WHEN Floyd Mayweather Jnr announced his return to the ring in the morning, handing back to the “Pretty Boy” the prestigious honour of being acclaimed as the sport’s best fighter seemed a mere formality.

By the end of the evening, though, Manny Pacquiao, the man who succeeded Floyd as the world’s No. 1 but who couldn’t be more opposite in terms of humility, had rather spectacularly intervened in the process, producing a battering victory over Britain’s Ricky Hatton.

Pacquiao’s thrashing of the British star was so resounding that the only way to sensibly settle the dispute over who is best is for him to box Mayweather, sooner rather than later.

While Hatton’s career now appears in ruins, Pacquiao’s continues to flourish with alarming (for his possible future opponents) momentum and impact.

Although he was the wide favourite to defeat Hatton (22 of 25 journalists polled in the media centre went for Manny), very few estimated it would be quite so brutally emphatic.

Hatton, who had lost in this MGM Grand Garden ring to Mayweather but lasted into the 10th round, was obliterated in 359 seconds.

The “Hitman”, who had said he felt back to his best and in comparable mood to when he wrested the title from Kostya Tszyu nearly five years ago, couldn’t withstand the Filipino’s power, deal with his speed or organise himself to cope with his opponent’s southpaw stance.

It resulted in two crushing knockdowns during the opening three minutes and a tremendous one-punch finish at the end of the next.

Even had Hatton survived the second – he was beaten one second from the end – I seriously doubt the outcome would have been much different.

Ricky was so out of sorts, repeatedly beaten to the punch, wide open to and exposed by heavy counters, that the blasting he received probably put him out of his misery.

It seemed astonishing that, given all the preparation and experience from the Mayweather defeat when Hatton admitted to losing his composure, the 30-year-old from Manchester would again crumble tactically and psychologically. Hatton had a rush of blood, ‘‘ charging out recklessly with such a desire to dominate his opponent and please his fans that all he achieved was the opposite.

Defeated for only the second time in 47 fights, Hatton looked a devastated figure walking from the ring. His legs were still so rigidly locked from the effects of the concluding blow he could hardly bend them as he stepped down from the ring.

He looked around, saw some familiar faces ringside and what started as a friendly wave turned to a dismissive one, as though he was so disgusted with the outcome he just wanted to get away.

His magnificent chanting supporters, here in their thousands amongst the sell-out 16,262 and loyal to the last, gave one departing chorus of “There’s only one Ricky Hatton”. But I’m not sure Hatton, probably consumed by thoughts of disappointment, even heard them.

With Floyd Mayweather Snr, his outspoken American trainer, nowhere close by, Hatton made that lonely trek back to the dressing room minus his IBO light-welterweight belt, probably furious with his mistakes and filled with confusion as to how he wound up getting wiped out so swiftly.

Ricky didn’t attend the media conference, but it wasn’t because he wanted to keep his head down. As a precaution, Ricky was whisked to hospital, while his opponent was about to attend a celebration party at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, where he promised to sing for everyone.

Although referee Kenny Bayless didn’t officially count Hatton out, the Nevada Commission recorded the result as a knockout and to all intents and purposes it was. Hatton was spark out.

Hatton is out cold as Pacquiao jogs away

It was a conclusion every bit as chilling as when Dave “Boy” Green was iced by Sugar Ray Leonard and Herol Graham starched at the heavy hands of Julian Jackson – one of those finishes where the boxer lost consciousness the moment the punch connected.

Those who questioned whether Pacquiao, 49-3-2 (37), possessed the required physical ammunition to blast the resistance of an opponent who insisted no-one could ever defeat him at light-welterweight, now know the answer.

At the weigh-in the previous day in front of about 6,000 passionate supporters of both nationalities, Pacquiao, once a world champion at flyweight, looked physically strong at 9st 12lbs and the difference in size was barely noticeable. By the time of the fight Hatton seemed larger. But that was insignificant. Hatton (10st) couldn’t hit him and Pacquiao, so mellow and engaging outside the ring with his boyish smile and gentle, humble demeanour, was utterly merciless and destructive in it.

Hatton’s army of fans would be silenced 24 hours after the weigh-in

What is most astonishing about Pacquiao is his marked improvement from fight to fight and you probably have to go back four contests and 14 months, against Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez, for when he last even lost a round.

Oscar De La Hoya’s one-sided defeat by him last December now doesn’t seem such a dreadful result for the Golden Boy. De La Hoya, who quit on his stool after eight, retired after that. He said he was so weak at the weight that night that had Hatton fought him instead of Pacquiao he would have been knocked out. But there was a lot of promotional hype in that statement. De La Hoya was backing Hatton and he, like nearly everyone else, vastly underestimated Pacquiao. In De La Hoya’s case he has now done so twice.

It is easily done. Pacquiao is not so obviously skilled like Mayweather. But the way he combines his ability to punch, attack at speed, movement and awkwardness makes him a ruthless destroyer.

Bob Arum, his promoter, said that in his 40 years in the business that has included working with a peak De La Hoya, Muhammad Ali, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Leonard, no fighter has the blend of attributes to compare with the Filipino.

That’s quite a statement. But Arum explained, “The best Ali I saw was when he fought before he took a three-and-a-half-year sabbatical. He had speed and reflexes, but not the explosive power of Pacquiao. The only time Ali showed that type of power was against Cleveland Williams.”

Arum said that no version of De La Hoya would ever have defeated the Pacquiao of today. Trainer Freddie Roach, who trained De La Hoya for a split decision defeat by Mayweather, concurred: “De La Hoya struggled with southpaws, too. He wouldn’t have beaten Manny – never.”

Hatton’s face is distorted under fire

Looking to the future, Arum said Pacquiao could possibly next face Miguel Cotto and, as for a fight with Mayweather, Bob invited the Michigan man he once promoted to “be my guest”.

Pacquiao-Mayweather is, by far, the best and most fascinating fight to be made in the sport. It’s a mega-fight and contests of that magnitude usually get done in the end, though I suspect, with Mayweather having such a high valuation of himself, some hard bargaining may first be required. Comparably, Pacquiao has the better results against common opponents De La Hoya and Hatton, though Floyd will argue he softened them up for the Filipino.

Mayweather must beat Marquez in July and Pacquiao’s next fight, after he has finished starring in a movie, will be in November or December.

However, Roach said he won’t be waiting on Mayweather. “I want my man to stay busy, but only to fight maybe twice more and then retire.”

That might come as a shock to some, who are only just beginning to fully appreciate the Filipino, but Roach’s rationale is sound. Fighters who rely on speed, as Pacquiao does, usually go into a rapid free-fall when the quickness diminishes. So Roach, a father-figure to Pacquiao, wants Manny to be in the sport for the short and not long haul.

“Look what happened to Roy Jones,” he said.

Roach, like Arum, believes Pacquiao can defeat anyone in his weight class. He said Shane Mosley would probably pose the toughest match and that,

ideally, Pacquiao would box the Mayweather-Marquez winner and then “Sugar” Shane. But Roach also said he’d entertain the idea of a Cotto match – if the Puerto Rican WBA welterweight champ could come down a few pounds – or Edwin Valero at 10st.

“Light-welter is his best weight, but there are a lot of challenges at welter,” said Freddie.

Something tells me, knowing the nature of fighters and how powerful the pull of the ring is when you are winning, that Pacquiao will still be around for a while – or until he gets defeated.

“You’ll see something in the next few years that will really wow you,” said Arum, as if certain the ride wasn’t over.

“I really knew that the reason Pacquiao beat De La Hoya is that Oscar couldn’t deal with the speed and explosive power,” he said. “It had nothing to do with Oscar being shot. ‘

‘ “But what I am watching in Pacquiao is astounding. Usually, when a fighter reaches the top he can be good for a number of years, but there’s no improvement. Pacquiao, though, gets better with every fight. His defence and reflexes are tremendous.”

Roach explained that, “Pacquiao’s a smart fighter. Now he is complete. I didn’t create a monster. The monster has always been there. He’s a much better fighter than when he lost to Erik Morales. It all suddenly clicked with him and he wants to get better.”

Roach said they had worked tirelessly and repetitively in the gym on honing the right hook that was so instrumental against Hatton. It was also a pet punch for Michael Moorer, the former world heavyweight champ and now Roach’s assistant. Having studied tapes of Hatton, Roach knew Ricky was open to the blow whenever he attacked and so it proved.

Pacquiao is in total control from the start

That’s ironic given Hatton’s camp had labelled Pacquiao predictable and said the Filipino hadn’t improved in almost a decade. Mayweather Snr, always outspoken and self-congratulatory, had at every opportunity called Roach “the joke coach Roach”. I found it all rather degrading, an ugly side of the promotion.

I thought it also poor that Mayweather Snr didn’t offer any kind ofcongratulations, even if he refused to take the blame for Hatton’s loss, saying the beaten Brit had failed to follow instructions.

Hatton’s assistant coach Lee Beard and lawyer Gareth Williams denied any rift with Mayweather Snr, but the day before the fight there were rumours of a fall-out.

Whatever the truth, it doesn’t look as if the relationship will continue or

blossom. Mayweather Snr advised Hatton to retire. Roach offered Ricky the same advice.

I can’t imagine Hatton wanting to quit the sport on such a downer. But decisions like this require considerable thought and a long period for recovery and healthy reflection.

Hatton is a proud man who has lost only to the very best. Arum said he told him in the ring, “Don’t be discouraged,” which makes clear the American promoter’s position on whether Ricky ought to carry on.

But it did cross my mind that maybe Hatton’s decline, first apparent when he struggled at home to beat Juan Lazcano a year ago, was masked by the stoppage of non-puncher Paulie Malignaggi last November.

Hatton may decide to fight once more, to see what he has left and take it from there. After all, Amir Khan, who was ringside, resurrected his career, going from a first-round knockout to world title challenger in just three fights.

But Ricky is a lot older than Khan. His machinery is more worn and ambitions perhaps now jaded. There’s also the matter of Hatton’s lifestyle. His confidence will have been rocked. It can take time to rebuild.

Boxers can usually always think of a reason to fight again, but Hatton needs to find a space where he can be honest with himself and make a careful decision – and not fall into the trap of trying to satisfy his ego at the expense of his well-being.

Hatton has never taken a hammering like this. If you believe the statisticians, He landed only 18 punches to Pacquiao’s 73 and just two jabs of 22 thrown. Both were pitching big blows, but it was Pacquiao’s accuracy and biting combinations that dictated. He connected with 34 of 53 power shots thrown in the second round.

Ricky can consider himself fortunate to have made it into the second. Referee Bayless was close to saving him before the second knockdown.

Mayweather Snr had said he’d told Ricky not to be too aggressive early on. Though Ricky couldn’t exactly stand off Pacquiao and wait for the smaller man to get settled, Mayweather Snr wanted him to attack with greater intelligence and mindfulness.

But Hatton had felt all along that Pacquiao wouldn’t be able to hold him off. Perhaps that compelled Ricky early on to assert himself and let the Filipino know who was boss. Unfortunately for Hatton, he played into Pacquiao’s fists.

All three judges, Michael Pernick, CJ Ross and Glenn Trowbridge, awarded the opening round to Pacquiao 10-7. It had been fast, furious, each man going for the knockout in a fashion that made a long fight unlikely. But while Hatton kept missing, Pacquiao, expertly, kept dipping under Ricky’s punches,

stepping to the side and countering. As I had feared would possibly be the case for Hatton, he kept walking on to Pacquiao’s straight, booming left. But Pacquiao’s right hook is what paved the way.

Whatever confidence Hatton took into the fight rapidly leaked away with each thudding Pacquiao bombardment. One left had Hatton holding and, when under attack, Pacquiao did well to clinch and stop Ricky operating in close.

However, once Pacquiao detonated the right hook to the jaw that first dropped Hatton to one knee for “eight” (as Ricky was lining up a left hook) it became a mountain to climb. It made one appreciate just what an immense warrior Marquez is to have once recovered from three first-round knockdowns to draw with Pacquiao.

Hatton didn’t have those powers of recovery. Pacquiao quickly tore into him, firing a blizzard of shots with Ricky caught on the ropes like he was surrounded by angry bees. Referee Bayless’ arms went up, as if he was about to jump in, but Pacquiao smashed Hatton to the floor again (with a jarring left) by the Englishman’s corner.

Hatton made it to the bell (there wasn’t much time left) and didn’t have to go far to his stool. Pacquiao, proud of his work, returned to his with half a smile on his face, like he knew victory was his.

Roach made sure Pacquiao didn’t lose focus or become complacent,

sending out Manny for the second to execute the job. Hatton tried pressing and getting inside, but Pacquiao was simply too good on his feet and seemed always to see Ricky’s punches coming in slow motion.

Hatton had one moment of success, landing a right that staggered Pacquiao and then, seconds later, a left hook.

Pacquiao kept his hands high, backed up and waited to spring his next ambush. A heavy right forced Ricky to hold. Pacquiao couldn’t miss when he let his punches fly. Hatton’s defence was horribly open.

The victory means everything to Pacquiao

Ricky also didn’t know which way to move. He clearly had difficulty with the southpaw stance. Pacquiao’s team had studied Hatton’s close points win over Luis Collazo and practiced which way to step and punch.

It became dangerous for Hatton even to trade, yet Ricky didn’t seem capable of outboxing Pacquiao either. Pacquiao banged Hatton to the body with a right hook, came back with a stiff jab and kept the punches coming. Then, shortly after, Manny launched the howitzer. Pacquiao bent his muscular legs, cranked up his arm and let fly a looping left that avoided all detection on Hatton’s radar and impacted against the side of the jaw.

Instantly, Hatton’s lights went out. His body became limp, arms fell to the side, and Ricky hit the floor, finishing in a sunbathing position, motionless with his arms over his head and legs stiff.

At first referee Bayless began counting when there was never any chance of Hatton moving. But he soon recognised this and stopped to get Hatton the assistance he required. For several minutes Hatton was down. It was worrying. He didn’t know what had hit him.

I’ve seen fighters come back from similar knockouts – Roy Jones against Glen Johnson for one – but sadly for Ricky they are seldom, if ever, the same again.