By Bill Dwyre
Las Vegas -- While most senators around the world, in every country where there is that kind of government, were home on their couches Saturday night, making sure to take their pain pills and Geritol, the Honorable Manny Pacquiao was beating up a guy in Las Vegas.
Pacquiao, who retired from boxing for a while so he could learn the ropes of governing, is back. He has won a record eight division titles in his now 59-6-2 career, and has now won the won the World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight title for a third time. His victim this time was young titleholder Jessie Vargas, who talked a good game with his new trainer, Dewey Cooper, but could not match the speed and fire power of a man 10 years his senior and five inches shorter.
With the exception of the unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr., who beat Pacquiao handily, and Juan Manuel Márquez, who caught him with a great punch, recent history against Pacquaio was repeated. Before a crowd of 16,132 in the Thomas & Mack Center, Pacquiao handled the 27-year-old Vargas as he has handled so many over the years.
He was faster and quicker and more elusive. In the second round, he caught Vargas with one of his classic left hooks and put him down. Vargas, who called that one “a flash knockdown,” went down two more times in the fight, but both were ruled slips, even though Vargas touched his glove to the canvas on one and his knee the second time.
Vargas fought valiantly, but by the fifth round, his face was puffy and his right eye was starting to close and, is so often the case against Pacquiao, he seemed mystified. Fighting Pacquiao is a little like walking into a room full of diving bats. They come from all angles and never stop.
“This fight was like playing a game of chess,” Vargas said. “He was very sharp and very fast.”
And this came as a surprise?
In the run-up to the fight, Vargas and his new trainer spoke loudly and carried big sticks. But all too often, Pacquiao opponents talk big and leave beaten.
Afterward, trainer Dewey Cooper, a former UNLV football player and kickboxing champion, said, “Let’s give credit to Pacquiao. This just adds to his incredible achievements.”
A disappointed Vargas was also dignified in defeat.
“His speed surprised me,” he said. “The knockdown in the second round woke me up.
“I apologize to my fans if I let them down. But fighting Manny Pacquiao has elevated my game.”
The unanimous decision was tainted a bit by the 114-113 score from veteran and usually reliable Dave Moretti. The other two judges had it 118-109, or 10 rounds to 2. Moretti gave Vargas five of the first six rounds (10 points a round) and had to give him eight points for the second round because of the knockdown. He also gave him the 12th round, meaning he had the fight a draw had not Pacquiao knocked down Vargas in the second.
Not uncharacteristically, Top Rank Boxing’s chief executive Bob Arum, who never minces words, said that judging such as that should disqualify that judge from future fights.
Arum also criticized the judging in the loss of another Filipino veteran, Nonito Donaire, who was upset by unbeaten Las Vegas challenger, Jessie Magdaleno, in a WBO junior featherweight title fight. One judge had Donaire winning just two rounds. Donaire said afterward he not only was stunned that he didn’t get the decision, but it never occurred to him afterward that he wouldn’t.
The two other judges had it a closer 116-112 for Magdaleno.
In the other two undercard title fights, China’s Olympic star, Zou Shiming, showed some dazzling speed and won a unanimous decision and a WBO flyweight title over Thailand’s Prasitak Phaprom, and Mexico’s Óscar Valdez continued his march toward stardom and main events spots with a seventh-round knockdown of Japan’s Hiroshige Osawa. It was Valdez’s first defense of his WBO featherweight title.
Now, literally and figuratively, the beat goes on for the Senator from the Philippines.
The hot topic of discussion before the fight was how in the world Pacquiao could make every senate session and every important committee meeting (he is on 15 committees), while properly preparing for a fight. Now, that being proven as no problem, the discussion moves to that which always keeps the motors running in boxing.
Who is next?
Pacquiao, who uncharacteristically did not meet the press afterward -- he was getting 16 stitches in his head for a late-round head butt -- teased the media by inviting Mayweather to the fight. The unbeaten and retired (cough, cough) Mayweather sat ringside, attracted lots of attention and, by his very presence, stirred the pot that they will fight again. Pacquiao never commits to anything or anybody after a fight, deflecting all that to Arum. But that sort of multi-million-dollar extravaganza, even when it failed badly in aesthetics the first time with a lopsided Mayweather victory and a shoulder injury in mid-match by Pacquiao, may be on the horizon again.
It is boxing. You won’t know for sure until you show up at the arena and the lights are turned on.
For senator Pacquiao, it was a great night. He showed up in the U.S. a couple of weeks ago, looking delighted that he had figured out how to handle both jobs. And now, he will fly home Sunday and throw some verbal punches on the senate floor, when sessions resume Tuesday.
In was also a great night for Pacquiao’s promoter, Arum, who was presented with several intriguing possibilities for big future paydays for himself and Pacquiao. His biggest meal ticket, recently retired, is back out there again.
For this one, Pacquiao took home $4 million -- before pay-per-view revenue comes in. Half of that will likely go to the poor and needy in his country.
The only loser on the Pacquiao team was trainer Freddie Roach, who had a $100 win-by-knockout ticket on his fighter from a Vegas sports book. Somehow, we think Roach will be fine.
Bill Dwyre will be writing a series of fight week columns on the Pacquiao vs. Vargas world championship pay-per-view event. Bill was sports editor of The Los Angeles Times for 25 years, ending in 2006. He was a sports columnist for 9 1/2 years at The Times, ending Nov. 25 with his retirement. Boxing was among his most frequent column topics. Bill can be contacted at BillPatDwyre@gmail.com or via Twitter at @BillDwyre.