Floyd Mayweather had been “retired” for a year following his stoppage of popular English brawler Ricky Hatton. Although he had left the sport, the consensus was that this was only a temporary departure. He would be compelled to return in late 2009, but in the short while he was away the sport as we knew it changed.
Check out part 2 of our Road to Mayweather vs. Pacquiao series, exploring the years leading up to the fight of the generation.
Part 2 – Pacquiao outdoes Mayweather
Manny Pacquiao had controversially out-pointed Juan Manuel Marquez before moving up to lightweight to beat down David Diaz. He then did the unthinkable and signed to fight Oscar De La Hoya, at welterweight. Most were flummoxed by the news and one could imagine Mayweather barely noticing the Filipino’s ascent. Pacquiao would grab the attention of the boxing world soon though, and Mayweather would have a surprising new rival.
A Star is Born – Pacquiao vs. De La Hoya
When Larry Merchant brought up the possibility most onlookers probably thought the iconic pundit was showing the effects of old age. He and boxing scribe Dan Rafael had been discussing the state of boxing, and Merchant had suggested the fight to make was Pacquiao; who had just settled into the lightweight division, against De La Hoya; who had spent recent years fighting mostly at junior middleweight as he trailed towards the end of his career.
It seemed an outrageous proposition but the promoters and TV networks liked it. Without Mayweather’s presence they were desperate, and Pacquiao and De La Hoya would bring two huge fanbases together. The fight was arranged and would take place almost to the day of the 1 year anniversary of Mayweather’s “retirement”.
The build-up to the fight centered on just how big a feat it was for Pacquiao to hop two weight classes to fight a guy four inches taller and naturally much bigger, but worrying signs suggested the weight was in fact more of an issue for De La Hoya. He was shown undertaking various unique measures to get the weight down. Rumors spread that “The Golden Boy” was struggling to make 147 lbs after not having fought in the division for years.
To the shock of the world, Pacquiao wore down the bigger, older man over eight increasingly one-sided rounds. De La Hoya retired afterwards, while Pacquiao took the retired Mayweather’s place as the bona fide face of boxing. And where Mayweather needed a decision to defeat De La Hoya, Pacquiao scored a far more emphatic win.
The Pacman is Here to Stay – Pacquiao vs. Hatton
In the aftermath to Pacquiao’s retirement of De La Hoya, the generally accepted theory was De La Hoya’s age and weight-making difficulties. Although a stunning accomplishment, Pacquiao’s win was taken with a pinch of salt. The boxing world was yet to be fully convinced that “Pacman” was a fully-fledged welterweight, even if he was the pound for pound king.
For his next fight, Pacquiao decided to drop down a division and take on the junior welterweight champion, Ricky Hatton. Hatton had been stopped in ten rounds by Mayweather, but he looked in good form with a late-rounds stoppage of 140 lb top contender, Paulie Malignaggi.
Although a favorite because of his blurring handspeed, junior welterweight was Hatton’s domain, and some felt the Englishman’s strength and willpower would at the very least trouble boxing’s newest star.
The fight barely got going before it was over. A visibly unnerved Hatton showed his hand in the very first round, only to pay the price in the form of two knockdowns. He simply was unable to handle Pacquiao’s blazing fists and relentless assaults. Clearly, Pacquiao was at home in and around welterweight. Any remaining doubt on this matter would be cast asunder in the second round.
Having a better round and seemingly recuperated from the damage of the opener Hatton made it to the final ten seconds of the second round relatively unscathed. With just seconds remaining in the round, he came forward again, only to be met by an explosive and accurate overhand left that detonated on his chin and sent him spiraling to the canvas. He was motionless, and Pacquiao was the new champion at 140 lbs.
If beating De La Hoya in simpler fashion didn’t do the trick, knocking out Hatton in two rounds was a definitive statement aimed in Mayweather’s direction. Anything you can do, I can do better. If Mayweather wasn’t interested before, Pacquiao’s left hand had forced him to sit up and take notice.
Never one to be out-done, however, Mayweather had already announced his return to the ring. His opponent? Juan Manuel Marquez, the man Pacquiao had struggled with over two contests. The lines were drawn between boxing’s biggest names. A rivalry had begun.