Editor’s note: Tim Burgess will be providing occasional fight coverage for Houston Sports and Stuff. Follow him on Twitter @timburg
By TIM BURGESS
Manny Pacquiao fights in Las Vegas on Saturday evening, but if you’re reading this there’s a good chance this is the first you’ve heard of it. Pacquiao’s Saturday night pay per view against WBO welterweight champion Jessie Vargas hasn’t made it on the casual fight fan’s radar for a myriad of reasons.
First there’s the fact that it’s not an exciting or in-demand matchup. No disrespect meant to Vargas, who has amassed a solid 29-1 record in his career, but this is not a matchup the fans have been clamoring for. Had the fight fans and media had their way Pacquiao would be stepping in with Terence Crawford, a super lightweight pugilist who seems destined for eventual stardom. But Pacquiao didn’t want the fight. Too much risk, not enough reward. Pacquiao isn’t the power puncher he used to be, instead relying on superior boxing technique to befuddle his opponents. But Crawford is quite the technician himself, and stepping in the ring with Pacquiao could usher in a potential changing of the guard at 140 or 147 pounds. A changing of the guard that Pacquiao, at least at this point, does not seem interested in.
If the thought of shelling out 70 of your hard-earned dollars to watch this fight isn’t appealing to you know that you aren’t the only one. Even Pacquiao and promoter Bob Arum’s usual broadcast partner HBO passed on the fight. Pacquiao decided to return in early November because he has a break from his Senate duties in the Philippines. But HBO balked, having already scheduled a November pay-per-view matchup between light heavyweights Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward on the 19th. With neither side willing to budge Arum decided to put on the pay-per-view without the help of a major network. Arum stands to make more money this way but without the help of promotional programming and advertising on HBO it could cost the promotion a significant amount of buys.
But the opponent, the date and lack of a major broadcast partner aren’t the only things holding Pacquiao back here. Manny himself isn’t the draw he used to be. The luster started coming off for Pacquiao in 2012 when he was knocked out cold by Juan Manuel Marquez. Following victories over Brandon Rios, Bradley and Chris Algieri it was time for the biggest test of Pacquiao’s career: a super fight with Floyd Mayweather. That fight did a record number of pay per view buys, over four million in total, but soured casual fans because of the technical nature of the fight and perceived lack of effort from Pacquiao down the stretch. Just 18 months after that super fight with Mayweather did four million buys, Pacquaio/Vargas will be lucky to get 400,000 buys.
THIS COULD END BRADLEY
Both Pacquiao and Vargas have fought Timothy Bradley; Pacquiao three times and Vargas once. Everyone who watched Pacquiao-Bradley 1 thought Pacquiao won handily, except two of the judges ringside who awarded the fight to Bradley. Pacquiao made up for it by winning the second and third installments of the trilogy in easy fashion. Vargas’ lone loss of his career came to Bradley when they met in June of 2015. Bradley controlled the fight throughout, looking like the clearly superior fighter until the waning moments of the 12th round. At that point Vargas rocked Bradley, putting him on shaky legs. Vargas went in to try to secure the knockout but the referee halted the fight early, thinking the ten second warning was the actual bell. It was unlikely Vargas could have scored the knockout in those ten seconds, but it would have been nice to see him get the chance.
Pacquiao was once known as one of the most devastating punchers in the sport, but those days are long gone. In fact, Pacquiao hasn’t scored a knockout of any kind since 2009 when he TKO’d Miguel Cotto in the 11th round. Since then Pacquiao has fought 11 times winning eight and suffering a knockout of his own at the hands of the aforementioned Marquez.
RETURN OF THE MACK
It wasn’t just HBO who passed on Pacquiao. With the fight coming together late and the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay already booked, Pacquiao will be fighting at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. It’s the first time Pacquiao has fought at the Thomas & Mack Center since 2006, when he knocked out Erik Morales. With the MGM Grand out of the fold The Wynn Las Vegas will be the host hotel for the fight.
Despite the lackluster main event TopRank stacked the undercard, giving viewers three title fights before Pacquiao and Vargas even step in the ring.The most notable matchup is the co-feature, which pits WBO super bantamweight titlist Nonito Donaire against Jesse Magdaleno. Donaire, who is now 33, isn’t the fighter he used to be. But he has still knocked out five of his last seven opponents and showed a tremendous amount of heart in outlasting Cesar Jaurez to take home the WBO belt in December of last year.
Manny Pacquiao by unanimous decision. Unless Vargas catches Pacquiao with the perfect knockout punch or Pacquiao’s skills have severely eroded over the seven months he has been out of the ring I just can’t see Vargas winning. Pacquiao showed in his last fight with Bradley that he may have lost some power, but hasn’t lost any of his technical boxing ability.
I’ll be on Twitter Saturday night scoring the main event. Follow me @timburg for round by round scoring and tweet me your thoughts.