Manny Pacquiao's rise from poverty in the Philippines to become a world champion, a congressman in his country and garner a co-starring role in the boxing match of this generation — Saturday against unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. — has been a remarkable journey.
Since arriving on the doorstep of trainer Freddie Roach's Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood in 2001, Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 knockouts) has won belts in seven of his record eight weight divisions.
Pacquiao picked out for The Times what he considers his five greatest fights:
1. Oscar De La Hoya
Even now, more than six years later, Pacquiao can barely believe he made a 12-pound jump from lightweight to welterweight to fight De La Hoya.
Pacquiao weighed 142 for his first fight above 135 pounds, and told The Times after stepping off the scale, "Speed will be the key to this fight."
Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach watched De La Hoya fight months earlier and said De La Hoya "couldn't pull the trigger" any longer. From the opening bell, Pacquiao's reaction time ruled. "I knew right away in the first round that I had him," Pacquiao said.
In Round 7, CompuBox recorded a staggering 45 power punches by Pacquiao. That's the most power punches De La Hoya ever absorbed in 31 fights monitored by the punch stat company. The final round of De La Hoya's career was described by The Times like this:
"Pacquiao again corners De La Hoya with a sharp combination. De La Hoya's attempted jab was in vain. De La Hoya is clearly drained, and worse, he's wounded by a big Pacquiao left. A De La Hoya combination elicits a taunt from Pacquiao, who raises his arms, urging on the ex-champ and unleashing a final flurry at the end of the [ninth]. The blood under Oscar's left eye is flowing freely."
Repeatedly, in De La Hoya's corner after the round, he was asked if he wanted the fight stopped. No response came, maybe the slightest head nod. That was enough for trainer "Nacho" Beristain, who declared the fight over, with ring announcer Michael Buffer handling the landmark event with dignity.
"Tonight, we turn a page in boxing history."
2. Ricky Hatton
Every fighter needs a signature moment.
For Pacquiao, his came in a second-round knockout of Hatton on May 2, 2009, at MGM Grand.
Hatton, who'd been beaten only once previously, by Mayweather in 2007, was accompanied by a swarm of Brits in the arena. Hatton aligned with Floyd Mayweather Sr. as his trainer for the bout, and he and Pacquiao's trainer Roach engaged in a memorable back and forth.
By fight week, Mayweather Sr. had a poem ready: "Pac-man, it's over/So stop wishing on that four-leaf clover/Ain't no secret/I hope you know/It's Hit Man Hatton by KO."
Yet, Roach was extremely confident of victory.
"He looks so good," Roach said of Pacquiao a day before the fight. "In a workout this week, he did everything in the game plan perfectly. I believe we'll knock [Hatton] out."
The Englishman couldn't help himself from coming toward Pacquiao, and was knocked down twice in the first round. Then, late in the second, Hatton moved in again, only to be greeted by the single most devastating punch of Pacquiao's career, a left hook that ended the night and Hatton's consciousness, briefly.
Times columnist Bill Dwyre described it: "Hatton's eyes rolled back and his body fell, like a sack of potatoes, flat on his back."
Hatton was taken to a local hospital for treatment, but told someone in the ring, "I really didn't see the punch coming."
3. Miguel Cotto
There's a constant tug inside the best boxers, a challenge they hear from fans, reporters or themselves.
This November 2009 bout against welterweight world champion Cotto was a real test, a fight-of-the-year caliber challenge for Pacquiao against a true 147-pounder with major-league skill.
In the third round, Cotto threw a left that Pacquiao sidestepped while touching Cotto enough to merit a knockdown when Cotto went to the canvas on one knee. There was no mistaking Pacquiao's knockdown in the fourth. He sent a hard left to Cotto's chin late in the round, cutting the champion below one eye.
Cotto couldn't keep up in the toe-to-toe exchanges, and Pacquiao was too fast to allow Cotto to punish him to the body, and by the ninth round Cotto was bleeding from his nose. Pacquiao was battering Cotto so often by the 11th that the Puerto Rican, bleeding at the left eye, could only muster jabs.
Swollen under both eyes, and blood gushing from his left, Cotto took some more punishment in the 12th before referee Kenny Bayless decided that was enough, stopping the fight 55 seconds into the round.
The former flyweight Pacquiao was a true welterweight champion.
4. Antonio Margarito
The 2010 bout, at Cowboys Stadium in Texas, drew more than 50,000 fans, and was a supreme test of might versus size. On fight night, the HBO scale had Margarito weighing 17 pounds more than Pacquiao.
Was Pacquiao taking on too much, considering he won a lightweight (135 pounds) belt in the summer of 2008? Margarito was five inches taller, his reach six inches longer.
But Pacquiao's hand and foot speed, along with his punching power, provided the ultimate answer.
In the fourth round, Pacquiao delivered an uppercut that broke the orbital bone around Margarito's right eye, an eye muscle getting lodged in the fracture and leaving the bigger man with double vision. The Filipino landed more than 350 power punches in the bout.
Margarito was so beat up afterward, he was seen lying on a table with ice packs covering his head and body, telling his manager that Pacquiao was "a special fighter with a God-given talent [who] will make it difficult for any fighter to be victorious against him."
"If that had been Mayweather in there tonight, Manny would've killed him," Pacquiao publicist Fred Sternburg said.
Pacquiao's win gave him a super-welterweight championship and a record eighth world title.
5. Marco Antonio Barrera
Pacquiao's impressive power won him a November 2003 HBO main event, against Mexican warrior Marco Antonio Barrera in San Antonio.
The more experienced Barrera, a former featherweight champ, had lost only one fight (a split decision) in the past five years.
But Pacquiao trounced the big favorite, dominating the second round with a flurry of heavy punches that would become familiar to fight fans in the coming decade.
Barrera went down in the third, was bloodied by a head butt later and succumbed to the onslaught in the 11th, with his corner throwing in the towel.