Pacquiao vs Vargas press conferenceThis weekend sees the return of boxing icon Manny Pacquiao as he looks to dethrone Welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas. Pacquiao, who turns 38 in December, isn’t quite the force of old, but not many would argue that he no longer poses a threat to today’s best at 147 lbs. Vargas, a hungry 27-year-old with solid ability, will be looking to continue carving out his own legacy by dispatching a legend on Saturday.

The action, hosted at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, will air Live on HBO PPV and Boxnation, with a supporting cast of Nonito Donaire vs. Jessie Magdaleno, Oscar Valdez vs. Hiroshige Osawa, and Shiming Zou vs. Prasitsak Papoem.

Pacquiao brings a wealth of experience which has seen him lift belts in eight weight classes. He may still be considered a top dog, but father time seems to have pushed at least half a foot out the door in recent years. As for Vargas, he’s still developing, even as a titleholder, but has shown legitimate signs of promise and that his threat is real, most famously against Sadam Ali in March.

Yes, Pacquiao vs Vargas looks like a nice piece of matchmaking indeed, and for a number of reasons. Mainly because there are intriguing questions at play that can’t really be comfortably answered until the bell rings. Let’s get to it and look at what both fighters bring to the ring.

Pacquiao vs Vargas: Preview

Manny Pacquiao

Record: 58-6-2, 38 KO – Born: Philippines – Age: 37 – Height / Reach: 5′ 6″ / 67″ – Stance: Southpaw – KO Ratio: 58% – Last 5: 4-1, 0 KO – Last 10: 7-3, 0 KO – Rounds Boxed: 431 – Latest Win: Timothy Bradley (UD 12)

With Pacquiao, there’s no need to mull over the majority of his career. This decorated future Hall of Famer has already overachieved in the fight game, and, in time, a win over a Top 10 fresh, twenty-something ‘might’ just come as extra icing on the cake. Pacquiao has achieved international stardom courtesy of his ferocious fighting style, elite skills, and crossover appeal with all-action fight fans. We know this guy’s story.

But does Pacquiao still have enough in the tank to deal with Jessie Vargas? In all likelihood, at worst, he should be able to hang with Vargas. But Pacquiao’s prowess has seen a decline over the past few years, with father time and a history of hard battles beginning to take their toll on his performances. That’s certainly what most critics would tell you. A second career path in politics, among other distractions outside the ring, perhaps even newfound religion, could be factors.

There’s likely some truth there. For instance, it’s odd that Pacquiao, who was once crushing opponents left, right and centre, has not turned in a knockout since stopping Miguel Cotto way back in December 2009. Over six years is a long time. Pacquiao went on to win 8 of his next 11 fights, with only elites Floyd Mayweather, Juan Manuel Marquez and Timothy Bradley (controversially) handing him losses.

Let’s check out Pacquiao’s victories and defeats (2010 – Present):

  • Joshua Clottey – UD 12
  • Antonio Margarito – UD 12
  • Shane Mosley – UD 12
  • Juan Manuel Marquez (III) – MD 12
  • Timothy Bradley (I) – LOSS: SD 12
  • Juan Manuel Marquez (IV) – LOSS: KO 6
  • Brandon Rios – UD 12
  • Timothy Bradley (II) – UD 12
  • Chris Algieri – UD 12
  • Floyd Mayweather – LOSS: UD 12
  • Timothy Bradley (III) – UD 12

With the exception of Marquez (III) and Bradley (II), Pacquiao dominated in all of his wins here, but seemed a little more fragile and less eager to pull the trigger in fights following the savage Marquez (IV) KO defeat. Hey, it’s understandable. That right hand was sickening. But the great news is that Pacquiao still looked in fantastic shape in those following fights, scoring eight knockdowns in total, and showcasing enough of the stuff we love about Pacquiao to make his upcoming Vargas meeting an anticipated dustup.

If you think I’ve been overcritical of Pacquiao, hear me out. He may not be a shell of his former self, true, but he’s also no longer the bogeyman of the Welterweight division. No, sir. This is not the guy who whooped Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton. Pacquiao’s knockout reputation is gone, the high punch output has dropped, and that intoxicating air of invincibility has long gone.

 

Jessie Vargas

Record: 27-1, 10 KO – Born: California – Age: 27 – Height / Reach: 5′ 10″ / 71″ – Stance: Orthodox – KO Ratio: 36% – Last 5: 4-1, 1 KO – Last 10: 9-1, 1 KO – Rounds Boxed: 189 – Latest Win: Sadam Ali (TKO 9)

What’s not to like about this tenacious up-and-comer? Vargas has got skills, comes to fight, is developing one hell of a nasty right hand, and recently rebounded from a first career loss by throttling highly touted prospect Sadam Ali. Prior to his first Welterweight world title crack against Timothy Bradley last June, Vargas was an undefeated 140 lb champ looking for big exposure. And Vargas soon got it. Just not exactly how he’d wanted to.

Vargas, who had been trailing behind on the cards in a one-sided fight, proved that you only need twenty seconds left on the clock to turn around and win a fight. Well, almost. Vargas nailed Bradley with a knee-buckling right, but, unfortunately for Vargas, an oversight by the referee meant the bout concluded ten seconds premature, robbing Vargas the chance to finish what he’d started. It proved to be a highly controversial outcome, and, to Vargas’ frustration, a rematch never came.

Vargas, however, determined and young enough to get his career back on track, was soon in another high exposure outing. Sadam Ali was in the opposite corner, and the vacant WBO strap on the line. The bout was highly competitive, crammed with back-and-forth bad intentions from both men, but no one could have foreseen a devastating Vargas right dropping Ali in the 8th.

Vargas took care of business in the 9th, showing little mercy as he cracked his wounded prey with more power shots until the referee stepped in. Vargas now had a major win on his record, a world title at his waist, and had done it on a big stage to boot, meaning bigger fights were looking likely down the road. Oh, and he proved he can whack a bit too.

Here’s a look at Vargas’ past five contests:

  • Sadam Ali – TKO 9
  • Timothy Bradley – LOSS: UD 12
  • Antonio DeMarco – UD 12
  • Anton Novikov – UD 12
  • Khabib Allakhverdiev – UD 12

But just how good are Vargas’ chances against Pacquiao? Well, it’s hard to confidently say until we see this pair exchanging leather, but Vargas has a good chance it would seem, especially given Pacquiao is entering into the twilight of his career. Vargas is a tough guy, has some great fundamentals, and as I’ve already stated, has one mean-ass right hand that can do major damage. Coming in nine years younger, with eye-catching height and reach advantages, along with some decent experience at world level, you’ve got to consider this guy a potential spoiler.

Can Vargas cope with the speed, angles and footwork of Pacquiao? That is a big question going into this fight, of course. Winning rounds against a busy, athletic mover like Pacquiao has never been an easy feat, and so Vargas must do a lot more than merely compete to retain his title. Pacquiao is no longer in his prime, is more beatable than he’s ever been, sure, but Vargas will still have to bring his absolute A-game.

Pacquiao vs Vargas: Prediction

This isn’t an easy one to call, especially given the above uncertainties surrounding both men. And so I’m just going to go with my gut and call it as I did when first hearing Pacquiao vs Vargas got made. Vargas is going to be a live body and enjoy some good moments in this fight, I’m sure, but Pacquiao, still in fine condition and carrying too much versatility for Vargas, will outbox his foe en route to a competitive but convincing decision.

Pacquiao may be past his best, but he’ll be by far the best opponent Vargas will have danced with. Pacquiao’s footwork and speed are still there in high enough quantities to pose big problems, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Vargas finds himself on the deck once or twice, depending on how hard Vargas chases the fight. Vargas seems to have a good enough set of whiskers on him to ride out any shaky moments, however, so reaching the final bell shouldn’t be an issue.

Prediction: Pacquiao to beat Vargas via UD 12

 

What are your thoughts on Pacquiao vs Vargas, readers? Will Pacquiao be lifting another world title and gunning for a Terence Crawford showdown in 2017? Or will Vargas tear up the script and enter himself into the sweepstakes?

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