LAS VEGAS -- First Oscar De La Hoya, now Ricky Hatton. The way Manny Pacquiao is handing out beatings, maybe Floyd Mayweather Jr. should have stayed retired.
Pacquiao cemented his claim to being the best pound-for-pound boxer Saturday night with a spectacular performance that ended with Hatton sprawled helplessly on the canvas after a devastating left hand to the head late in the second round.
Coming off a dominating win over De La Hoya, Pacquiao was even better against Hatton, knocking him down two times in the first round before finally stopping him with a vicious left hand that dropped Hatton for good in the 140-pound title bout.
Referee Kenny Bayless took one look at Hatton and declared the fight over at 2:59 of the second round.
"I didn't have to count," Bayless said.
Hatton laid on the canvas for several minutes while doctors tended to him before finally leaving the ring with a wry smile on his face. He was taken to a local hospital for a precautionary brain scan.
Pacquiao was always supposed to be quicker than Hatton, but he was also a lot stronger -- and a lot more accurate. He landed 73 of his 127 punches in the fight in a display that had to catch the attention of Mayweather, who earlier in the day said he would return to the ring for a July 18 fight against Juan Manuel Marquez.
Hatton, meanwhile, connected on only 18 of 78 punches, according to ringside stats.
"I'm surprised the fight was so easy," Pacquiao said. "He was wide open for the right hook. I knew he would be looking for my left."
Pacquiao had the perfect game plan for Hatton, evading his bullying rushes and then picking him apart with counter punches. The performance was even more stunning because Hatton had lost only once and has been a world-class fighter for years.
"Are you happy?" Pacquiao asked promoter Bob Arum in the ring afterward.
"You're going to be the greatest fighter who ever lived," Arum replied.
That would take some doing, but on this night Pacquiao staked a claim to greatness that few would have thought possible before he scored his big upset over De La Hoya last December.
Pacquiao needed less than half a round to figure out the onrushing Hatton, hitting him with a flurry of punches midway through the first round before putting him down for the first time with a right hook to the head. Hatton got up at the count of eight but Pacquiao landed another flurry and dropped him again just before the end of the round.
Hatton attempted to carry the fight to Pacquiao in the second round but was mostly ineffective as Pacquiao sized him up for a big punch. It finally came at the end of the round when he landed a left cross that flattened the English fighter.
"It was a hard loss but I'm OK," Hatton said. "I really didn't see the punch coming but it was a great shot. I know I'll be OK."
Pacquiao was a 2-1 favorite, but few thought Hatton would go easily. His only loss came when he was stopped in the 10th round by Mayweather Jr., and he built a career and a reputation as a tough and aggressive fighter who wore his opponents down.
But he stood no chance against Pacquiao, whose punches came straight down the middle and landed with increasing frequency as the fight went on.
"I was just doing my job," said Pacquiao, who is a national hero in the Philippines and is fast becoming a hero among boxing fans. "I always try to do my best in the ring."
Pacquiao's best on this night quickly quieted a boisterous crowd of 16,262 at the MGM Grand arena, many of them who came over from England to sing and chant Hatton's praises. They didn't even get a chance to warm up, though, before Hatton was on the canvas for the first time of the night.
"The fight was no surprise to me," Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, said. "We know he always pumps his hands before he throws a punch. He's a sucker for the right hook."
On the same day Mayweather announced his return to the ring, Pacquiao stole the undefeated former champion's thunder with a performance that was so lopsided it looked like a sparring session. Even more impressive, it came in only his third fight over 130 pounds.
Pacquiao weighed 138 pounds for the fight to 140 for Hatton, and was fighting a bigger man for the second time in a row. But nothing seems to bother the boxer who is so popular at home that there is talk of him running for president some day.
Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 knockouts) earned $12 million for the fight, while Hatton (45-2) was paid $8 million.