Filipino icon decisions Vargas, claims WBO belt
LAS VEGAS – A hard left that felled his rival marked the return of Manny Pacquiao in a thrilling showdown that further added luster to his legacy before a crowd of more than 16,000, including the very man the world wanted to see in a rematch with the Filipino icon.
Pacquiao outclassed Jessie Vargas to win a third welterweight title via unanimous decision at the Thomas and Mack Center here Saturday to become what he described as the first fighting senator in the history of prizefight.
He displayed speed and tremendous power and fought like the Pacquiao of old, dropping the Mexican-American champ in the second round, and kept the pressure throughout the 12-round fight.
It was an exciting showdown although Vargas, who at 27 is 10 years younger than the former eight-division titleholder, absorbed punishing lessons from a master fighter.
With Floyd Mayweather Jr. seated at ringside and his young daughter to his right, Pacquiao tried to put on a show. Before the opening bell, the Filipino superstar raised his glove head-high and smiled at the undefeated American, who’s in retirement as well.
Pacquiao fought well against Vargas and won on all three scorecards (118-109, 118-109, 114-113). It was mostly vintage Pacquiao even if he failed to score the knockout that his trainer had hoped for.
“I’m so happy with my performance tonight,” he said in the middle of the celebration on top of the ring as the crowd of 16,132 watched in approval.
“I wanted to win every round and I was looking for the knockout,” he said, adding that he’s excited to fly home Sunday and plunge back into work at the Senate.
He will take a private plane to Los Angeles Sunday afternoon and then the evening flight to Manila with the WBO welterweight belt in his possession.
Mayweather’s presence, Pacquiao said, was no surprise.
“I invited him to come here tonight,” he said, and when the question on possible rematch with the undefeated American, who’s now 39, was raised, Pacquiao added, “We’ll see.”
“I’m so proud of Manny. It was a good fight. Jessie was a good opponent,” said Freddie Roach.
American scribes who sat at press row and just a few feet away from Mayweather threw questions at the retired superstar.
“What do you think?” Mayweather was asked.
“Not bad,” was his reply.
Vargas came to fight but couldn’t handle Pacquiao’s speed.
He did land powerful punches of his own, and said it forced Pacquiao to back off at times. But it was pretty evident throughout the fight that Vargas was not at par with his opponent.
Ring announcer Michael Buffer read the scorecards and declared Pacquiao as the new WBO welterweight champion. The dominant Filipino crowd at the venue rejoiced as well as those thousands of miles away.
Pacquiao celebrated with his team members inside the ring, and then faced his fans from one corner to the other. He climbed the ring post and raised his hands in the air as Mayweather stood before the boxer whom he defeated in May 2015.
Facing Mayweather, the 37-year-old Pacquiao waved his left hand, saying, “Thank you.”
Pacquiao admitted during the ring interview that Vargas had him thinking inside the ring at times. He did take some good punches from the deposed champion, but seemed to take them well.
“I was very careful because I know he will counter me,” said Pacquiao.
During the post-fight press conference, Vargas received a good round of applause. He took the loss in stride, saying he respects Pacquiao and that he’s not going to argue about the result.
“I’m not going to argue with the scorecards or the referee,” he said.
“It was a chess match and I believe it was in the third round he caught me with a good shot – a left hand,” said Vargas, who must have thought that the knockdown came in the third round instead of the second.
Vargas said yes, he caught Pacquiao a few times or even more.
“We caught him a few times. But he’s a very experienced fighter. He’s a legend. We give him credit. I was staying in my toes and trying to catch him,” he said.
“It made me a better fighter just being in there with Manny,” he said.
“It was a chess match – back and forth. We were on our toes trying to catch each other. His speed surprised me at the beginning and that knockdown woke me up. It was a flash knockdown. But he has tremendous speed,” said Vargas.
The loss was only his second in 29 fights, the other one coming in the hands of Timothy Bradley last year. It was the first time that Vargas was knocked down by a clean shot.
“Sometimes you get caught with punches you don’t see. Fighting Manny Pacquiao was like playing a fast game of chess. A lot of punches coming in. He was very fast and he was very sharp,” he said.
Vargas’ trainer, Dewey Cooper, said: “It was a tough fight. Let’s give credit to Pacquiao for his legendary performance. He’s a great champion.”
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