Oscar de la Hoya displays the WBA welterweight title belt during the weigh-in.
Back on the throne
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - July 22, 2018 - 12:00am

KUALA LUMPUR — It was vintage Manny Pacquiao back in the ring to re-establish himself as one of the world’s most exciting fighters despite his age, demands on his time in the Senate and breaking away from long-time trainer Freddie Roach. Pacquiao, 39, reversed the hands of time to wrest the WBA welterweight crown from Argentina’s Lucas Matthysse via a stoppage at 2:43 of the seventh round before a crowd of about 8,000, including President Rodrigo Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahatir Bin Mohamad at the Axiata Arena here Sunday morning.

Pacquiao celebrates in the locker room as assistant trainer Dodong Donaire (right) looks on.
President Duterte and Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahatir Bin Mohamad congratulate Pacquiao with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Presidential Assistant Secretary Bong Go and Jinkee

Matthysse, 35, was floored in the third, fifth and seventh in a lopsided contest that showcased Pacquiao’s return to the elite ranks with a sensational display of speed, power and tactics. A left uppercut sent Matthysse down in the seventh and as he knelt on one knee, he spat out his mouthpiece to signal surrender, prompting referee Kenny Bayless to stop his count at six and wave it off.

Pacquiao and Jinkee are all smiles after the knockout win.
Head coach Buboy Fernandez and Gen. Bato de la Rosa

President Duterte’s presence was unprecedented as it was the first time a chief executive witnessed a boxing match involving a Filipino in an overseas venue. Other prominent figures who flew here to watch Pacquiao’s re-ascent to the throne included Senate President Tito Sotto, Presidential Assistant Secretary Bong Go, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, former Gov. Chavit Singson, Solicitor General Jose Calida, Sen. Bongbong Marcos, Sen. Ralph Recto, Rep. Toby Tiangco, Rep. Rachel (Cutie) del Mar, Rep. Bingbong Crisologo, Rep. Alfredo Garbin, Rep. Lito Atienza, Rep. Mikee Romero, Rep. Eric Pineda, Vice-Governor Tonypet Albano, Mayor Bing Leonardia, Gen. Bato de la Rosa, Australian promoter Peter Maniatis, Las Vegas-based international matchmaker Sean Gibbons, boxing legend Oscar de la Hoya, former Mayor Pablo Olivarez, Ever Bilena CEO Dioceldo Sy, Court of Appeals Justice Nick Acosta, Gerald Anderson, Troy Montero, Annabelle Rama, Daisy Romualdez, Korina Sanchez, Mons Romulo, Lolit Solis, Bernard Cloma, Antipolo resort owner Jun Pasia, former pro basketball players Zaldy Realubit and Emer Oreta and many more.

Ring announcer Michael Buffer
Former WBO light welterweight champion Chris Algieri, who suffered six knockdowns in losing a decision to Pacquiao in Macau some years ago, was on the ESPN TV panel.

Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahatir Bin Mohamad was in the VIP section with President Duterte and congratulated Pacquiao in a meeting after the fight. Pacquiao not only headlined the card but promoted it, too, making history by assembling the first bill ever to feature 11 bouts, 98 scheduled rounds, four world titles at stake, 13 countries represented by 22 fighters from four continents, seven Filipinos and eight undefeated boxers.

Las Vegas-based international matchmaker Sean Gibbons (left) and son Brendan flank referee Malik Waleed.

Johnny and Liza Elorde took charge of the logistical and physical arrangements that reflected a Las Vegas ambiance. Ring announcer Michael Buffer contributed to the glitz. Models from Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Malaysia were recruited to grace the weigh-in and act as round girls. Before the fight, the Philippine National Anthem was sung by Ali Forbes and nine Christian pastors from General Santos City.

Pacquiao in the post-fight press conference with Senator Tito Sotto, ALV CEO Arnold Vegafria and Buboy Fernandez

Pacquiao hadn’t scored a knockout since 2009 so the abbreviated win over Matthysse was a long time coming. He certainly didn’t act his age. Senator Sotto said Pacquiao fought like he was 29 but the newly crowned WBA champion lowered it to 27. “Do I look 39?” he asked reporters in a post-fight conference. There was a slight reddening under his right eye. Otherwise, Pacquiao was umarked.

Referee Kenny Bayless (left) and wife Lenora with Angeles City-based, newly naturalized Filipino Bruce McTavish, formerly of New Zealand

Head coach Buboy Fernandez, taking over from Roach, did a masterful job in the corner with conditioning mentor Justin Fortune, assistant coach Nonoy Neri and cutman Dr. Ed de la Vega. Fortune said Pacquiao enjoyed a stress-free eight weeks of training, taking only eight days off to avoid burning out during the camp in Manila and General Santos City. The former Australian heavyweight contender’s wife Tamara, a former actress now movie producer, flew in from Los Angeles to experience the Pacquiao phenomenon.

Mommy Dionisia was in Kuala Lumpur to support her son. Pacquiao’s father Rosario also made the trip.

In the days leading to the fight, the lobby of Le Meridien Hotel where Pacquiao was billeted was packed with fans. Pacquiao stayed in the presidential suite, Room 3459, and only those with 34th floor access cards could visit. Still, Pacquiao’s suite was packed up to 9 p.m. until security ushered well-wishers out so he could rest. After the fight, Pacquiao attended an evening post-fight party at the Zena Bar in the Hilton Hotel and regaled his audience by belting out a variety of songs, including To Love Somebody by the Bee Gees, Sometimes When We Touch by Dan Hill, La Bamba by Ritchie Valens, Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You by George Benson and his trademark Pilipino song by Lito Camo.

Pacquiao paintings by artist Jun Aquino were sold at the post-fight party.

Pacquiao said he plans to stake his crown late this year and mentioned former world champion Amir Khan as a candidate opponent.  Fortune said a fight against Khan would bring in 100,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in London. Clearly, Pacquiao isn’t finished as a fighter.  For as long as the passion to box continues to drive his spirit, Pacquiao said he’ll perform to bring more honor to the country and to unify his fractious countrymen. Fernandez said Pacquiao could fight up to three more bouts before hanging up his gloves and the ultimate goal is to lure Floyd Mayweather back from retirement for a rematch.

With an international cast of round girls

Rebounding from a bitter loss to Jeff Horn in Brisbane last year, Pacquiao is back where he belongs — on the throne to reign once more as the world champion.

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