SAN DIEGO, November 4, 2016 – Seven months ago, on the brink of being elected a Senator in the Philippines, eight-division champion Manny Pacquiao declared to the boxing media in Las Vegas he was retired after his flashy, commanding victory over an outwitted Timothy Bradley Jr.
None of us believed him for a second. It is rare for a boxer to go out with a storybook ending like Pacquiao did against Bradley. Today, Pacquiao is back, ready to face the eager WBO welterweight title holder Jessie Vargas on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center at the campus of the University of Las Vegas Nevada. The fight is being shown as a pay-per-view event produced by Top Rank Promotions, starting at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. No network (such as HBO) is involved.
After the Bradley bout, Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach and promoter Bob Arum said they would love Pacquiao to keep fighting, but fully supported his decision to retire at the time if he decides his boxing career is finished. Roach said, “We’ve had a great 15 years together, if he retires I’ll be happy for him.” But Roach was quick to say if Manny does fight again, his first choice of an opponent was super lightweight phenomenon Terence Crawford. Crawford was on hand for the fight, and appeared in the media center after the fight.
Arum, who is also Crawford’s promoter, chose not to match his two top names, and instead it is Vargas who got the nod. That Pacquiao came back to boxing after successfully winning a hotly contested election wasn’t a surprise, but the opponent wasn’t what many fans hoped for.
Pacquiao said he missed the gym, and admitted he misses the paydays, which shares with his charitable foundation funding civic projects including scholarships, homes and medical facilities in the Philippines. Forbes Asia included Pacquiao as one of three Filipinos in its list of 40 Heroes of Philanthropy.
The lack of excitement in this fight is not solely a reflection on Vargas, who is a capable competitor if not a top pound for pound performer like Crawford. It’s still about the lingering hangover created by the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao mess, along with some of Pacquiao’s ugly political comments about the LGBT community.
It’s a shame, because it won’t be too long before fans will realize they missed seeing this great champion before he makes his final exit from boxing. Pacquiao is past his prime; he and Roach admit it themselves. But Pacquiao is still considered one of the top ten pound for pound fighters in the world, and it’s for a good reason.
So here we are again on the brink of a Pacquiao bout, wondering whether Pacquiao’s political activities and religious convictions are too distracting for him to train and focus properly on the man in front of him in the ring. For this fight, Pacquiao remained in Manila, training early in the morning and again late at night with Freddie Roach, working in the Senate during the day. Two full-time jobs, when one of them would be enough for most people. Roach said he never missed a session, boxing at least 40 rounds daily.
Saturday’s fight is timed to coincide with the Senate recess back home, so Pacquiao and Roach could quickly make their way once again to the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California for a quick two weeks prepping for Manny’s 67th professional fight.
Pacquiao (58-6-2, 38 KOs) arrived in Las Vegas with a smile on his face and a relaxed attitude. He led a prayer vigil a few hours before Friday’s weigh-in.
Vargas (27-1, 10 KOs) won his title in March with a strong performance ending in a ninth round TKO over Sadam Ali. It followed his first loss in June 2015 to a common opponent with Pacquiao, Timothy Bradley Jr. Vargas will go to his grave believing he was robbed of the victory when a mishap over the timing of bell in the final round allowed Bradley to survive a last-minute assault from Vargas.
Vargas has been clamoring for top opponents for months, and he finally got one. On paper, at ten years younger and with a significant reach advantage over the older challenger while riding a recent knockout win, Vargas has every reason to feel confident. Even if he didn’t, Vargas is self-assured by his nature.
But this isn’t Sadam Ali across from him, or even Timothy Bradley Jr. Even past his prime, even when he loses a step, a bit of power, or a little speed, Pacquiao is still faster, more skilled and more experienced than Vargas and the vast majority of top opponents. Pacquiao made Bradley look slow. Pacquiao will make Vargas look even worse.
In the Bradley fight, against an opponent he knows well, Pacquiao was always a step ahead. He waited for Bradley to make mistakes, and when he did, he would pounce. His anticipation coupled with experience and speed is still impressive. Pacquiao is able to stay out of the way of most counterpunches, and Vargas will have trouble finding him to land anything solid, despite his reach advantage.
Where Pacquiao is lacking at 37 as a welterweight is the kind of power he had in the smaller weight divisions. Don’t look for a knockout, and there might not be a knockdown either. Pacquiao said he was looking for the KO against Bradley, and he couldn’t get there. It didn’t matter, the fight was clearly in Pacquiao’s command.
Vargas is sturdy. He has never been knocked out as a professional and has been down just once from a body shot in his bout with Wale Omotoso in 2013. Pacquiao would be smart not to push for this, quickly striking Vargas with voluminous flurries and moving out before Vargas knows what has hit him.
Most experts are calling this fight for Pacquiao. Even Bradley trainer Teddy Atlas sees this one for Pacquiao. So do I. I do not see a stoppage coming, but a significant lopsided decision for Pacquiao, the same 116-110 scorecards across the board as in the Bradley fight.
One of the few people predicting a PacMan knockout: his longtime foe and ESPN Deportes commentator Juan Manuel Marquez.
After stepping away, Pacquiao seems to have found the joy in boxing again. Fans watching may find the joy in watching Pacquaio again too after their own layoff.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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