Five Fights that made Manny Pacquiao a legend

Take a look back at the key bouts that took boxing's only eight-division world champion from obscurity to superstardom.

Manny Pacquiao doesn’t shy away from a challenge.

From his victory over Chatchai Sasakul to win his first title in 1998 to the present, Pacquiao has faced one legitimate threat after another. Next up for the eight-division champion is a battle against four-division titleholder Adrien Broner on Saturday, January 19 at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand and live on SHOWTIME pay-per-view (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).

Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs) has faced 24 past or present world champions; 17 fights against opponents that are or will likely be in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. These are unusually high numbers in modern boxing and stark evidence that the Filipino superstar didn’t take an easy road to greatness.

Pacquiao usually came out on top in his most difficult challenges—in crowd-pleasing fashion, of course. Here are five fights that helped grow the legend of Pacman:

5 LEHLO LEDWABA

Date: June 23, 2001
Location: MGM Grand, Las Vegas
At stake: Ledwaba’s IBF junior featherweight title
Records at the time: Pacquiao 32-2, Ledwaba 33-1-1
Result: Pacquiao TKO 6
Significance: Ledwaba was the hot fighter going into this matchup, with some predicting stardom for the South African. Pacquiao, who took the fight on two-week’s notice, was relatively unknown. The odds against Pacquiao were so great that casinos in Las Vegas reportedly wouldn’t take bets on the fight.

Fans in attendance may have come to see Oscar De La Hoya in the main event, but 24-year-old Pacquiao stole the show, unleashing his unique combination of hand and foot speed, in-and-out movement and a lethal left hand. The unsuspecting Ledwaba fell once in the second and twice more in the sixth, prompting referee Joe Cortez to mercifully step in with Ledwaba on his back and the crowd on its feet.

“I had never seen him,” TV analyst Larry Merchant said on air afterward. “And frankly I’d never heard of him. But I’ve seen and heard of him now. And I want to see him again.”

4. MARCO ANTONIO BARRERA

Date: November 15, 2003
Location: Alamodome, San Antonio
At stake: Ring Magazine featherweight title
Records at the time: Pacquiao 37-2-1; Barrera 57-3
Result: Pacquiao TKO 11
Significance: When he agreed to face the young Filipino, Barrera was an established star on a roll, having beaten in succession Naseem Hamed, Enrique Sanchez, arch rival Erik Morales, Johnny Tapia and Kevin Kelley going in.

Without question, the tough, seasoned Mexican – a 4-1 favorite – represented the highest-profile test of Pacquiao’s career. To say he passed it would be an understatement.

Both Barrera—and onlookers—wore a look of bewilderment throughout the fight. Pacquiao was simply too quick, battering the veteran from the opening bell and dropping him twice before Barrera’s corner stopped the fight in the eleventh to save him from further punishment. Barrera won only one round on one card through 10.

The victory earned Pacquiao international status as one of the world’s best fighters and kicked off an epic series with Mexico’s big three of Barrera, Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez, which ended at 6-2-1 in Pacquiao’s favor.

Barrera later said he could’ve fought Oscar Larios instead of Pacquiao but, because Larios was a friend, he opted for the latter.

“I regret having made that decision,” Barrera told ESPN Deportes years later, “because he gave me the beating of my life."

3 ERIK MORALES

Date: January 21, 2006
Location: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas
At stake: No title
Records at the time: Pacquiao 40-3-2; Morales 48-3
Result: Pacquiao TKO 10
Significance: Morales did what no one else could do between 1999 and 2012: Beat Pacquiao, winning a close decision in March 2005. Though the great Mexican champion slipped up immediately before the rematch, losing a decision to Zahir Raheem, many still viewed him a threat take down Pacquiao again.

Instead, Morales took a career drubbing as Pacquiao landed hard shots from every conceivable angle to both the head and body. Morales had few answers. The last 20 seconds of the ninth were particularly stunning, as the proud warrior from Tijuana ran to avoid punishment, something fans had never seen him do.

“He’s all gone,” Roach told Pacquiao in between frames.

Pacquiao finished his masterpiece in the tenth, dropping Morales twice. Referee Kenny Bayless decided enough was enough after the second knockdown and ended the beatdown.

It was the first time Morales had been knocked out. Pacquiao would do it again 10 months later, this time in the third round, further enhancing his growing reputation as a freak of nature.

2 OSCAR DE LA HOYA

Date: December 6, 2008
Location: MGM Grand, Las Vegas
At stake: No title
Records at the time: Pacquiao 47-3-2; De La Hoya 39-5
Result: Pacquiao RTD 8
Significance: In retrospect, this was one of Pacquiao’s easiest fights during his peak years. Going in, however, many foresaw a mismatch in Oscar’s favor. The word “farce” was repeated often.

De La Hoya, the biggest name in the sport at that time, was on the decline, but still deemed capable at 35, and naturally the bigger of the two. Pacquiao had fought just once at lightweight (135 pounds) and then made the leap to welterweight (147) to face a man who had fought as heavy as 160, a disadvantage many assumed would be too much for the Filipino to overcome.

Or so we thought.

Pacquiao was too fast, too busy and just too good for the once-great Mexican-American. De La Hoya took a horrible pounding until his corner retired him after the eighth. He would never fight again.

The king was dead, long live the king. Pacquiao became the biggest star in the sport by pummeling the fighter who wore that moniker only a half-hour earlier.

Said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, immediately after the fight: “The dream came true tonight.”

1 RICKY HATTON

Date: May 2, 2009
Location: MGM Grand, Las Vegas
At stake: Hatton’s Ring Magazine junior welterweight title
Records at the time: Pacquiao 48-3-2; Hatton 45-1
Result: Pacquiao KO 2
Significance: The Hatton fight is the most awe-inspiring moment of Pacquiao’s career.

Hatton, confident and fit, had the reputation of a machine-like, in-your-face brawler with the ability to take down anyone not named Floyd Mayweather. However, the raucous fans from England who passionately and repeatedly sang, “There’s only one Ricky Hatton” at the MGM quickly realized that Pacquiao was far more unusual.

Hatton, obviously too slow for his blur of an opponent, went down twice in a stunning first three minutes and returned to his corner with a what-the-hell-just-hit-me look on his face as the bell to close the round.

And that was just a prelude to the real drama. Moments before the second round ended, Pacquiao, perhaps at the very peak of his abilities, landed a left cross for the ages. The blow immediately rendered Hatton unconscious—before he crashed to the mat. Referee Kenny Bayless didn’t bother to count as the crowd erupted.

Pacquiao’s legend was sealed at that moment.

“That is the most spectacular one-punch shot of Many Pacquiao’s incredible career,” said HBO commentator Jim Lampley. Added astute analyst Emanuel Steward, “ANY fighter.”

For a closer look at Manny Pacquiao, check out his fighter page.

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