"LAS VEGAS (June 28) - Speed has been Manny Pacquiao's specialty ever since he was a scrawny 106-pound teenage brawler. When he stepped in the ring weighing 135 pounds on Saturday night, even his trainer wondered whether Pacquiao would lose some of his splendid speed with all that extra bulk.
That theory evaporated with one look at David Diaz's lacerated, bloody face, even before it hit the canvas in the ninth round. Not only did Pacquiao keep his pace while winning the WBC lightweight title with a ninth-round knockout, the Filipino phenomenon got stronger along the way.
What a frightening thought for the rest of the talented lightweight division.
"I feel much, much stronger and more powerful at 135," said Pacquiao, the first Asian boxer to win title belts at four weights. "This is where I plan to stay. I did real well. I was really surprised it wasn't stopped sooner."
After winning a recognized championship fight at his fifth weight - including a nontitle victory over 126-pound king Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003 - Pacquiao (47-3-2, 35 KOs) definitely has the credentials to qualify as boxing's mythical pound-for-pound champion.
With the win, Pacquiao became the first Asian fighter in history to capture a title in four weight divisions.
His lightweight debut at the Mandalay Bay Events Center was every bit as action-packed as his long history of brawls at lower weights. Like most of Pac-Man's victims, Diaz (34-2-1) just couldn't keep that ferocious pace.
Pacquiao also was relentless with his right hook, apparently capitalizing on something seen by trainer Freddie Roach in Diaz's defense.
"It was his speed," said Diaz, the game but overmatched champion. "It was all his speed. I could see the punches perfectly, but he was just too fast. He boxed me more than I thought he was going to box. I said to Freddie, 'It's the best I've ever seen him box.' Freddie said, 'Me too. That was our game plan."'
Three months ago, Juan Manuel Marquez stretched Pacquiao to the limit before losing a split decision in the same ring in perhaps the year's best bout so far. Pacquiao took much less punishment this time while winning every round on every judge's scorecard, but Diaz was remarkably tenacious in the face of nonstop attacks - until Pacquiao sneaked home a left hand that dropped Diaz to the canvas.
Diaz, the likable but unlikely champion from Chicago, knew he faced long odds - 4-to-1 at fight time - in his second title defense. The former U.S. Olympian hung in despite severe cuts and weary legs that wobbled with each of Pacquiao's big punches.
"His punches are just too fast," Diaz told his corner after the sixth round.
Diaz's face was dripping blood by then, and both fighters' white trunks were shaded pink by the eighth, when Pacquiao battered Diaz relentlessly. After Pacquiao's decisive punch in the ninth, referee Vic Drakulich stopped the bout before even counting to 10.
Pacquiao tugged on Diaz's arm in compassion before leaping onto the ropes in celebration.
Pacquiao threw 788 punches to Diaz's 463, also landing 10 percent more of his blows. Pacquiao jabbed well, with remarkable discipline for an instinctual brawler, but Diaz was hurt most by the 180 power shots that connected.
Pacquiao started fighting as a scrawny 16-year-old in the Philippines, but he grew into a dynamic competitor who won world titles at 112, 122 and 130 pounds while beating Barrera at 126. Few of those victories gave Roach more pleasure than this disciplined effort.
"That was beautiful," Roach said. "The game plan was not to stand and trade, because Diaz is too dangerous. The plan was to go in and out, outbox him, do what Manny does best. He did everything that we asked him to do."
Some think Pacquiao's next move should be to bulk up five more pounds for a wildly lucrative fight with England's most popular plugger, Ricky Hatton. Roach confirmed he would love Pacquiao to take on Hatton, though it would require Top Rank to pay step-aside money to Paulie Malignaggi, who's due for a shot at Hatton.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said Pacquiao is most likely to fight Nov. 8 against Edwin Valero, the dangerous 130-pound Venezuelan champion who can't fight in Nevada because of a head injury from a 2001 motorcycle accident.
"I can fight in November," Pacquiao said. "Who I fight is the job of my promoter (Bob Arum)."
A fight with Valero would have to happen in Texas, the only state that has cleared Valero to fight. Pacquiao might be reluctant to leave his favorite arena at Mandalay Bay, which was filled largely with Filipino fans, including an overly optimistic man whose sign read, "Pac-Man, Marry Me!"
Wouldn't want to be anyone in Pac-man's sights right now!