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Manny: This is all for you

Filipino champ batters foe after 3rd round scare

By Francis Ochoa
Last updated 02:24am (Mla time) 07/03/2006

Published on page A1 of the July 3, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

FOR A BRIEF moment in the third round, a hush fell over the Araneta Coliseum, interrupted only by surprised, uneasy gasps.

Manny Pacquiao, the boxing hero many believed to be unconquerable, was at the receiving end of a barrage of blows from Mexican Oscar "Chololo" Larios, the challenger many felt was just a piece of meat tossed into the lion's den.

Then, from the far corners of the coliseum, a chant cut through the silence and built up to a roar as the crowd repeatedly shouted Pacquiao's name.

At that, the Filipino ring icon turned everything around in an instant, showing the speed and power that have made him a byword in the 130-lb ranks, to twice floor Larios, come out a unanimous decision winner and retain his WBC international super featherweight title.

"This is for all the Filipinos who always watch me fight and support me," Pacquiao said in Filipino after yesterday's noontime bout at the Big Dome.

Egged on by the crowd that had shelled out their hard-earned money to purchase pricey tickets to watch him live, the General Santos native knocked Larios down midway in the seventh round with a solid right to the jaw and then floored the challenger again 45 seconds before the final bell with a combination set up by a crisp left jab.

Although none of those knockdowns welded Larios to the canvas for good--the Mexican got up quickly both times--it was enough to ice the victory Pacquiao had promised his compatriots.

But it was a present that the country's favorite son nearly failed to gift-wrap.

Larios, the former two-time world champion, was not the sacrificial lamb Pacquiao's camp had hoped he would be for this homecoming fight of sorts.

The 29-year-old ring veteran surprised everyone as he applied pressure on Pacquiao early on and pinning the Filipino on the ropes in the third round and nearly taking him down.

Larios's shining moment, however, also turned out to be the beginning of his downfall.

"I felt that I could knock him out [after the third round] and I stopped listening to my corner," Larios said through an interpreter in the post-match press conference.

"He started fighting the wrong fight after the third round," said Rafael Mendoza, Larios's agent and adviser. "He lost his head thinking he could knock Manny Pacquiao out."

Suckered into a brawl, Larios gave Pacquiao the stage he needed to do what he did best: Showcase a natural flair for slugging it out and fusing a divided nation with a display of raw speed and punching power.

A country behind him

With the crowd--and an entire country--rallying behind him, the 27-year-old superstar slipped out from under the weight of Larios's third-round onslaught and uncorked a sharp combination that opened a cut under the Mexican's left eye.

"For a while, I was a little bit concerned," said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer. "But Manny recovered well after that."

"He hit me hard, but I wasn't that hurt," Pacquiao said. "In fact, I was able to get out of the ropes quickly after that. Hearing the crowd chanting my name helped. I knew I couldn't let [my countrymen] down."

"When he came back to the corner after the round, I told him not to get caught sleeping on the ropes again," Roach recounted.

By the time the sixth round came along, Pacquiao was certainly wide awake. His feared left straight started to find its range and his right cross, a weapon developed by his camp for his two previous fights against Erik Morales, came into play.

"He was just coasting in the early rounds and he did not turn up the heat until the sixth round," said Roach.

Pacquiao unleashed rapid combinations to the body and the head that repeatedly rocked Larios from the sixth round onwards, giving the Guadalajara native a sample of his much talked-about power and speed.

After bringing Larios to his knees in the seventh, Pacquiao kept up the pressure. In the 12th round, he drove a left jab straight to the head before uncorking another flurry that had Larios seated on the floor.

Larios: Speed beat me

"Manny's a great fighter, he beat me with his speed," said the former super bantamweight champion of the world.

The only thing faster than Pacquiao's punching flurry, it seemed, was Larios's ability to come back after every barrage, withstanding everything the Filipino threw at him to force the fight to go the distance. That was the Larios fight plan, to force an upset through the scorecards.

But Pacquiao still managed enough to seal a points victory--the three judges had it all for the champion at 117-110, 118-108 and 120-106--even if it wasn't quite the slam-bang performance the Filipino's camp had foretold during prefight interviews.

Partly, it was because, so Pacquiao said, he didn't go full steam against Larios.

"I knew I was in control of the match, leading on points, and I did not want to risk being too aggressive because he might catch me with a lucky punch," Pacquiao (42-3-2) said.

"If I pushed a little harder, I think you all know what the result would have been," he added, hinting that Larios (56-5-1) would not have lasted the distance.

It was also because Larios seemed to have the stars aligned for him yesterday.

Not only was Pacquiao far from the form that allowed him to knock Morales out early this year, but Larios himself seemed to have benefited greatly from the three-month preparation he undertook for this bout.

"Larios couldn't have fought a better fight than he already did [yesterday]," Roach said. Larios earned $450,000 for his effort while Pacquiao, who only prepared for six months for yesterday's tiff, picked up a cool $1 million.

More coverage: The Pacquiao Files

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