The atmosphere in Antonio Margarito's dressing room last Saturday night was funereal, which was appropriate: The man on the slab appeared to be almost dead. Less than an hour had passed since Margarito's one-sided loss to Manny Pacquiao, 36 minutes of relentless punishment that Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, declared the worst beating he had ever seen. Margarito lay on the training table blanketed in cold wet towels, with bags of ice covering the gruesome damage that had been inflicted on his face. A few minutes later Pacquiao entered the room. He shuffled over to Margarito and quietly offered a few words of encouragement. The predator consoling his prey.
Margarito's condition was what many have come to expect after a fight with Pacquiao. Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto: Fighters are never the same after facing the Filipino. Throughout the WBC super-welterweight title fight before a crowd of 41,734 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Margarito was on the receiving end of perhaps Pacquiao's most thorough beating to date. Though Margarito was heavier (165 pounds to Pacquiao's 148 on fight night) and his reach was six inches longer, he was helpless to keep Pacquiao off him. The Filipino buckled him with a combination in the fourth round, and by the 11th Margarito's face was so grotesquely battered that Pacquiao slowed his pace and looked to referee Laurence Cole to step in. "I didn't want to damage him permanently," said Pacquiao. "That's not what boxing is about."
What it is about is accomplishments, and Pacquiao added yet another one to his glittering résumé. The demolition of Margarito gave him a title in an eighth weight class, one-upping his own record. The man who began boxing at 98 pounds is now a champion at 154, an unprecedented climb in the sport.
How high can Pacquiao go? His team isn't eager to find out. Pacquiao doesn't like to carry extra weight, feeling that it steals some of his speed. He looked fatigued at times on Saturday and admitted afterward that Margarito's strength wore him out. "Do we really need to go for a ninth weight class?" said Roach. "I really don't think we can go any bigger."
Should Pacquiao, 31, downsize, there will be plenty of challengers. Floyd Mayweather Jr. remains his 147-pound white whale, but Mayweather's legal troubles—he faces four felony charges stemming from a domestic dispute—raise doubts about a 2011 fight. Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Márquez and Miguel Cotto are possibilities, as is the winner of January's fight between Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander.
Whoever is selected will cash a big check but might pay an even bigger price. The way fighters are when they go in against Pacquiao is often not how they come out.
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For a photo gallery of the Pacquiao-Margarito fight, go to SI.com/boxing