As Manny Pacquiao’s glittering boxing career nears the final bell, the inescapable narrative surrounding the legendary Filipino southpaw is focused on a grudge rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jnr – understandable, perhaps, given the enormous financial rewards on offer, not to mention the chance to exact revenge for last year’s defeat.
But before Pacquiao’s camp can begin tempting Mayweather out of his 18-month retirement, he must first emerge victorious from November 5’s WBO welterweight championship fight with current holder Jessie Vargas at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Vargas has improved measurably under latest trainer Dewey Cooper and developed a fight-ending punch in his right hand, dubbed “The Sleeper” in the gym. That shot decimated touted Sadam Ali to win the WBO title in March and Pacquiao would be wise not to underestimate the reinvigorated Vargas.
A 21-year veteran, Pacquiao is no longer the ferocious force of nature that poleaxed Ricky Hatton and overwhelmed boxing’s “Golden Boy” Oscar De La Hoya. His powers are waning: Pacquiao hasn’t even scored a knockout for seven years, though the blurring hand speed and intense work rate remain.
Should the serving Filipino senator defeat Vargas as expected, there are only two enticing options on the table as he winds down his boxing career: the Mayweather rematch or a dangerous liaison with Top Rank’s rising star Terence Crawford, a three-belt world champion hungry for more spoils.
The Filipino’s numerous outside interests from politics to basketball have cast a shadow over his later boxing career and even prompted a temporary retirement in April following his repeat win over Timothy Bradley, but Pacquiao said he felt “lonely” without the fight game and the hiatus was a brief one.
Having claimed titles in a record-breaking eight divisions, Pacquiao’s lofty position in boxing history is already assured, but victories over Vargas and then Mayweather represent the perfect exit plan.
The last time the pair met – in their anti-climactic superfight in May 2015 – it was Mayweather who triumphed on the score cards. That confrontation may have been widely viewed as a boxing eyesore but it was an exceptionally lucrative one – pulling in US$410 million in US pay-per-view sales and a staggering US$78 million in gate receipts.
A rematch makes far too much financial sense not to happen and recently CBS Network chairman Leslie Moonves, who was instrumental in brokering the first encounter, told Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach in a Los Angeles restaurant, “Let’s do it again.”
With the Filipino hindered by a shoulder injury in 2015, Roach is convinced a fully fit Pacquiao can even “dominate” the brilliant but safety-first American, whose 49-bout unbeaten record has been built on astute matchmaking, fierce dedication and perfecting the art of hitting (lightly) and not being hit.
It’s an approach favored by the judges but the polar opposite of Pacquiao’s high octane, fan-friendly style.