Rumble in Vegas: Pacquiao targets history, knockout over Vargas
LAS VEGAS–A legend writing another chapter to his legacy against a champion longing for attention and recognition.
Manny Pacquiao, already boxing’s lone eight-division world champion, will try to become the first incumbent senator to clinch a crown when he tangles with WBO welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas Saturday night (Sunday in Manila) at Thomas & Mack Center here.
Also a three-time fighter of the year and reigning Fighter of the Decade (2000 to 2009), Pacquiao is a 7-1 favorite to beat Vargas and claim the 147-pound belt for the third time in an illustrious 21-year-career that saw him win 52 times, stumble six times and draw twice.
A decision win by Pacquiao won’t suffice this time, however, as there’s persistent clamor for him to score his first stoppage in seven years and 11 fights.
Even President Duterte, his longtime friend, chief trainer Freddie Roach and wife Jinkee are urging Pacquiao to go for the elusive knockout that would catapult him back to boxing’s zenith.
Pacquiao, by the way he’s been pounding the bags, punishing Roach in their mitts sessions, and moving in the ring, intends to oblige.
He, too, would like to tally KO 39 and prove that he’s far from finish at 37, turning 38 next month.
Vargas, on the other hand, is highly motivated to pull off a stunner in order to acquire superstar status.
“To beat the best, you have to beat the best,” said Vargas, who wants to enter the thin roster of
Pacquiao’s conquerors, most of whom are future Hall of Famers like Floyd Mayweather Jr., Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales.
There are also victims, like Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton and Oscar De La Hoya, who are Hall of Fame bound as well.
Just like Roach, a seven-time Trainer of the Year, Dewey Cooper, a 41-year-old martial artist, believes that at 27 Vargas’ shining moment has come.
Cooper is hoping Vargas’ vaunted overhand right will catch Pacquiao open and knock him out cold, just like what Marquez did in their fourth battle in June, 2006.
That will entail a lot of effort, however, as Pacquiao, who came in at a springy 144.8 pounds in the official weigh-in Friday at Encore Threater of Wynn hotel, is an elusive target that counters in a snap.
Vargas, who appeared bigger at center stage, checked in at 146. 5.
Having felt and endured Pacquiao’s newfound punching power, Roach predicts a knockout inside five rounds. Granting, of course, that Vargas lives up to his boast that he’ll be on attack mode against Pacquiao.
Though he doubts whether Vargas will press on, Pacquiao said he’ll be glad to engage the Mexican-American in a slugfest that will surely shorten the headliner of The Legend vs The Champ fight card.
Despite his longtime affinity with Pacquiao, Top Rank Inc. honcho Bob Arum believes that Vargas, with his youth, size, talent and hunger, is also capable of a knockout despite notching only ten in 27 victories against a lone loss dealt by Tim Bradley.
This will be Pacquiao’s 27th fight in the United States, 19 of them in Las Vegas, with only two held at UNLV, home of the Runnin’ Rebels, the 1990 US NCAA Division I champions.
Those were memorable exploits as Pacquiao scored both triumphs against Erik Morales, who whipped him in their first encounter.
Vargas considers Morales and another Mexican icon, Marco Antonio Barrera, whom Pacquiao bested twice, as his boyhood idols and is raring to exact revenge for them.
If he succeeds, Vargas will become a household name like Pacquiao.
But if he fails, the Las Vegan will have to settle in the company of wannabes like Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, Chris Algieri and Brandon Rios—footnotes to Pacquiao’s greatness.