By NICK GIONGCO
LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao will embark on two missions Saturday (Sunday in Manila): defy time and punch his way into becoming the first senator to win a world boxing title.
Pacquiao (58-6-2 win-loss-draw with 38 KOs) meets youthful champion Jessie Vargas (27-1 with 10 KOs), younger by almost ten years at 27, in an attempt to dethrone him as World Boxing Organization welterweight king at the Thomas and Mack Center.
Turning 38 on Dec. 17, questions have been raised about Pacquiao’s age and ability to handle a young lion and the Filipino swears age is just a number as he vows to press the action at the get-go.
“I am the challenger and I will fight that way,” said Pacquiao after tipping in at 144.8 lbs during Friday’s official weighin at the Encore Theater at the Wynn.
Vargas, who holds a four-inch height advantage and five-inch edge in reach, came in at 146.5 lbs and appeared ripped and ready to do battle with the fighter who once held the mythical title of pound-for-pound king.
“We had a great training camp and we’ve studied his style and we know how he fights,” said Pacquiao, who was elected into the Philippine Senate during the May national elections.
There’s been no other politician with such lofty position who succeeded in becoming a world boxing champion during his fighting days, making Pacquiao’s bid bordering on something that is simply out of this world.
But Vargas is right there to threaten it from taking place at his expense as the Mexican-American vowed to derail it by all means.
“I am not going to hand the title to him. I am keeping it,” said Vargas.
Pacquiao is pressured to come up big as he has been criticized for his lack of stopping power at welterweight since the last time he scored an abbreviated win took place seven years ago.
But Pacquiao, who has won eight world titles in as many weight classes, feels he has been able to load up on ammo the past few weeks, something that he badly needs to shore up his popularity.
Following his loss last year to Floyd Mayweather, Pacquiao’s stock took a hit and it showed when his rousing win conquest of Tim Bradley last April faltered in PPV with only 400 buys.
The numbers were ghastly as Pacquiao once lorded over the PPV scene with many of his fights averaging 1.2 million hits.
Despite his slide, Pacquiao remains as the heavy 7-1 favorite in the scheduled 12-rounder that will be refereed by Kenny Bayless and scored by Glenn Feldman, Dave Moretti and Glenn Trowbridge.
This will be Pacquiao’s 27th fight on US soil stretching back to June 2001 when Pacquiao, still a scrawny and obscure super-bantamweight, earned $40,000.
Against Vargas, Pacquiao stands to earn much, much more than that although not near the flat fee of a little over $20 million that was given to him by Top Rank big boss Bob Arum.
“He’s getting a negligible fee but he gets a percentage in the PPV and if the PPV doesn’t fare well, his earnings will be affected.”
“But if it does well, of course he gets more,” said Arum.
Assuming Pacquiao brings Vargas to school, Arum has two fighters available for next year although a rematch with Mayweather is tops on the list.
Since Mayweather has opted to retire, Arum is training his sights on active fighters like Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomacenko.