Monday, November 20, 2006

Third time's the charm

Pacquiao finishes Morales trilogy with electric KO

Posted: Sunday November 19, 2006 2:37AM; Updated: Sunday November 19, 2006 2:37AM

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- From the first combination to the last knockout punch, all the ferocity of Manny Pacquiao's first two fights with Erik Morales seemed to be compressed into just under 9 minutes of frenetic action.

The third fight in this memorable trilogy was short, yet the outcome was sweet for Pacquiao: The Filipino phenomenon cemented his spot among the world's top handful of pound-for-pound fighters.

With a flair befitting his movie-star life, Pacquiao knocked down Morales three times on the way to a third-round knockout victory Saturday night in the super featherweights' third meeting in 20 months.

Pacquiao (43-3-2, 33 KOs) might have knocked Morales (48-5) into retirement in a fight that was every bit as thrilling as their first two meetings -- even if it didn't last nearly as long.

"I thought it was going to be a long fight, but it was a good fight -- more action," Pacquiao said.

He recalled his thought process while the sellout crowd deafened him before the opening bell:

"Make a move and make it fast. In and out, in and out. Use your speed."

Both fighters came out with heedless aggression, and Pacquiao first knocked Morales down against the ropes late in the second round. Morales kept returning shots, but couldn't keep up with Pacquiao's pace -- and after a knockdown midway through the third, Pacquiao finished him with a devastating left hook with just 3 seconds left.

"He was coming to me, and he was not able to handle me," Pacquiao said. "I felt so much stronger than him. I was prepared to fight the best of Morales."

Morales sat up after the final blows, but disconsolately shook his head at his trainer-father, Jose, in his corner -- and Pacquiao celebrated another dynamic victory over the only man to beat him since 1999. Afterward, Morales acknowledged he might be finished after 53 brutal fights, including four losses in his last five.

"For the first time in my career, I actually felt the power of an opponent like I've never felt it before," said Morales, who also lost two of three fights in his previous trilogy against Marco Antonio Barrera.

"I was hurt by the power of his punches, and maybe it's time to think about not doing this anymore. I had a great career. Maybe it is time."

Later, Morales said he probably would only fight again if he could do it in his native Tijuana.

Thousands of Filipino fans at the sold-out Thomas and Mack Center chanted Pacquiao's name, worshipping their native megastar of film, music, endorsements and perhaps politics -- oh, and don't forget boxing.

The 130-pounders split their first two meetings in the previous two years, with Morales winning a unanimous decision and Pacquiao replying with a TKO victory over "El Terrible" last March.

Pacquiao opened the third fight with a blistering series of combinations, and he only slowed down when Morales replied with tenacious jabs. But Pacquiao's momentum was overwhelming, and he had no shortage of ways to hurt his old foe.

"I was faster and bigger than him," Pacquiao said. "I could tell in the second round he was surprised by my right hook."

Pacquiao threw 175 punches in those 9 minutes, landing 54 percent -- including 51 of his 71 power shots in the third round alone. Morales landed just 26 percent of his punches.

"He was too fast and too strong," said Morales, who sat speechless in his corner for 5 minutes afterward. "I did everything in camp necessary to win this fight. I didn't win it. It wasn't my night."

Though both fighters have only middling profiles in the U.S., each of their three pairings has been an international incident.

Television sets from Manila to Mexico City were tuned in to the pay-per-view telecast of a fight pitting perhaps the Philippines' most famous person against one of the toughest fighters in Mexico's long line.

The crowd of 18,276 was the second-biggest in the arena's history -- and a measure of the fighters' love in this fight-crazy town, where several closed-circuit broadcasts were opened as well.

Morales won their first bout in March 2005, stunning and bloodying Pacquiao -- but Pacquiao battered Morales repeatedly last January, bruising his face and body before dropping him twice in the 10th round for the first TKO loss of Morales' career.

Pacquiao, who gained 15 pounds after making weight Friday at 129, was guaranteed $3 million for the match. Morales will get at least $2.75 million.

Earlier in the evening, Ricardo Torres won the WBO super lightweight title with a sketchy split decision over Philadelphia's Mike Arnaoutis. Mexico's Omar Nino also retained his WBC 108-pound title with a majority draw over former champion Brian Viloria of the Philippines, even though Viloria knocked down Nino twice.

Vanes Martirosyan, a 2004 U.S. Olympian, improved to 11-0 as a rising super welterweight with a fourth-round TKO of Edgar Reyes.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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