There was no knockdown but a relentless Pacquiao gave De La Hoya all that he could handle, before the "Golden Boy" called it quits at the end of the eighth round, prompting referee Tony Weeks to declare the Filipino the winner by technical knockout.
It was only the second time in De La Hoya's 16-year pro career that he was stopped in a fight, and it was made even more shocking because it came at the hands of a fighter who fought at just 129 pounds months earlier. At the age of 35 De La Hoya seemed not only well beyond his prime, but unable to offer any answer to the punches that Pacquiao was landing almost at will.
De La Hoya's left eye was closed shut as he sat on his stool after the eighth round and the ring doctor, referee and his cornermen discussed his condition. De La Hoya offered no complaints when his corner decided he had enough, getting up from his stool and walking to the center of the ring to congratulate the victor.
"You're still my idol," Pacquiao told him.
"No, you're my idol," De La Hoya said.
Two of the three ringside judges scored all eight rounds for Pacquiao, while a third gave De La Hoya only the first round. The Associated Press scored every round for the winner.
The stoppage came after a late flurry from Pacquiao in the eighth round, where De La Hoya started to show some signs of life after getting overwhelmed in the first eight rounds. At the time of the stoppage, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net, had Pacquiao ahead, 80-72, winning all the rounds.
De La Hoya was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons after the fight.
The fight was lopsided from the beginning, with Pacquiao landing punch after punch while De La Hoya chased after him, trying to catch him with a big punch. Pacquiao was winning big even before the seventh round, when he was pounding De La Hoya against the ropes in his corner and catching him with huge shots that knocked him across the ring.
De La Hoya remained upright, but with one eye closed and his reflexes seemingly gone there was no chance he was going to land the big punches he would have needed to turn the fight around.
Ringside statistics showed Pacquiao landed 45 power punches in the seventh round to just four for De La Hoya.
"He's just a great fighter," De La Hoya said. "I have nothing bad to say about him. He prepared like a true champion."
Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 knockouts) came up two weight classes to fight for his biggest purse ever, while De La Hoya dropped down to meet him at 147 pounds.
The four-division champion and current WBC lightweight king is expected to earn close to $15 million for this fight, which includes a guaranteed purse -- reportedly $6 million -- and his share of the pay-per-view pie.
The Filipino icon leaned on his speed, all-action style, and brilliant ring movement to score the upset in what was billed as the fight of the year.
Though De La Hoya (39-6) towered over Pacquiao and had a big reach advantage over him, Pacquiao had no trouble getting inside what few jabs De La Hoya threw to land his shots.
Pacquiao was credited with landing 224 of 585 punches to just 83 of 402 for De La Hoya.
"I think I did well tonight," Pacquiao said. "I controlled [the] fight. We worked on my speed in the gym and I think that was the key in this fight."
"Thank you God for giving me the strength. I don't think he would last long. I was still careful even though I was in control," he said.
"We knew we had him after the first round," Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach said. "He had no legs, he was hesitant and he was shot."
Roach trained De La Hoya in his last big fight a year ago and said De La Hoya simply couldn't throw punches when he needed in that fight. That was magnified even more against Pacquiao, who not only was as elusive as Floyd Mayweather Jr. but threw punches back that kept De La Hoya off pace.
"Freddie, you're right," De La Hoya told the trainer after the fight. "I just don't have it anymore."
If De La Hoya's career is over, it will be the end of a remarkable story that began when he won the Olympic gold medal in Barcelona in 1992 and went on to become the biggest box office attraction in the sport. But while he sold tickets, there were whispers long before the fight that he had nothing left.
"My heart still wants to fight, that's for sure," De La Hoya said. "But when your physical doesn't respond, what can you do? I have to be smart and make sure I think about my future plans."
Pacquiao got off to a solid start, dumbfounding De La Hoya with his ring movement and sneaking his pet left, snapping the Mexican-American's head several times.
By the time De La Hoya utilized his vaunted left jab in the third round, Pacquiao was firmly in control.
De La Hoya came alive in the fourth round, but Pacquiao came up with a whirlwind finish to steal it. De La Hoya landed a solid right to Pacquiao's face early in the round, his first big punch of the match.
Pacquiao shifted into high gear in the seventh, unleashing a run of combinations which staggered De La Hoya, sending the Golden Boy on the ropes for most of the round. But De La Hoya still managed to stay on his feet. Refusing to take further punishment, De La Hoya threw in the towel at the end of the eighth round.
The 29-year-old Filipino, who won his ninth fight in a row, has improved to 20-1 since 1999, his lone loss a 2005 decision to Mexican Erik Morales. He raised his record to 48 wins, including 35 knockouts, three losses and two draws.
"He's just a great fighter," the 35-year-old De La Hoya conceded. "He fought a tremendous fight. He was the better fighter and he deserves this win. I give him all the credit all the world."
De La Hoya added: "He prepared like a true champion. At this stage, when you face a great fighter like Manny, it's [the performance] expected.
Pacquiao's latest conquest comes after wresting the WBC lightweight crown from David Diaz in June and WBC super featherweight crown from Juan Manuel Marquez last March.
De La Hoya dropped to 3-4 in his last seven fights and 39-6-0 overall.
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