Pacquiao vs. Vargas Could Be Better Then We Think

pca vargas

By Seamus McNally

A week ago, Manny Pacquiao (58–6–2, 38 KOs) announced he was coming out of his brief retirement to challenge welterweight titleholder Jessie Vargas (27–1, 10 KOs) on November 5th at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

“Yes, the fight is on. I have agreed to a Nov. 5 fight with reigning WBO welterweight champion Jessie Vargas,” Pacquiao said. “Boxing is my passion. I miss what I’d been doing inside the gym and atop the ring.”

The announcement by the Filipino superstar came to the surprise of little, as most believed he would not stay retired after announcing in the lead up to his April win over Timothy Bradley that it would be his last fight due to him being elected as a senator in his home country. Pacquiao had previously been a congressman in the Philippines, but his duties in the senate require a much larger time commitment.

“I miss my boxing routine of training, the things I do for my sport every day, but I assure my people my fight and training will not affect my work as a senator,” Pacquiao said. “My training — no problem. We will start early in the morning for my runs and gym training. There are no sessions or hearings in the senate at 6 or 7 a.m. They usually start earliest at 10 a.m., so I will be able to manage my schedule. My whole training camp with [trainer] Freddie [Roach] will be in Manila until the senate goes on break, and then we go to America.”

The choice of Vargas as the opponent was met with groans from the boxing world. Originally the Pacquiao camp was in negotiations to face Adrien Broner before the brash star from Cincinnati priced himself out of the fight. Once that fight fell through, the hope was that Pacquiao would face Terence Crawford. The unbeaten Omaha native has made a meteoric rise in boxing, going from a last minute replacement opponent to a two division world champion and next American boxing star in a span of three years. The fight seemed like a logical and easy one to make, as both boxers are promoted by Top Rank. It was set up to be a classic passing of the torch encounter of an aging superstar on the decline against a young dynamic fighter on the rise, similar to when Pacquiao pummeled Oscar De La Hoya into retirement and catapulted himself into a global icon back in 2008.

Vargas won two debatable decisions in his hometown of Las Vegas against Khabib Allakhverdiev and Anton Novikov in 2014 to claim a junior welterweight belt. After another win at 140 lbs to close out 2014, this time in China against Antonio DeMarco, Vargas moved to to 147 to get a crack at titleholder Timothy Bradley. Vargas was outclassed by Bradley for all but the final 30 seconds of the fight when he badly wobbled Bradley with a flush right hand to the chin, but it was too little too late for Vargas. Bradley was then supposed to face mandatory challenger Sadam Ali but chose to vacate his title in favor of a more lucrative fight, the aforementioned trilogy fight with Pacquiao that took place in April. Vargas got a second opportunity to win a welterweight belt, fighting for the title vacated by Bradley against Sadam Ali. This time Vargas capitalized on his second chance and scored an impressive ninth-round knockout of Ali to capture a belt in his second division.

A sad admission by Pacquiao was that his return was partially motivated financially. It is a startling claim for a man who has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of his illustrious career, including around $150 million for his mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. last May.

“Boxing is my main source of income. I can’t rely on my salary as a public official,” Pacquiao said. “I’m helping the family of my wife and my own family, as well. Many people also come to me to ask for help, and I just couldn’t ignore them.”

The Pacquiao from 2008-2010, the wrecking ball who would fight anyone and won titles from 130 lbs all the way up to a record eighth division title at junior middleweight would have challenged himself and chosen Terence Crawford, one of the best pound-for-pound best fighters on the planet today. But unfortunately it is 2016 and Pacquiao and his camp felt the risk outweighed the reward of fighting Crawford and instead chose Vargas. While Vargas is a good fighter, he is far from the worthiest challenger of a massive payday against Pacquiao. Vargas was outclassed by Bradley, who was outclassed himself by Pacquiao, which is a good indicator of the lack of competitiveness in this fight.

It appears this fight is purely a money-grab for Pacquaio, as is the case for most superstars towards the end of their careers. HBO, who has been in the Pacquiao business over a decade, chose to forgo distributing this fight via its Pay-Per-View platform. The days of Pacquiao fights routinely doing over a million buys no matter who he fought are long over. His last four fights besides his fight with Mayweather did well under the one million buys threshold.

It is safe to say most would have preferred Pacquiao to have kept his word and stayed retired but the future Hall of Famer will continue to fight on.

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