Bryan Armen Graham
Sunday November 15th, 2009

1. Manny Pacquiao cemented his legacy as one of history's greatest fighters.

With the 50th and perhaps most difficult victory of his career, Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao has chiseled his name alongside all-time pound-for-pound greats like Willie Pep, Henry Armstrong and Sugar Ray Robinson. With Saturday's 12th-round TKO of Miguel Cotto, Pacquiao captured the WBO welterweight title and became the first fighter to collect world championships in seven different weight classes between 112 to 147 pounds -- an incredible and unprecedented feat for a one-time flyweight who turned pro at a wraith-like 106 pounds.

2. The record books will read TKO 12, but Pacquiao ended this one back in the fourth.

Cotto was game early, controlling distance with the left jab and keeping Pacquiao from getting inside. It was clear the Filipino respected Cotto's punching power. Pacquiao looked more comfortable in the second round, circling the ring and penetrating Cotto's defense with straight lefts and rights. Midway through the second, Cotto lost the plot and starting trading. Pacquiao dropped Cotto in the third with a left to the body and a right hook upstairs -- and again in the fourth with a right hook and a vicious left to the jaw. Cotto was never the same again. He spent the next seven-and-a-half rounds just trying to get to the finish line -- ostensibly trying to counter-punch and box but, in reality, hovering like a fly waiting for the windshield on the freeway.

3. Pacquiao can absorb the punch of a true welterweight.

The stage for Saturday's history-making showdown was set over the past year-and-a-half with Pacquiao's three-pack of victories over David Diaz, Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton. Each fight taught us something about the Filipino southpaw. The ninth-round knockout of Diaz revealed that Pacquiao could pick apart a larger fighter of limited ability. The ninth-round stoppage of De La Hoya taught us Pacquiao could dismantle a fighter at 147 pounds, albeit one way past his prime. The second-round starching of Hatton demonstrated what Pacquiao could do against opponents of anything but the highest caliber. Saturday's stoppage of Cotto provided an emphatic answer to the biggest question looming over Pacquiao's camp in the months leading up to it: could the Filipino stand in and exchange against a true welterweight. He could. Pacquiao took more punches than we'd seen him take against Diaz, De La Hoya or Hatton -- but was never hurt. Once self-doubt crept in and Cotto got tentative, moving backwards and releasing the pressure from Pacquiao, it was over. The Filipino's ring generalship never wavered. He was too fast, too sharp, too busy for Cotto and the result was deserved.

4. No one can doubt Cotto's courage.

You've got to give Cotto credit. A modern-day Boricua folk hero in the mold of Carlos Ortiz, Wilfred Benitez and Felix Trinidad, Cotto would sooner leave the ring on his shield than quit. His face resembled tomato pie for the second half of the fight, with blood flowing from his nose and wounds, yet he persevered. Cotto's corner man Joe Santiago, a 30-year-old greenhorn, never considered stopping it; you wonder if a more experienced trainer might have thrown in the towel several rounds earlier, once it became obvious Cotto had no chance to win. When referee Kenny Bayless stopped the action 55 seconds into the final round, it was clear this was a career-defining fight for both men. Many wondered if Antonio Margarito took something from Cotto in that dubious July 2008 stoppage that Cotto would never be able to get back. That question may have been answered Saturday in Las Vegas.

5. The countdown for Pacquiao-Mayweather is under way.

Now Pacquiao can turn his attention to his personal Everest: Floyd Mayweather Jr. The specter of a megafight between Pacquiao and Mayweather hung over the Cotto fight from the day it was announced. The millions who followed live blogs and watched on pirated Internet streams, unwilling to drop $54.95 on Saturday's fight in a recession, would happily pay that sum to see the sport's finest two pound-for-pound fighters meet in a superfight that would set the bar high for the decade soon to be known as the 2010s. Yes, they'll squabble over the money split and Pacquiao was non-committal in the post-fight interview -- but trainer Freddie Roach considers it an inevitability. "I honestly think it has to happen because boxing needs that fight," Roach told "The best need to fight the best."

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