Posted: Sunday January 22, 2006 5:02PM; Updated: Sunday January 22, 2006 5:02PM
In the opening round, however, Pacquiao was a little more measured in his attack than he had been in the first fight. He used a flicking right jab before shooting over his bread-and-butter punch, the straight left. Pacquiao is such a committed puncher that his attack in the past had often carried him through too far and left him off balance. He had paid for that pattern the first time against Morales, and this time he seemed determined to avoid it. Morales, meanwhile, looked big, determined and prepared. He used a good long left jab and toward the end of the round caught Pacquiao with a solid right hand. Though Pacquiao showed his superior hand speed with a flurry just before the bell, the round went to Morales.
The fight settled in over the next four rounds. Pacquiao began to get through with the straight left in the second and to score to Morales' body, even as Morales continued to fire back with lefts and rights. With 45 seconds to go, Pacquiao landed a left that rocked Morales back, forcing him to clutch at the ropes to remain upright. It was certainly enough to give the round to Pacquiao, but through the third, fourth and fifth, Morales appeared to be the more complete fighter, landing his jab and often backing up Pacquiao and neutralizing the Filipino's faster hands.
Then in the sixth, the fight moved to another level. Showing new discipline in his attack and using more right hands than in the past, Pacquiao battered Morales with several solid shots and sent him wobbling back to his corner. There was a cut over Morales' right eye and a haunted look on his face.
But Morales showed once again that he is at his best when he's pressed. He actually opened the seventh with an attack and landed some good punches, but it soon became clear that Pacquiao, despite taking punishment throughout, was now the stronger of the two. Morales never relented, but Pacquiao was battering him to the body and to the head. Morales's hawk-like nose seemed shifted to the side and toward the end of the eighth he showed a kind of cracked grin as he wobbled again along the ropes, but he finished the round with a desperate flurry.
"Momentum" gets talked about a lot in sports, but it is never as real or as visceral as it is in a boxing match when one fighter begins to succumb to the prolonged attack of another, even as he refuses to relent. Morales survived the ninth, but in the 10th Pacquiao finally overwhelmed him, setting up the finish with a serious body attack and then sending him down -- awkwardly, begrudgingly, exhaustedly -- with a clubbing left. Morales was up at the count of eight, with 41 seconds remaining, and Pacquiao drove him to the ropes and back down with a barrage of punches. Bayless stopped the bout at 2:33 of the 10th.
One can only wonder to what stratospheric level Pacquiao's popularity has now soared in the Philippines. But even here, in the U.S., there's reason to hope for a little Pac-mania. He has proved himself to be that rare fighter who can continue to learn and hone his skills, even on the grandest stage. Though the contract called for a rematch, neither fighter seemed ready to agree to that just yet. Morales, who admitted he had come into the ring tired and drained from the struggle to make 130 pounds, said he wanted to take a "vacation." Pacquiao, when asked at the post-fight press conference what would be next for him, answered happily, "Rest!"
No one who saw their fight would begrudge either man a bit of peace and quiet. Nor, I maintain, would anyone who saw it pass up a chance to see either in action again.