Manny Pacquiao puts himself on the short list

Like most everyone, referee Kenny Bayless seemed more in shock than anything when Manny Pacquiao flattened Ricky Hatton in the second round. (GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

Ricky Hatton went back to his corner after the first round, having tasted canvas twice due to the blinding speed and shocking power of Manny Pacquiao, and he looked hopeless. He looked defeated.

He looked like a man who knew he was in way over his head.

If that indeed was the prevailing thought in Hatton's mind, he was right. Less than three minutes later, he was destroyed by a left from Pacquiao, knocked out nearly cold.

I was up late after the fight, drinking and discussing the bout with friends until about 6am. I'm slightly hungover today, about to eat a panini, glancing outside and catching glimpses of my neighbors talking on cell phones, hearing their brakes squeal as they try to park their cars.

But the image of Hatton flat, hurt, and conquered won't leave my mind. And I'm still not sure how to go about discussing this fight.

There are the easy targets. Maybe Hatton should retire. Maybe I could complain about a pay-per-view that featured four dull undercard fights and a two-round demolition in the main event for 50 dollars. Maybe...

But I won't complain about the cost, because something special happened last night. This was sort of like having watched Clyde Drexler have a great season only to meet up with Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals. Or like watching one of those recent Ohio State football teams look unstoppable in Big Ten competition, only to meet up with a team that can flat-out out-run them in a bowl game.

Hatton was no match for Pacquiao -- and it doesn't mean Hatton's not good. It means Manny Pacquiao has gotten even better, a scary proposition for anyone that wants to fight him in the future.

The best news for Ricky Hatton is that he's OK, and that if you ask a lot of people who aren't crazy, there's nothing for him to be ashamed about. He's 45-2, reigned as 140-pound champion for about four years, and lost only to Mayweather (the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world then) and Pacquiao (the best now). If he retired tomorrow, I couldn't do anything but salute him, wish him the best, and hope he's got his mind right.

I don't think Ricky Hatton will retire. At the very least, a farewell fight in Manchester will be in the offing. I also believe he still has the goods to beat a lot of good fighters.

What this means for Pacquiao is simple and plain: He's now been a legitimate, lineal champion in four weight classes (112, 126, 130 and now 140) and has held world titles in two other divisions (122 and 135). No one has ever done this.

We're now talking about an all-time great. We're talking about one of the best fighters of this generation -- maybe the best.

In my generation, we've seen a few greats. Floyd Mayweather Jr. has done it on immense natural skill, great training from his father and uncle, and an ability to not be hit that rivals the best in history. Roy Jones Jr. did it on ridiculous reflexes and an uncanny ability to hit guys four times before they could even cover up. Winky Wright is/was a cover-up defensive master. Shane Mosley mixes skills and fortitude like few in the game today.

But nobody has been this insane force of nature that Pacquiao has become. He really hasn't lost a round in his last three fights, which ended when David Diaz was knocked out in nine, Oscar de la Hoya quit on his stool after eight, and now Ricky Hatton was drilled inside of two rounds.

Even though I don't think Hatton will retire straight off, I will not be surprised if this fight took a lot of Hatton's heart and desire, which would also mean that the last three guys Pacquiao has beaten have all found themselves either retiring (Oscar) or questioning what to do next (Diaz hasn't fought in almost a year, Hatton is up in the air now). He also essentially beat the spirit out of Erik Morales (who is planning an ill-advised comeback) and Marco Antonio Barrera (whose ill-advised comeback hasn't gone very well).

But what about Pacquiao? Where does he go now?

There's nobody at 140 that's a match for him, so this stay will be short-lived. His rival Juan Manuel Marquez -- the best opponent of his career -- will fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. at a catchweight on July 18, and most people expect the winner to face Pacquiao. But Mayweather-Pacquiao just might not get done because of economics and fighter pride. What then? Bob Arum wants to match Manny with Miguel Cotto at 147, but let's not forget Cotto has a big test coming in Joshua Clottey (HBO, June 13). Shane Mosley?

When you get this good, there are only so many options. Stay-busy fights or bouts that aren't against the cream of the crop get called cowardice. You're expected to fight the best when you are the best.

Manny Pacquiao is the best. Let's see what the future holds, because the present is pretty amazing.

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