Last April Manny Pacquiao fought Timothy Bradley for a third time and made it clear both before and after that this would be his final fight. Many found the statement difficult to take seriously, especially after Manny looked impressive in victory. As Sean Crose wrote: “It was said that this was Manny’s last fight. Honestly, that seems like something of a stretch to say right now. … it’s hard to envision the likes of Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia and even Kell Brook defeating the Manny of Saturday night.”
Sure enough, several months later Top Rank let it be known that The Pacman would perform again, challenging Jessie Vargas for the younger man’s WBO welterweight title, the announcement greeted with a collective yawn from the public. After all, Pacquiao’s stature as a major attraction took a huge hit in the aftermath of the “MayPac” debacle, and pretty much nobody saw Jessie as a genuine threat to the legendary Filipino battler. Vargas is a capable fighter but his defeat to Bradley in June of last year demonstrated his limitations and most agreed he lacked the speed, power and ring smarts to make life difficult for Manny.
The lack of buzz for Pacquiao vs Vargas prompted HBO to turn it down for pay-per-view, another sign that Manny Pacquiao’s drawing power is in serious decline. Widespread gossip stated that Top Rank was forced to give away large numbers of tickets to fill the seats at the Thomas & Mack Center.
As most expected, it was, for the most part, a perfunctory 12 round win for the seemingly ageless Manny who, while not possessing the other-worldly speed of his prime, remains a formidable, elite-level pugilist. To the younger man’s credit, he was reasonably competitive over the first half of the match, winning at least a couple of rounds, but the talent gap was obvious and wide. A beautiful straight left floored Vargas at the end of round two, setting the tone. Most of the middle stanzas were competitive, but by round eight the congressman, who appeared in tremendous condition, was dominating, tagging Vargas at will with solid shots. By that point Jessie was tiring and having difficulty keeping his balance. He deserves credit for surviving to the final bell. Pacquiao is now 59-6-2, while Vargas falls to 27-2.
Whatever one may think of Manny Pacquiao, he remains a phenomenal athlete. Think about it: in a few weeks he will be 38-years-old and he’s been a championship level boxer for more than 15 years. Considering his age and all the miles, that was an impressive performance last night. And no one was talking retirement for Manny following the bout, with trainer Freddie Roach stating bluntly: “He’s not done fighting yet.” So part of the takeaway here is that when Manny Pacquiao says he’s retiring, we all agree it’s a publicity stunt to attract more interest, because let’s face it, widespread interest in The Pacman, at least outside of the Philippines, is a concern for Bob Arum and company.
That said, Floyd Mayweather was ringside and once again the buzz is that MayPac II is in the works. Not sure what this says about boxing, but if Floyd decides to come out of retirement to face Pacquiao a second time, it remains the biggest fight the sport can offer, Golovkin vs Canelo a very distant second. They have only fought once and it was a stinker, but the MayPac era seems to have been going on for years and years, and it still refuses to die.
In other action last night, WBO featherweight champion Oscar Valdez (22-0) stopped game Hiroshige Osawa (30-4-4) in round seven. Zou Shiming (9-1,) won the vacant WBO flyweight title with a wide decision over Prasitak Phaprom (39-2-2). And Jessie Magdaleno (24-0) defeated WBO champion Nonito Donaire (37-4) to take the Filipino’s title in an entertaining 12 round scrap. Magdaleno proved too strong and aggressive for Donaire who rallied in the late going but it wasn’t enough to salvage the decision. — Robert Portis