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Manny Pacquiao readies a left hand on a swollen Oscar De La Hoya ((Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images) )

Manny Pacquiao proved on Saturday night in Las Vegas that he's a fighter at the peak of his considerable abilities, and that Oscar De La Hoya is years past his own.

Pacquiao, 29, pummelled De La Hoya en route to a virtual shutout before the 147-pound welterweight bout was stopped in the corner before the ninth round at MGM Grand Arena. In doing so, he likely ended the reign of the fighter called "The Golden Boy" as a top box office draw.

With referee Tony Weeks and a Nevada commission doctor looking on, trainer Nacho Beristain implored De La Hoya not to come out for the ninth. Undoubtedly realizing he was staring at the end of his career as a top fighter, De La Hoya, 35, was uncommunicative and the bout was stopped.

With the win, Pacquiao joined the ranks of Roberto Duran, Michael Spinks and Roy Jones Jr. as fighters who excelled despite making huge jumps in weight.

"He's just a great fighter," De La Hoya said in the post-fight interview. "I have nothing bad to say about him. He prepared like a true champion."

The Filipino icon was already considered by many the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport but had fought over 130 pounds just once, in June. He came in at 142 for the most lucrative bout of his career.

De La Hoya, by contrast, weighed 145 for the fight, the lowest he had been in about a decade.

The Mexican-American seemed to realize he was in for a long night over the first two rounds, when Pacquiao darted in and out effortlessly while landing stinging shots to the body and head.

Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach, who worked with De La Hoya for one bout last year, said he knew it would be a good night for his charge.

"We knew we had him after the first round," said Roach. "He had no legs, he was hesitant and he was shot."

Possibly realizing he was fighting at a torrid pace, Pacquiao took his foot off the pedal the next round, but resumed the one-sided goings on in the fourth.

De La Hoya, whose right eye was discoloured and swelling fast, threw few punches. When he was able to pull the trigger, he appeared slow and oafish.

The younger man landed blows to the head at a sickening rate in the seventh, which was a two-point round. The eighth was only marginally better for De La Hoya, and the bout was stopped.

Pacquiao (47-3-2, 35 knockouts) could be in line for big fights next year against Ricky Hatton or Floyd Mayweather Jr., should the latter fighter come out of retirement.

"That's what we were focused on every day in the gym — speed, speed would be the key to this fight," Pacquiao said. "I trained hard for this fight, and that's why I deserve tonight."

De La Hoya dropped to 39-6, with 30 knockouts.

Pacquiao was guaranteed $11 million US for the fight.

De La Hoya  will make at least $15 million and a percentage of pay-per-view buys. His Golden Boy Promotions company is a powerful player in the sport, something that can no longer be said about the fighter himself.

"My heart still wants to fight, that's for sure," said De La Hoya. "But when when you don’t respond physically, what can you do? I have to be smart and make sure I think about my future plans."

Pascal topped in tough battle

Jean Pascal of Montreal lost a unanimous 12-round decision on Saturday night in Nottingham, England, in a gruelling fight for the vacant World Boxing Council super middleweight title.

Briton Carl Froch improved his record to 24-0, with 19 knockouts, with the victory over Pascal. While the decision for Froch was just, the scores of 118-110, 117-111, 116-112 were a little generous to the hometown fighter.

Both fighters showed tremendous heart and the ability to absorb punishment, exchanging dozens of powerful shots. Froch slowly pulled away in the second half of the bout with a more consistent work rate.

Pascal put forth a spirited rally in the 12th, and the fighters continued trading punches after the final bell until separated by the referee.

Froch captures the title relinquished by unbeaten Joe Calzaghe, who moved up from the 168-pound class to the light heavyweight division earlier this year.

Pascal (21-1, 13 knockouts) was looking to join Montreal's Lucian Bute as titleholder in the division. Bute holds the World Boxing Association super middleweight belt.

Pascal, 26, was the 2002 Commonwealth Games champion for Canada and represented the country at the Athens Olympics two years later.

With files from the Associated Press