5. Manny Pacquiao — 2009: 2-0 (2)
Entering 2009 Pacquiao was experiencing a quantum leap upward in terms of technique, execution – and poundage. After struggling to win a split decision against Juan Manuel Marquez at 126 in their second fight, Pacquiao wrapped up 2008 by destroying David Diaz to win a belt at 135 and blasting Oscar de la Hoya into retirement at 147. Pacquiao fought only twice in 2009, but those outings surely will comprise a sizable chunk of his career highlight reel.
On May 2 Pacquiao dropped down to 140 to meet THE RING junior welterweight champ Ricky Hatton, who had bounced back from his lone loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. (at welterweight) by beating Juan Lazcano and Paul Malignaggi. Based on his highly physical style Hatton was thought to be the strength counterpoint to Pacquiao’s speed but once the action began it became clear Pacquiao trumped Hatton in every category.
Timing Hatton’s rushes perfectly, Pacquiao continually nailed “The Hit Man” with right hooks and left crosses down the middle. With a minute left in the opening round a right hook to the temple sent Hatton spinning forward to the floor and a flurry of blows capped by a left cross scored a second knockdown in the closing seconds. But as exciting as those knockdowns were the punch that ended the fight was Pacquiao’s signature moment. Just as Hatton was moving in Pacquiao uncorked a massive left to the chin that left the Briton motionless and flat on his back. Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach revealed after the fight that Pacquiao had acted on a Hatton trigger – pumping his arms just before he threw a punch. Not surprisingly, the final result was deemed THE RING’s Knockout of the Year.
Observers got a much longer – and more competitive – look at Pacquiao on Nov. 14 against WBO welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto. The first four rounds featured plenty of back-and-forth action but even under fire Pacquiao improbably proved himself the superior one-shot hitter at 147 by flooring Cotto in rounds three and four. That show of power turned the fight irrevocably for the Filipino and only Cotto’s pride and bravery enabled him to sustain the beating Pacquiao dished out round after round. Cotto finally hit the wall early in the 12th as a volley of blows prompted referee Kenny Bayless to intervene at the 55 second mark. Not only was Pacquiao active (69 punches per round) he was accurate as he landed 43 percent of his total punches and 49 percent of his power shots. He out-landed Cotto 336-172 overall and connected on 276 power punches to Cotto’s 93. Pacquaio’s sensational performance heightened the calls for a Pacquiao-Mayweather superfight, calls that were fated to fall on deaf ears.