By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
On Sunday the Dallas Cowboys look for their first home win of the season.
In other words, it's time to adopt the eight-time boxing champion as our "team." After all, the bludgeoning he delivered upon the unfortunate noggin of Antonio Margarito last Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium was the most one-sided fight in Arlington since Nolan Ryan pummeled Robin Ventura back in 1993. Pacquiao over Margarito was a gritty bloodbath between guys long on passion and short on English, the kind of scrap usually reserved for Lowest Greenville around 2:30 a.m.
"This was not an easy fight," Pacquiao said after winning a unanimous decision before the deliriously entertained fans. "I can't believe I beat someone this big and strong."
Contrary to the football team's home games, Pacquiao-Margarito featured tons of hits, a raucous crowd and a popular winner. For one night, the metroplex's Bible Belt devotion gave way to a barbaric lust for a title belt. It's somehow reassuring that—at least every now and then—a populous built upon the cornerstones of cash and silicone can still crave gladiators and guts.
I'm not a big boxing fan. Muhammad Ali retired, Mike Tyson went nuts, I'm only guessing that Wladimir Klitschko is a heavyweight champ and sometimes I forget that Clubber Lang is just a character and George Foreman isn't just a chef. But there was plenty to appreciate in watching perhaps the greatest pound-for-pound fighter to ever step in the ring.
Pacquiao, 31, won his first championship as a 106-pound flyweight back in 1998. Last Saturday he fought at 5-foot-6 and 148 pounds, against an opponent four inches taller and 17 pounds heavier. It was no contest.
By the time the fighters made their dramatic entrances from locker room to ring, it was nearing 10:45 p.m. Fans—most of whom dressed up as if attending the Winspear Opera House or perhaps a party at Hotel ZaZa—not only found their seats, but some stood on them. HBO's Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman were yacking while bopping their heads to the music. The Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders lined the red-carpeted paths for the boxers and infamously annoying ring announcer Michael Buffer awaited with his signature "Let's get ready to rummbbllllllle!"
Margarito entered the ring to mariachi music that oozed all the power and pizzazz of a bad Mexican food restaurant. Minutes later, the champ sauntered in to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck," providing the feel of a pivotal timeout during a Dallas Mavericks game.
Then the bell rang and, just like that, glitz and glamor melted to expose a raw, radically violent sport that had men in pinstripe suits and women in pearls using their own body language to duck punches and offer counters.
Exclaimed a man in the seventh row to no one in particular as Pacquiao landed the night's first punch, "This is the shiiiiit!"
Though much bigger—he weighed in at 150 on Friday afternoon but amazingly, apparently legally, ballooned to 165 by the first round—Margarito was ultimately no more than a human piñata. Time and again he attacked with a ballsy, straightforward approach, only to be peppered with a counter-attack by the quicker, faster, better Pacquiao. Margarito not only lost the war, he finished second in almost every battle. To his credit Margarito was valiantly relentless. But his strategy worked about as well as the ignorant bear reaching into the beehive for the honeycomb, resulting in hundreds of painful stings and only a few futile tastes of the sweet nectar.
"He's so very fast," Margarito said after the fight. "It's hard to land a punch on that guy, but there's no way I was going to quit in the fight. I am a Mexican and we fight to the end."
In the end, Pacquiao threw an astounding 1,069 punches in the 12 rounds and landed almost twice as many as Margarito's 229. By the fourth round it was a matter of how and when, not if, Pacquiao would win. With a disappointingly low crowd of just more than 43,000—promoter Bob Arum had hoped to push 65,000 and top the American indoor record set for Ali-Leon Spinks at the Louisiana Superdome in 1978—chanting "Man-NEEE! Man-NEEE!" Pacquiao so dominated that in the final round he was allowed the luxury of extending mercy. With Margarito's right eye bloodied and swollen almost shut but his corner and his will too stubborn to stop, Pacquiao looked at referee Laurence Cole to end the fight. Margarito defended himself and even fought back. With a commanding lead, Pacquiao spent the final round showing his opponent mercy.
"I didn't want to hurt him," Pacquiao said afterward. "Boxing isn't all about killing each other."
Said Margarito trainer Robert Garcia, "Toward the end, the punches were coming clean. But we have a warrior here and he would never let me stop the fight."
After the fight Margarito was taken to the hospital via ambulance. He suffered a fractured orbital bone around his right eye that required surgery this week.
While Margarito is lucky to be alive and, let's face it, lucky to be fighting after having his boxing license suspended in California and Nevada in the wake of illegally hardening his hand wraps with plaster during a 2009 fight, he also walks away with a $3 million payday. Pacquiao, meanwhile, will make more than $20 million after the pay-per-view totals but also leave Texas with something priceless—serious consideration as the best fighter in boxing history. With a record of 52-3-2, Pacquiao now has won eight championships at eight different weight classes. Most of us get worse with age, adding pounds and losing performance. Pacquiao somehow gets better, still winning 12 years and 42 pounds from his debut.
Pacquiao, who won his seventh title by beating Joshua Clottey in Arlington last March, slays his bigger opponents not with a powerful haymaker, but rather a million paper cuts. His flurry of fists during the exchanges of close in-fighting are legendary. During their convergences in Cowboys Stadium, it wasn't uncommon for Pacquiao to land three punches to Margarito's one.
"Manny's a freak, let's face it," his trainer, Freddie Roach, said during last Thursday's final pre-fight press conference. "We're not going to see another Manny Pacquiao in our lifetime. If you get four world titles it's a big deal. One is hard enough. To win eight is unheard of. He continues to amaze me."
Conceded Garcia, "Manny's the best fighter in the world."
Since he can't further his legacy by fighting Ali or Tyson or Sugar Ray Leonard or Rocky Marciano, Pacquiao will sit and wait on Floyd Mayweather Jr. That fight—pitting the world's two best pound-for-pound boxers—would attract record crowds and viewers and generate unfathomable revenue, but it's on hold while Mayweather deals with criminal charges stemming from a domestic dispute in September. Until then, Pacquiao will pour his pitter-pounding heart and soul into his life's other passions: Singing. And governing.
And to think, at one point we clamored at the thought of watching the other Pacman—failed cornerback Adam Jones—in Cowboys Stadium.