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LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao unequivocally established himself as the finest fighter in the world Saturday.
But he accomplished an even more stunning feat when he not only defeated Oscar De La Hoya but battered him into retirement with a shockingly one-sided victory in their welterweight bout before 15,001 at the MGM Grand Garden.
De La Hoya, the 1992 Olympic gold-medal winner and a professional world champion in six weight classes, was hammered as he never was in 44 previous bouts before trainer Nacho Beristain mercifully asked referee Tony Weeks to halt the carnage after eight one-sided rounds.
The fight ended any debate whether Pacquiao or light heavyweight Joe Calzaghe deserves the top spot in the mythical pound-for-pound race, but it also sent a one-time legend into retirement.
De La Hoya, who was taken to a local hospital for a precautionary examination, never in his illustrious career had absorbed such a beating. Pacquiao's hands were far too quick and, despite the fact that he was moving up from lightweight, his punches were much too hard for the Golden Boy to handle.
It was clear by the third round that De La Hoya was going to need a miracle to reverse the pummeling he was taking.
Pacquiao displayed every punch in the arsenal, raking the Golden Boy with straight lefts that nearly closed De La Hoya's left eye and stunning him with hooks, jabs and uppercuts.
It was so savage of a beating that it was hard not to feel sorry for De La Hoya. At the end of the bout, a thoroughly beaten De La Hoya trudged across the ring and met his one-time trainer, Freddie Roach.
"You're right," De La Hoya said to Roach, who had prepared Pacquiao brilliantly. "I don't have it any more."
Pacquiao was a 2-1 underdog, largely because he was challenging a man who had fought at super welterweight or middleweight exclusively for the last seven-and-a-half years. Pacquiao had only fought once as high as lightweight and had fought 75 percent of his bouts before Saturday at super bantamweight or lower.
But Pacquiao unofficially weighed a pound-and-a-half more than De La Hoya – 148½ to 147 – and was clearly stronger and better Saturday.
"The media, the press is never wrong," Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum said. "You all said it was a mismatch and it was a mismatch."
De La Hoya didn't officially announce his retirement, but his business partners, Bernard Hopkins and Shane Mosley, spoke of his career in the past tense. In his brilliant career, De La Hoya took on most of the greatest fighters of his generation, but never before was he beaten as cleanly and decisively as he was by Pacquiao.
Not when he was knocked out by a brutal shot to the liver by Hopkins in 2004, not when he dropped a split decision to then-pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. last year and not when a tactical mistake cost him a victory against Felix Trinidad.
"Pacquiao was phenomenal," Hopkins said.
Pacquiao was never threatened by De La Hoya's vaunted left hook, negating De La Hoya's best chance of winning the fight.
It was something Roach had worked tirelessly on in the gym and something he unwaveringly told the world that Pacquiao would do.
"Taking the left hand away was a key," Roach said. "We took Oscar's left hand away from him and once we did that, the fight was over."
Pacquiao called De La Hoya his idol and said he was honored to have had the opportunity to face him. But he didn't spare his idol any pain, working his plan like a hired gun.
"It was nothing personal," Pacquiao said. "I just came to do my job."
He was far more impressive against De La Hoya than Mayweather, who retired in June as the widely acknowledged best fighter in the world. Pacquiao declined to say whether he'd
be willing to fight Mayweather, saying it was up to Arum to decide.
Arum said he wouldn't discuss a potential opponent for Pacquiao until after the holidays, but it's clear he's sitting on a gold mine. With De La Hoya expected to wander into retirement, Pacquiao will take his mantle as the game's biggest draw.
Fights against Mayweather, if he comes out of retirement, and Ricky Hatton are going to be massive events that would likely guarantee each men eight-figure paydays.
Arum wanted none of that talk, preferring to revel in one of the most satisfying victories of his nearly 50-year promotional career.
"Next to the night when George Foreman won the heavyweight championship of the world by knocking out Michael Moorer, this is it," Arum said. "These are my two most memorable fights as a promoter."
This was the boxing rite of passage that has become all too familiar over the years. It happened to Joe Louis against Rocky Marciano, to Muhammad Ali against Larry Holmes and to Julio Cesar Chavez against De La Hoya.
A younger, faster and better man snuffed out the star of one of the game's all-time greats.
"Hats off to Manny Pacquiao, because he was incredible," said Mosley, who has two wins over De La Hoya. "Remember what Oscar has done, though. He made this sport a great sport, and created this so that all of you people could come to see a great event."
But De La Hoya didn't have that one last great fight left and was forced to accept a beating as the final act of a Hall of Fame career.
"It happens to everyone," said legendary trainer Angelo Dundee, who assisted De La Hoya in camp.
Dundee had trained Ali, Foreman and Sugar Ray Leonard, among many of the game's greats, and had seen this scene before.
"I thought Oscar had what it takes to beat Pacquiao, but this happens when you let the guys fight the fight," Dundee said. "You just have to give the other guy credit."
Yes you do.
Oscar De La Hoya is the past.
It's Pacquiao's time now.