ARLINGTON, Texas (Reuters) - Manny Pacquiao cemented his place in the pantheon of boxing greats by recording an unanimous points victory over Antonio Margarito on Saturday to claim the vacant WBC super welterweight title.
The 31-year-old southpaw dominated all 12 rounds against his bigger Mexican opponent at Cowboys Stadium to land an eighth world title in an unprecedented eighth weight class.
Having already established himself as one of the best offensive fighters of all time, Pacquiao outclassed Margarito with his lightning hand speed and precise power punching to improve his career record to 52-3-2 with 38 knockouts.
“It was a really hard fight, the hardest fight in my boxing career,” Pacquiao told reporters after winning his 13th consecutive bout since losing to Erik Morales in Las Vegas in March 2005.
“He’s strong. I never expected him to be as strong as he was. He’s a very tough fighter. I can’t believe he took all those punches.”
The Filipino, a heavily odds-on favourite going into the fight, pummelled the Mexican’s head virtually at will for much of the bout, leaving his opponent with a puffed left eye and a cut under a badly swollen right eye.
Despite being outweighed by 17 pounds, Pacquiao blended raw power with speed in front of a crowd of 41,734 to deliver a spectacular performance against an opponent who was also four-and-a-half inches taller.
The pride of the Philippines, who had never previously fought above welterweight, dominated the official ringside statistics, landing 474 power punches compared to Margarito’s 229.
At one point during the 11th round, Pacquiao looked across at referee Laurence Cole and asked him to stop the fight.
“I feel for my opponent, his eyes and his bloody face,” said the Filipino, who was hurt by Margarito’s body shots during the middle rounds when pinned against the ropes. “I wanted the ref to look at that.”
“In the 12th round I wasn’t looking for a knockout. I take it easy because my trainer told me to take it easy and just be careful.”
Pacquiao, fighting for the first time since winning a seat in his country’s national congress earlier this year, gained one-sided verdicts from all three judges -- 120-109, 118-110 and 119-109.
“We didn’t lose a round,” said Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach. “Manny fought a great fight tonight and Margarito showed a lot of heart. He is very resilient. I thought for sure he would quit.”
Pacquiao’s initial concern after the fight was the health of his mother, who according to promoter Bob Arum had “suffered an anxiety attack” while watching her son from ringside.
“She’s okay now, she’s okay,” Pacquiao told reporters before holding his post-fight news conference.
Three-times world champion Margarito, back in the ring for the first time in the United States since he lost to American Shane Mosley in a WBC welterweight title bout in January 2009, slipped to 38-7 with 27 knockouts.
“We knew Manny was very fast,” the 32-year-old Mexican said through an interpreter before being taken to hospital for a precautionary head scan. “We were going good until I got caught, and then that’s when the problems started coming.”
Asked whether he had considered retiring before the end of the 12th round, Margarito replied: “No, no way. I‘m a Mexican and we fight until the end. This time I failed Mexico but we will fight to the end.”
The controversial Mexican was welcomed by a mixture of cheers and jeers when he first made his way towards the ring set up in the state-of-the-art home venue for the Dallas Cowboys NFL team.
Margarito and his trainer Javier Capetillo were banned for a year after plaster-like bandage wraps were found in the fighter’s gloves before the Mosley fight, prompting Roach to monitor the Mexican’s hand-wrapping on Saturday.
Editing by John O'Brien