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Manny recalls winning his 1st world title


PhilBoxing.com



Pacquiao (R) and Sasakul during their Dec., 1998 battle.

It was 22 years ago and Manny Pacquiao was 19, less than two weeks before his 20th birthday. He was in the Tonsuk College Ground in Phutthamonthon, 30 kilometers west of Bangkok, to challenge WBC flyweight champion Chatchai Sasakul on Dec. 4, 1998. Two days later was the start of the Asian Games.

Pacquiao was up against a highly-skilled veteran, a two-time SEA Games gold medalist, an Asian Games silver medalist and a 1988 Seoul Olympian. Sasakul, 28, was a national hero and when he entered the makeshift ring to face Pacquiao in the outdoor afternoon heat near a public market, the loud speaker system blared a bouncy song in his honor. The place was packed, admission was free and Thai fans came in droves expecting their idol to add another Filipino to his list of victims. Sasakul had previously beaten 20 Filipinos, including former world champion Rolando Pascua, Jonathan Penalosa, Jess Maca and Reynante Jamili. The betting was Pacquiao wouldn’t survive the distance.

Pacquiao was coming off two first-round knockout wins and his record was 23-1, with 14 stoppages while Sasakul’s mark was 32-1-1, with 23 KOs. This was the Thai’s third title defense. His only loss to Russian Yuri Arbachakov was avenged so Pacquiao seemed like a cakewalk for Sasakul.

When the fight began, Sasakul went to work quickly. Pacquiao could hardly touch the slick, quick-stepping Thai who unleased dizzying combinations from a distance. The Filipino gave chase but Sasakul proved too elusive. Late in the seventh round, Pacquiao finally caught Sasakul with a jarring left straight and he looked wobbly at the bell.


Pacquiao and Sasakul meet at Nat's Thai Restaurant near the Wildcard Gym in 2015 during one of Pacquiao's training camp in Los Angeles. Photo by Aquiles Zonio.

“Wala akong nakuhang round from one to six,” recalled Pacquiao whose cornermen were Rick Staheli, Leonardo Pablo and Lito Mondejar. “Sa seventh, saved siya by the bell but baka kaniya pa rin yung round kasi late ko na siya natamaan.” At the start of the eighth, Pacquiao went out for the kill. He whacked Sasakul’s body with vicious left and right hooks. Sasakul grimaced, winced and doubled up in pain, his groans heard at ringside. The body attack slowed him down and suddenly, he became an easy target for Pacquiao. Sensing the end was near, Pacquiao bumped his gloves together, now a signature trademark. As Sasakul lowered his hands to protect his midsection, Pacquiao found the opening for his closer. He threw a left hook using the twist of his body to add power to the shot and it landed flush on Sasakul’s jaw. Pacquiao said it was the same kind of punch he used to knock Ricky Hatton out cold in Las Vegas in 2009.

Sasakul fell on his stomach, tried to rise and stumbled back down, flat on his back. His eyes were glassy as Australian referee Malcolm Bulner began to count. He wanted desperately to get back on his feet but couldn’t. He was in tears. The crowd was hushed into shock. Pacquiao had scored a dramatic come-from-behind win to capture the first of his eight world titles in different divisions.

The three judges had Sasakul way ahead at the time of the knockout. Judge Brian McMahon of Australia saw it a shutout, 70-64. Japanese judge Masakazu Uchida scored it 69-64 and Mexican judge Victor Cervantes had it 68-65.

It seemed like the Thais were up to no good in delaying Pacquiao’s drive from the hotel to the fight venue, clearly meant to rattle him. The ride took 45 minutes for Pacquiao and his team to reach Phutthamonthon. After the fight, the trip back to the hotel was only 10 minutes. But the belt was now safely in Pacquiao’s hands. Pacquiao, 42, is still active and after the win over Sasakul, figured in 22 more world title fights. He has starred in 25 pay-per-view events, generating over 20 million buys and over $1.275 billion in revenues and his record is 62-7-2, with 39 KOs. Sasakul, 50, retired in 2008 with a 63-4-1 record, including 38 KOs.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Joaquin Henson.


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