LAS VEGAS — Manny Pacquiao was fighting for those struggling in his home country, the Philippines, who were ravaged recently by a trio of typhoons. He was fighting for his family — for his father, who made a rare appearance — and for the millions of fans who follow his every move.
But mostly, Pacquiao was fighting for his place in boxing history, one he secured Saturday with a technical knockout of Miguel Cotto that ended when the referee waved the fight over in the 12th and final round.
When it finished, Pacquiao had won his seventh title in seven weight divisions, a first in boxing history. Cotto exited the MGM Grand Garden Arena with white shorts long stained red. His wife and son had left their seats three rounds earlier, so bloody was the beating.
“He hit harder than we expected,” Joe Santiago, Cotto’s trainer, said. “He was stronger than we expected. Manny broke him down.”
Afterward, fans here chanted, “We want Floyd,” clamoring for Floyd Mayweather Jr. to be Pacquiao’s next opponent. Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, seconded their wishes. When asked whom he wanted next, Roach did not hesitate. Mayweather, he answered.
Roach said the fight should have been stopped earlier, with Cotto intent on shying away from contact starting in Round 10.
Cotto maintained that it had been his decision to push forward. He said this tearfully from a corner, where his mother consoled his battered body and kissed his bloody face. He later went to a local hospital for tests, his face bruised and swollen.
“I didn’t know where the punches were coming from,” Cotto said. “And I didn’t protect myself from his punches.”
The brutal beating continued Pacquiao’s progression, adding to a résumé that must now be weighed against the best in boxing history.
Cotto kept smacking Pacquiao in the thighs, trying to slow him down. It proved futile. In the fourth round, Pacquiao landed a powerful left hand — half uppercut, half hook — and Cotto’s face went backward, twisted in a grimace, as he fell to the canvas once again.
In the sixth round, Pacquiao busted Cotto’s bottom lip open, then took a shot from Cotto as the round ended. But Pacquiao sauntered back to his corner, a smile stretched wide across his face. He dominated from that point on.
Roach said that they had fought Cotto’s fight too often in the early going, that they had stayed on the ropes too long. Even then, Pacquiao’s speed proved overwhelming.
“The key to this victory was staying disciplined,” Roach said. “We didn’t panic in the ring.”
As the fight wore on, Cotto’s left eye kept swelling, until it looked as if a golf ball was attached. Pacquiao landed punches with both hands: jabs, hooks, upper cuts, a punishing variety.
Cotto never quit, but he made a habit of dancing backward. In the ninth round, Pacquiao backed his opponent into the ropes, again and again, until he had rendered Cotto’s face a bloody mess.
Pacquiao has continued to move up in weight, still beating formidable fighters, winning as easily at 112 pounds as at 145. Before Saturday, he had earned six titles in six weight divisions, forcing Oscar De La Hoya into retirement and knocking out Ricky Hatton with a savage blow rarely delivered by a man his size.
Pacquiao collected belts, from lightweight to now welterweight and every belt in between. He entered Henry Armstrong territory, earning comparisons to the boxer who won three titles in 10 months in 1937, when there were only eight divisions.
Along the way, Pacquiao became an international superstar, a singer with albums that twice went platinum, an actor with so much money he made his own movies.
As this fight, the toughest of his career, crept closer, celebrities picked Pacquiao to win. Everyone from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Sylvester Stallone — Rocky himself — predicted victory.
Proof of Pacquiao’s own confidence came from the concert he scheduled at Mandalay Bay, a full eight songs to be sung less than two hours after the fight concluded.
But Cotto was no ordinary opponent. His only loss in 35 fights came against Antonio Margarito, an opponent later caught with doctored gloves.
After that fight, Cotto covered his body in tattoos and claimed he had moved on. But the question lingered: Had Margarito permanently softened Cotto?
Roach, who counts Pacquiao as the 24th world champion he has trained, sure thought so. When Roach prepares Pacquiao to fight, he looks for the habits of opponents, not their weaknesses. Weaknesses can be fixed, Roach reasoned, but habits remain.
He knew Pacquiao would be giving away at least 10 pounds by fight time, giving away an inch and a half in height and two inches in length. But when Roach watched Cotto, who had the inexperienced trainer Joe Santiago in his corner, he saw bad habits, and he devised a plan for Pacquiao to pound Cotto’s body.
Santiago worked only his second fight as Cotto’s lead trainer Saturday, but all week he had pointed to his 18 years spent learning inside boxing gyms in Puerto Rico as reason to believe. On Friday, at a weigh-in hosted by the actor Jeremy Piven, Santiago marched right up to Roach, noted that Cotto had made the 145-pound weight stipulated in his contract, then called Roach a word that essentially means jerk.
Roach, the only man awarded trainer of the year three times, kept talking. He said that if Pacquiao hurt Cotto early, he would knock the Puerto Rican out. He said that Pacquiao would not lose a single round.
Pacquiao did not lose many rounds, even going on the defensive in the fourth and fifth, just as he had recently in training. Before the final round, Cotto asked his corner, as if he were no longer there, “One more left?”
With Pacquiao’s place in history cemented, Mayweather seems like the logical, blockbuster opponent. Pacquiao said he would not move up again in weight.
But on Saturday, that could wait. When the fight ended, Pacquiao headed to the concert, then eventually back home, to the Philippines and more than 90 million adoring fans.
This was more than just another knockout. This one was historic.