It didn’t look like Manny Pacquiao was suffering from any ring rust as he returned from a seven month ‘retirement’ to defeat WBO welterweight champ Jessie Vargas via a clear cut decision. At the end of twelve rounds, the judges’ scorecards read 114-113, 118-109, and 118-109 in favor of Pacquiao.
With his comeback fight failing to draw the kind of attention the Filipino fighter is used to, Manny needed a strong performance to prove he was still a force to be reckoned with in the boxing world. And despite not getting a finish (a drought that now runs back to 2009), Pacquiao made the case that he’s still faster and craftier than anyone around his weight not named Mayweather.
Vargas was a step behind Pacquiao through the entire fight and was stuck throwing single punches that caught nothing but air. Pacquiao would wait for him to over-commit and then unleash a vicious volley of strikes from all angles. That’s not to say Vargas didn’t manage to keep things dangerous through the fight with his straight right hand, but it was Pacquiao’s left that landed more often, swelling up Vargas’ eye in the 6th round. As the fight wore on, Vargas began to fade and Pacquiao started stepping in aggressively, hitting Vargas with his head almost as often as his gloves. In the end it felt like Manny took his foot off the gas a little, and he spent a good part of the 12th keeping his distance and avoiding wild Hail Marys from Vargas.
The win earns Pacquiao the WBO welterweight championship, his 11th world title across eight divisions. And if the hype for one of boxing’s greatest champions seems muted right now, it’s probably because Vargas was seen by most fans as a softball opponent. Sure, there were questions surrounding Pacquiao’s age and dedication to the sport as he juggled training and political duties as a Senator of the Philippines. But he was still a massive -500 to -1000 favorite coming into the fight. At this point in his career, that’s just not capturing our imagination any more.
It will be interesting to see how the boxing world reacts if Pacquiao chooses a more compelling match-up like Terence Crawford next. Can he regain his position as one of the kings of pay-per-view or did that stinker of a fight with Floyd Mayweather damage his reputation worse than we realized? Between that loss and the backlash over anti-gay comments Pacquiao made in February, has he lost that ‘It Factor’ that saw so many of his past fights break a million PPV buys?