There weren’t many people out there who believed Manny Pacquiao when he said he had fought for the last time after beating Timothy Bradley, winning the WBO International and lineal welterweight titles, back in April. True to form in boxing’s culture of retirements turning into hastily-thought hiatuses, Pacquiao returned to the boxing ring on Saturday night, taking on Jessie Vargas for the WBO welterweight title in the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The veteran Filipino had “retired” from pugilism to focus on winning election to the Senate in his home country. Pacquiao had previously served two terms in the House of Representatives in the Philippines and was successfully elected to a six-year term in the Senate in June.
Despite the level of extensive additional responsibilities he assumed in June, Pacquiao had the urge to return to the ring and compete in what he calls his “passion.” On Saturday night, it appeared the extra weight of burden carried on his small frame had little to no effect as he handily dealt with everything Vargas threw his way.
Pacquiao hadn’t skipped a beat and looked like the “Pac Man” of old. The 37-year-old former eight-division world champion asserted his dominance and expert ring craft over Vargas early, taking control of the fight and scoring a knockdown in the second round. The Filipino was actively looking for a quick finish to the fight, staying busy and maintaining his momentum in the third round to pressure Vargas further.
Vargas weathered the storm and stayed in the fight, even arguably having the better of Pacquiao in the middle rounds of the contest. But, Pacquiao’s pace and ability to dodge in and out of attacks helped reassert his dominance on the fight as Vargas tired trying to keep up with the speedy smaller man.
Pacquiao changed up his go-to form of attack, opting to set up his right hand with combinations after relying on his left following his early success. Vargas stayed in the fight and hung with Pacquiao, happily taking punishment to give out his own, but he had visibly run out of ideas if his right hand was failing him. Pacquiao notched up a score of 118-109 on two of the judge’s scorecards and, inexplicably, a closer-run total of 114-113 in his favor to earn a unanimous decision victory to hand Vargas the second loss of his career and reclaim the WBO world welterweight belt—the third time Pac Man has held this particular title in his stellar boxing career.
“Fighting Manny Pacquiao is like playing a very fast game of chess,” Vargas said. “You have to be alert at all times because there were a lot of punches coming in. He was very fast. He was very sharp.” Given Pacquiao’s stress-filled build up to the fight, Pac Man appeared happy with his win, despite wanting the knockout victory. “I feel happy,” he said. “I’m trying every round to knock him down, but not get careless.”
So what’s next for the Filipino star? Pacquiao invited long-time arch nemesis Floyd Mayweather Jr. to sit ringside and witness his return and the special guest mouthed the words “not bad,” accompanied with a thumbs up, following Pac Man’s comfortable win. Typically, this has generated plenty of talk about a big-money rematch between the pair to make amends for their dud of a fight back in 2015, which saw Mayweather cruise a comfortable decision win.
That fight was billed as “the fight of the century” but left plenty of fans cold. However, with Mayweather also enjoying “retirement,” there has been talk a big-money rematch with Pacquiao could be the fight to coax the undefeated boxing superstar from his slumber. “I invited him to be here tonight,” said Pacquiao following his win over Vargas. When asked if he could be squaring off against Mayweather once again, Pacquiao coyly replied: “We’ll see.”
Following the fight, Pacquiao was then asked directly who he’d be fighting next—if at all. He replied: “Regarding my next fight, I’ll have to talk to Bob Arum [Pacquiao’s long-time promoter].” Arum has mentioned multiple names to be in the mix alongside Mayweather’s—namely Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomachenko.
The unbeaten Crawford was among the names talked about when Pacquiao announced the end of his hurried hiatus and is presently dominating boxing’s lightweight division, boasting the WBO, WBC, Ring Magazine and lineal titles in that division. However, he is slated to defend his multiple belts against John Molina Jr. in December. Crawford fights at 140 lbs, but Pacquiao has indicated he’s happy to drop back down in weight after around eight years since competing in that division.
Ukrainian Lomachenko fights a division down from Crawford as the WBO’s junior lightweight king and has impressed in the division despite having only fought professionally for three years and amassing a fledgling record of 6-1. This is largely due to his impressive amateur pedigree, which saw him win two Olympic gold medals, two world championships and one European championship before turning pro—a record so striking he earned a shot at the WBO International title in his professional debut: a fight he won by TKO against Mexico’s Jose Ramirez. Lomachenko would be an interesting match-up, though Arum—whose Top Rank stable of fighters boast both Pacquiao and Lomachenko—has stated the fight will only happen if the pair compromise to meet at 140 lbs.
Whether it’s concentrating on his political career (and perhaps is out-of-date beliefs), entertaining a rematch with Mayweather or taking on two surging fighters in Crawford and Lomachenko, the next chapter of Manny Pacquiao’s story is certain to provide plenty of talking points.
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