By Bill Dwyre
Las Vegas – It is Friday of fight week, and a female friend has it labeled perfectly: Boys in Underwear Day.
Weigh-in day for boxing matches represents the single most-consistent and predictable no-news day in sports journalism. The fighters know what they have to weigh, what the consequences are if they are too heavy -- loss of a portion of their purse and sometimes, even a fight cancellation -- and so the parade to the scale is about as dramatic as a soccer injury. Player falls, player grimaces and writhes in pain, stretcher carts player off, player returns to game in 30 seconds.
Boys in Underwear Day, then, is a good chance to catch up on the facts, figures and nuances of Saturday night’s major boxing card at the Thomas & Mack Center here.
The main event is the comeback of the Philippine hero, senator and boxing legend Manny Pacquiao. He had left us there for a few months, saying he was retired. In essence, it was a boxing retirement, as opposed to an actual retirement. Think of it like you would one of those end-of-the-world-coming-tomorrow predictions. In other words, it ain’t gonna happen. For further perspective, Google Floyd Mayweather Jr., and await the next announcement.
Pacquiao’s opponent for this 147-pound feature, on a card that also features three other title fights, is Las Vegas’ own Jessie Vargas, who is 27 and ten years younger than Pacquiao, is about four inches taller, is undefeated and has, perhaps, a puncher’s chance, as we say in boxing. He is also a 7-1 underdog.
Some bits and pieces as we welcome back the lore of Manny and the buzz he invariably brings with him:
- Pacquiao’s record is 58-6-2, with 38 knockouts. His trainer, Freddie Roach, is betting (literally) that that will read 59-6-2 (39) after Saturday night. On Boys-In-Underwear Day, Roach was carrying around a $100 win-by-knockout ticket from the sports book. If Pacquiao wins by KO, add $300 to Roach’s always-substantial training fee.
- Vargas is 27-1 (10 KOs). He is the actual champ in this fight, currently owning the World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight crown. Pacquiao has held that title two times previously and has also held a record eight-division titles.
- The Nov. 5 date for the fight was problematic. That’s why promoting group Top Rank is handling the pay-per-view telecast on its own, rather than having it on a cable network such as HBO or Showtime. Pacquiao’s Philippine senate left only the Nov. 5 date workable because it is not in session now. HBO had contracted to carry a major fight two weeks later in Las Vegas and balked at doing two major fights that close together. Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who is not altogether unhappy at being in total control of his own show, said, “In this one, I had no choice. The Philippine senate schedule dictated.”
- In the Philippines, where Pacquiao served two terms as a Congressman, the senate setup is different from that of the United States. There are 24 senators, 12 elected every six years, and they serve the entire country, not just a district, state or province.
- Among Arum’s themes for this fight is that the sport of boxing is perhaps the most global sport of all. To demonstrate, he has a boxing card that will not only include three undercard title fights, but also boxers from a total of ten separate countries: U.S., Philippines, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, China, Brazil, Russia, Panama and Las Vegas.
- The three lead-in title fights match Zou Shiming of China against Prasitak Phaprom of Thailand for the WBO flyweight title; Nonito Donaire of the Philippines against Jessie Magdaleno of Las Vegas for the WBO junior featherweight title, and Óscar Valdez of Mexico against Hiroshige Osawa of Japan for the WBO featherweight crown.
- Pacquiao said the moment he decided to come back occurred when he was at home in the Philippines, watching a Triple-G (Gennady Golovkin) match on TV. “I wasn’t part of boxing anymore,” he said. “I felt lonely.” That would somewhat contradict what Roach said earlier this week: “Before the April (Tim) Bradley fight, Manny looked at me and said, ‘We aren’t done yet.’ I said, ‘I know.’ ”
- Arum, as invested in the country’s politics as anybody around and a longtime Hillary Clinton backer, has been mostly restrained in his political commentary this fight week, as the election nears. But last week, during a radio interview at Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles, Arum couldn’t hold back. “God forbid Donald Trump gets elected,” he said. “It would be the end of this country, as we know it.”
- Both Vargas and his trainer, Dewey Cooper, have added nice color to this promotion. Vargas pretty well keynoted his approach to this fight when he said, “Everybody knows who Manny Pacquiao is. When I beat him, everybody will know who I am.” Cooper, 41, a former UNLV football player and champion kick-boxer, characterized Pacquiao’s boxing style as “kind of a basketball point guard and a Tasmanian Devil.”
- Pacquiao, under frequent questioning about his charitable works, said that he has probably given away 50% of his boxing winnings to charitable causes in the Philippines. Research shows that Pacquiao has earned about $500 million boxing, meaning the poor and needy of the Philippines have received a $250 million infusion of funds from him.
- At 6 p.m. every day during fight week, in a room just down the hall in the Wynn Las Vegas resort and casino from the fight media headquarters, a short and stocky man steps to a podium and conducts Bible studies for 30 or so people. His name is Manny Pacquiao.
- Tim Bradley will be part of the Top Rank pay-per-view telecast team for the fight. He has often said, in his trilogy with Pacquiao, that the Pacman’s punches were so heavy that they really hurt -- an unusual admission from any boxer about an opponent. He said here Friday that, while he thinks Pacquiao will win, that Vargas has one secret weapon, the one he used against Bradley and nearly knocked him out in the 12th round of their June, 2015, match won by Bradley. That is Vargas’ only loss. “He has this overhand right that is dangerous,” Bradley said. “If he lands that, he has a chance.”
That’s all for now. Time to go watch boys in underwear.
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.