the evening’s main bout started, The fans came in all shapes, color and style, but it was a big, beautiful, gorgeous crowd... Vehicular traffic was heavy in the streets surrounding the MGM, and inside the grand hotel, the sight of many memorable fights, human traffic was even heavier. It was a common sight, people looking for spare tickets to the fight, and willing to pay more.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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