FROM LAS VEGAS — Lightning kept striking in sharp, penetrating bursts Saturday night in the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Most of it was hitting Miguel Cotto's face.
Finally, 55 seconds into the final round of the 12-round welterweight boxing match, referee Kenny Bayless stepped in and stopped the thunder and lightning and huge headaches being administered by the incredible fighting machine, Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao had won with yet another epic performance. The pride of the Philippines has now become the pride of all boxing. The Puerto Rican Cotto, one tough customer, was reduced to spending the last four or five rounds simply running, surviving, maybe hoping for enough energy for one lucky shot.
"They should have stopped it three rounds earlier, when Cotto started to run," said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, who, once again, called the shot on how this one would go.
"We will just start right out and overwhelm him with Manny's speed," Roach had said. "We need to break him down." And so Pacquiao did.
In the end, Cotto's face was battered, swelling and bloody. His white shorts had turned pink from his own blood. Like so many Pacquiao opponents in recent years, he had now experienced Pacquiao, a whirlwind wearing boxing gloves.
In recent fights, the bigger David Diaz didn't have a prayer. The great Oscar De La Hoya went sitting on his stool in the corner. And Ricky Hatton went flat on his back, with his eyes rolled back.
And now Cotto, one of the toughest, most feared welterweights of the era, was reduced to dancing and ducking backward, apparently praying for a miracle. Afterward, Cotto said what has become obvious to all now.
"I have fought all the greatest welterweights," he said, "and Manny is the best."
Pacquiao's move up through the ranks, from a 106-pounder 14 years ago to a 145-pound welterweight champion (they fought the 147-pound division at a catch weight of 145) has been like a military march.
He has now taken his seventh title, a record, in seven weight divisions. Henry Armstrong became legendary for that, and Pacquiao might be even better.
Cotto started well, probably even won the first round, and Roach admitted that he was slightly worried.
"Cotto fought a great fight," he said. "We had to get Manny to use his speed."
That was like telling a roadrunner to go chase.
Beep beep. Gone.
Pacquiao's speed is much discussed, but it remains startling each time it is viewed in person. His offense consists of quick attacks from all angles. He is there, then he is gone. And in that time, four or five shots have been landed that quickly result in swollen cheeks and cut eyes and deflated expectations.
About Pacquiao's punches, Cotto said, "I didn't know where they were coming from."
For nearly 12 rounds, Cotto was like a guy locked in a dark room with a hundred swooping bats.
In the end, Pacquiao expressed little concern about some of the early going, saying, "I needed to test his power for a few rounds."
Also in the end, the congenial, always-smiling Pacquiao showed a killer instinct in the ring, even though he clearly could have let Cotto dance and dance right along with him, as he was way ahead on all cards.
"We were going for the knockout," Pacquiao said.
Cotto, who was caught for quick knockdowns in both the third and fourth rounds as things quickly began to turn Pacquiao's way, was being watched closely by Bayless as early as the eighth round.
"Cotto was taking quite a bit of punishment," Bayless said. "He was still landing jabs, but they weren't doing anything. And Pacquiao was just relentless."
When Bayless stepped in and smothered Cotto in a protective bear hug, Pacquiao had him on the ropes and was pounding away. Lighting was flashing from the left, right and center.
There had been discussion as early as the eighth round in Cotto's corner about whether it was time to stop. Cotto said he told his young trainer, Joe Santiago, that he wanted to carry on. Pride, more than common sense, prevailed.
"I tried to do as much as I can for the fans," Cotto said.
After the fight, Cotto headed for the hospital for tests. He said he was fine, but wanted to be checked "because my health comes first."
Pacquiao had something slightly different scheduled for his post-fight activity. He sings in a band, and they were going to play a late-night gig at Mandalay Bay.
Talk about being a rock star.
The result will now set in motion a series of talks between Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, and unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. That would be the next mega-fight in Pacquiao's current parade of excellence. And perhaps the last, because he has his eye on a political career in the Philippines.
Roach, the architect of this boxing phenom, said he thought Mayweather would be next, and he has said that he sees that as "one more and out."
For lots of boxers, particularly those still hanging around in the middle weight divisions, that would be a most welcome relief.