Manny Pacquiao is both a superstar boxer and a sitting Filipino senator.
So it’s no surprise that he’s politically correct, at least when it comes to competition. Pacquiao vs Vargas
The 37-year-old has insisted that his return to the ring — after a voluntary seven-month hiatus — will not be a one-and-done proposition, so he’s the subject of typical chatter about what might be on the agenda now that he’s back.
Trainer Freddie Roach, in fact, has mentioned both Canelo Alvarez and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
But Pacquiao remains unwilling to look past the man with whom he’ll share a ring Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
That man is once-beaten California-native Jessie Vargas, whose WBO welterweight championship will be Pacquiao’s objective when he arrives for the 67th fight of a career that began in January 1995 — when Vargas was 5 years old.
“I cannot afford to look past Jessie Vargas,” Pacquiao told CBS Sports.
“He is young, strong and hungry. After (the fight), I will start discussing future options with Bob Arum and Freddie Roach. I want to give the fans a fight to remember. That is my motivation.”
The targeting of Vargas stems from his possession of a title belt that Pacquiao held for a pair of reigns — one from 2009 to 2012 that was ended by Tim Bradley, and another from 2014 to 2015 cut short when he lost to Mayweather.
Pacquiao won the WBO’s lower-tier “international” title with his rubber match defeat of Bradley in April and claimed afterward that he was through. Few believed it, however, and their contentions were validated when the Top Rank apparatus officially announced his return in July.
Pacquiao was initially mentioned as an opponent for Terence Crawford, an emerging Top Rank star who’s won titles at 135 and 140 pounds, but instead set his sights on Vargas and the jewelry that the 27-year-old has held since defeating Sadam Ali in March. Most, though, are already looking past the Vargas match toward possibilities with Crawford, Mayweather, Alvarez or others.
Pacquiao, though, refuses to consider anything past the weekend.
Or at least refuses to talk about it.
“They are all outstanding fighters but, again, looking past Jessie Vargas is not a wise thing to do,” he said. “I saw what he did to Sadam Ali and to Timothy Bradley. This is the only fight on my mind.”
Manny Pacquiao is looking to reclaim his welterweight title. Getty Images
Pacquiao won eight of 12 rounds on all three scorecards in his third match with Bradley, prompting Roach, Arum and even Bradley to suggest there was no need for him to step away.
He insisted it was a genuine retirement, but said the itch to reverse course began flaring a few months later.
“It wasn’t until July that I started to really miss boxing,” Pacquiao said.
“I had taken long breaks before — after my last loss to Marquez and when I was rehabbing my shoulder after the Mayweather fight — but I knew I was going to be coming back. In this instance, I found myself really missing boxing even though it had only been two or three months. I was very sad. I found myself watching boxing on TV and I rarely do that. I began to think that I was really missing out, that I still had a few good fights left which, I guess was because I had done so well against Tim Bradley in April.
“That’s when I began thinking about continuing my boxing career.”
The Vargas-Pacquiao fight will highlight a four-bout pay-per-view card airing Saturday at 9 p.m.
HBO balked at Pacquiao’s return with another pay-per-view scheduled two weeks later — Sergey Kovalev vs. Andre Ward, so the show is being produced and distributed live by Top Rank and will be available on major cable and satellite systems — as well as Top Rank’s digital distribution via and mobile devices
The 147-pound title match follows three more title bouts showcasing fighters from 112 to 126 pounds.
Betting odds (Per Bovada/5Dimes)
Favorite Challenger Weightclass
Manny Pacquiao (-700) Jessie Vargas (+450) Welterweight
Nonito Donaire (-145) Jessie Magdaleno (+125) Junior featherweight
Oscar Valdez (-4000) Hiroshige Osawa (+2000) Featherweight
Zou Shiming (-2750)
Prasitsak Phaprom (+1450)
Chinese-born star Zou Shiming makes a second championship bid in his 10th pro fight when he faces former victim Prasitsak Phaprom for the vacant WBO flyweight belt. Shiming, beaten in a try for the IBF crown in March 2015, swept the scorecards against Phaprom in 2014.
Shiming and Phaprom are ranked No. 2 and 3 by the WBO, respectively.
Up second on the show is WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez’s first title defense against second-ranked contender Hiroshige Osawa, who holds an Asia-Pacific regional crown. Valdez, who’ll turn 26 just three days before Christmas, is 20-0 with 18 KOs and won a vacant belt four months ago with a second-round demolition of Matias Rueda.
The final prelim before the main event showcases another highly decorated Filipino fighter, four-division champion Nonito Donaire, making the second defense of his second reign as WBO junior featherweight champion against unbeaten No. 1 contender Jessie Magdaleno.
Less than two weeks before his 34th birthday, Donaire has held titles at 112, 118 and 126 pounds in addition to his two runs at 122. He won a vacant belt with a decision over Cesar Juarez last December in Puerto Rico and successfully risked it with a third-round TKO of Zsolt Bedak in April.
Donaire was the Boxing Writers Association of America’s fighter of the year in 2012, but has dropped two of eight fights since, including a scorecard loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux that ended his first reign at 122 and a sixth-round stoppage by Nicholas Walters in his only defense of the WBA featherweight title.
Magdaleno has stopped 17 of 23 pro opponents, but has never had a fight scheduled for 12 rounds.
“Experience has to be desire, as well. You always need tenacity and determination because youth and experience don’t matter unless you have your mind, body and soul into preparing yourself,” Donaire said. “And then I’ll utilize my experience of knowing exactly where the kid’s going to be.”
Both men forecast an inside-the-distance ending.
“It’ll come down to who has the heart to keep going,” Magdaleno said.
“I’m a big risk taker. Risks make champions. I’ve got to be the stronger, smarter fighter and once he feels my power, he’ll have an entirely different mentality.”
Pacquiao is a prohibitive favorite according to the numbers guys at sports.Bovada.lv. It’ll take a $750 wager to return $100 on him, while a $475 outlay on Vargas would return $700 for an upset.
“I will try to establish my will over his early in the fight,” Pacquiao said. “I will need to dictate the terms early. Freddie and I have three game plans for him. He is a young and strong champion. His height and reach are also factor that I will need to overcome. I do not want to give anything away but if you watch my fights against Oscar De La Hoya and Antonio Margarito, you will see that my speed and footwork will be my key weapons in establishing my plan.”
Vargas is labeled seventh in the world at 147 pounds by the Independent World Boxing Rankings, which list all fighters in a weight class regardless of what title belts they hold. Pacquiao is No. 1 in the same rankings, while the fighter against whom Vargas earned his WBO title — Ali — was No. 12.
The champion, though, remains defiant.
“I have the talent and I am the best in the division,” Vargas said.
“Talk is cheap. I’ll show it with my actions, with my fighting style and I have the right team behind me. You’re going to be surprised with my performance that night, that’s for sure.”
How does Vargas win? He’s the younger man. He’s the taller man. He’s the man with the longer arms. And, to hear him tell it, he’s also the man with the superior power. So if all those items prove decisive, Vargas will indeed be able to back up his tough talk. He’s certainly used to the disrespect and the underdog status, given his competitive history, and if he roughs Pacquiao up and makes him feel like the 37-year-old man he is — he’ll be savoring yet another surprise victory.
How does Pacquiao win? The zeal with which Pacquiao attacked larger, slower opponents like De La Hoya and Margarito was breathtaking in its ferocity. He was able to move in, land impactful punches in bunches and move out before taking any meaningful shots in return. The dimensions for Vargas are similar, as are the differences in speed and athleticism, so a scenario in which the smaller man batters the larger man into submission is a real possibility and Pacquiao’s best chance for success.
Prediction: Pacquiao by TKO. Promotional hype aside, there’s a couple simple reasons Vargas got the fight.
First, he’s a champion, so a victory will enable Pacquiao to claim the sort of jewelry that’ll attract big-name opponents in 2017. Second, he’s never beaten a top-10 welterweight, so he’s nowhere near the competitive task that the Filipino would have faced had he been paired with a Crawford, an Alvarez or even a (stop us if you’ve heard this before) Mayweather.
Unless he wakes up Saturday and suddenly feels like a guy who’s been fighting professionally since Bill Clinton’s first term, Pacquiao should have exactly the sort of style for which Vargas has no answer. He’ll land more shots, avoid prolonged return volleys and beat his man into oblivion before Round 10.