Erik Morales' heart must have traveled deep into his legs Saturday night. It was the only thing strong and substantial enough to hold them up.
The warrior from Tijuana was trapped in the square ring with Manny Pacquiao, a wrecking ball on fast-forward. It was the same person Morales had survived last March, but it was far from the same fight.
Pacquiao's endless pressure cut through the many fibers of Morales' courage, one by one, and it created one of those hypnotic boxing nights that you can't stop watching, even you though you're not sure you'll like what you see.
It ended in the 10th round, with two knockdowns, and referee Kenny Bayliss correctly stopped it after the second one. It was Morales' 52nd pro fight, and the first to end with Morales on his back.
Managers and doctors gently hoisted Morales up and onto his stool. His angular face, drawn and tight from the strain of making the 130-pound limit, was now puffed and swollen.
He sat there for a long time as Pacquiao danced around the ring and gestured to his deafening Filipino fans.
Then Morales got up and hugged the winner. In the least surprising development of the night, Morales then went to Valley Hospital for observation.
The contracts say Pacquiao and Morales will do this again. Not soon, but sometime. Pacquiao also has a mandatory date with WBC super featherweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera, whom he thumped in 11 rounds 26 months ago.
Another flip of the calendar probably won't help Morales, who has crammed more bruising fights into his 29 years than almost anyone.
But one can't imagine Morales turning it down. Warriors don't recognize such things as exit strategy. Once Morales' head clears, he'll figure out a salvageable explanation.
He won't like the obvious one. Pacquiao, 26, is quicker, and his batteries never expire. Few fighters of any weight can trigger four- or five-punch combos as quickly as Pacquiao can, and those rat-a-tat-tats became an avalanche.
Another difference was that Pacquiao wasn't bleeding. He said he saw everything Morales threw - saw it far too well, on some occasions.
He was far more versatile and skilled than he has looked at other times, and his discipline carried him through Morales' once-a-round rallies.
Mostly Pacquiao respected Morales just enough to beat him.
The fight tilted in the sixth round. Three times Pacquiao had Morales hurt and stumbling.
At one point the Mexican had to hold onto the top rope to keep himself upright. At the end, Morales was getting ready to spiral his way to the canvas when the bell sounded.
The slide began there and never stopped. Morales' face became misshapen somewhere in the sixth and seventh rounds, and Pacquiao never let a round go by without rocking Morales hard. Morales still had the 5-inch reach advantage, but Pacquiao kept beating his body until Morales leaned over, like a tree bending in an ice storm. He was at Pacquiao's eye level when the deal finally went down.
When Morales got his breath, he remembered the tough days of watching the scale. "I'll never try to make 130 pounds again," he said. That means Morales-Pacquiao III would have to happen at 135. Sometimes that makes a difference. Saturday night it would have only meant Morales would fall harder.
President Gloria Arroyo led the boxing-crazy Philippines in jubilation after Manny Pacquiao's victory yesterday.
Shops in many parts of the Philippines closed early while in Pacquiao's southern home town televisions were set up in markets and in barber shops for the public to watch their idol.
"I join Filipinos from every corner of the Philippines and the world over in congratulating Manny Pacquiao on his very convincing victory," Arroyo said after watching the match on television.
"Manny's triumph exemplifies the indominatable fighting spirit of the Filipino not just in the field of sports but also in every field of struggle for excellence," she said.
Arroyo's husband, Jose Miguel, led several Filipino politicians and prominent personalities in watching the fight in Las Vegas.