LAS VEGAS - "The Dream Match" turned out to be Oscar De La Hoya's biggest nightmare.
Manny Pacquiao, the littlest man in the ring, turned out to have the biggest heart and the biggest punches, ending De La Hoya's night - and perhaps his career - when the fight was stopped after eight rounds by TKO last night in one of the biggest upsets in recent years.
"I had to stop the fight because Oscar is a privileged fighter. There's was nothing he could do with Manny Pacquiao," said trainer Nacho Beristain.
Pacquiao (48-3-2) seemed to have all the momentum from the opening bell. For eight rounds, Pacman took away De La Hoya's 6-inch reach and pounded him inside with a relentless left jab that opened a slight cut high on his nose by the second round, then a welt under his left eye that proved problematic for De La Hoya later.
There was concern that De La Hoya (39-6), coming down in weight class to 147 pounds, would be able to withstand the punishment. Pacman's trainer, Freddie Roach, had called a ninth-round knockout, feeling his fighter would wear down De La Hoya with his foot speed while taking away De La Hoya's left hook.
Roach had trained De La Hoya for his May 5, 2007, fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr., which ended in a split decision for Mayweather. He stayed away from De La Hoya through the week, but after the bout, De La Hoya came up to him and said, "You're right, Freddie. I don't have it anymore."
De La Hoya was taken to a hospital after the fight for "precautionary reasons," said a Golden Boy Promotions spokesman.
Pacman used his southpaw style and normally unpredictable manner to full advantage as De La Hoya could never key on any pattern. De La Hoya's adviser, legendary trainer Angelo Dundee, had studied film of Pacman and came away feeling De La Hoya could execute a proper game plan to exploit Pacman's weaknesses. There were none.
"I knew right away I could win," Pacquiao said. "I controlled the fight, defended against his jab, and I was able to move around."
Roach added, "Oscar was very hesitant in the first round."
The Globe had Pacquiao winning all eight rounds. Judge Stanley Christodoulou had Pacman ahead, 79-72, after eight rounds with De La Hoya winning only the first round. Judge Adalaide Byrd gave all eight rounds to Pacman, as did judge Dave Moretti.
Roach had said earlier in the week he thought the first round would tell all. He was right. Pacquiao slipped in left hands that kept penetrating. The favored De La Hoya seemed flatfooted much of the time, not knowing what to make of Pacman.
Pacquiao was concerned after Friday's weigh-in when he came in at 142 pounds to De La Hoya's 145, but last night, sources indicated Pacquiao weighed 148 1/2 to De La Hoya's 147. In the end, Pacquiao was able to go up in weight easier than De La Hoya was able to go down. De La Hoya wanted to prove to everyone he could do it and maintain his strength, but it was evident early on that his strength wasn't there.
"The best man won tonight," said De La Hoya, who didn't answer the bell for the ninth round. "He deserved to win the fight. He took the fight to me."
"You have these kind of nights and you have to learn to suck it up," said Dundee. "De La Hoya gave it all he had. I'm grateful for what De La Hoya did for boxing. He gave it a hell of a shot. Two great fighters fighting one another. It's too bad one had to lose. He was in great shape. No cop-out. De La Hoya was ready to beat Pacman. He had all the answers and preparation. But the best-laid plans go bye-bye."
Pacman exhausted De La Hoya, using the entire ring and making De La Hoya move his feet. De La Hoya said he was training to fight King Kong, but Pacquiao defied all odds and was far bigger than Kong.
Pacquiao delivered 585 punches to De La Hoya's 402, and connected on 224. Pacman threw 252 jabs and 29 connected. Pacquiao connected on 97 punches to De La Hoya's 21 over the final three rounds.
By the fifth round it was clear De La Hoya was sucking wind and it was just a matter of time before Pacquiao was going to take him out.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.