By: Bill Dwyre * – LAS VEGAS – The Honorable Emmanual Dapridan Pacquiao, freshman senator from the Philippines, pulled up a chair at the end of a long table here the other day and gave the gathered dozens a new look at the state of his union.
Gathered around were the least likely of the media set to deeply comprehend Filipino politics; actually, the least likely to comprehend any politics. We were the semi-couth of the journalism world, aka boxing writers. Our dress code is tennis shoes and, if handy, a clean shirt.
Pacquiao, of course, is the ultimate multi-tasker.
In addition to being one of 24 senators who run the government of the massive country of the Philippines, he is also an eight-division world boxing champion, something not achieved by anybody else. That combination is a bit hard to fathom. Ponder your U.S. Senator squeezing in sessions on the heavy bag between committee meetings on immigration and drug trafficking. Could a young John McCain, even as a tough former military veteran, pull that off? Or, even with the natural edge of semantics and the embrace of headline writers, could Barbara Boxer?
In April, Pacquiao won the 58th fight of his legendary career, impressively beating a tough Tim Bradley. Then he flew back home to finish his campaign for senator. At the time, he said it would be his last fight, that, at age 37 (38 next month), he was retiring from boxing. The semi-couths rolled their eyes, having heard this so many times before. The last boxer who said he was retiring and stuck to it was Gentleman Jim Corbett in 1903.
Sure enough, we are now just days from Pacquiao’s comeback fight, a match against World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight champion Jessie Vargas Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center here.
But this one has fascinations well beyond the normal comeback fight, or beyond the usual promotional stuff of the young up-and-comer — Vargas is 27 — taking on the old warrior.
For starters, this somehow doesn’t feel like a fight involving an old warrior. Yes, there is 10 year’s age difference and five or six inches of reach advantage for Vargas. But Pacquiao projects no image of a scarred and desperate guy; looking for one more big payday and one more romp under the bright lights. If anything, the big surprise of this promotion is not the usual and expected Vargas cocky swagger, nor the articulate but rambling assurances by Vargas trainer Dewey Cooper of Vargas’ readiness and eagerness.
No, it is Pacquiao’s body language.
Suddenly, the boxing senator has presidential carriage. If you could package poise and confidence, Pacquiao would be your starting point.
For years, he has hesitated to elaborate in interviews, to tackle the nuances of a language that is not his first. Suddenly, he is doing so with a confidence apparently drawn from having to communicate more deeply in much more important topics than left hooks.
“All those boxing press conferences have helped me,” he says. “Thanks, you guys.”
The semi-couths swell with pride.
In the past, there has been the normal tension from the pressure of the upcoming fight. This time, Pacquiao, smartly dressed and favoring a tie even more than in the past, smiles constantly, more like somebody about to go to dinner than somebody about to get into a boxing ring. There is eye contact and warmth and an apparent peace that seems to characterize a person who is boxing as much for the joy of it as for money and legacy.
Vargas says he is determined to go out and knock Pacquiao’s head off. Pacquiao smiles and responds. “Of course,” he says. “That’s O.K. I understand. I’m a fighter.”
Vargas says he has never been surprised by anything that has confronted him in a boxing ring. Pacquiao smiles and counters with the basic learned theory that, often in life as well as boxing, one’s reach can occasionally exceed one’s grasp.
“We sometimes think more than our skills allow us to do,” Pacquiao says, smiling gently, like an older brother trying to softly impart a lesson to a younger one.
Cooper bangs the table at a separate session for the semi-couths and says, “Never underestimate the hunger of a young lion champion.” He says it four times.
He says that Pacquiao may think he still has it, but “that may be in his mind, not in his soul.”
Pacquiao says his hunger comes from a desire to make history as the first boxing senator, and from a joy that he says he has already achieved by managing his time to remain an active part of the Filipino government while training hard and effectively for this fight.
Vargas says he has power and will put it to work Saturday night. Pacquiao smiles again and says he has never heard a boxer say he has no power. “We are boxers,” he says. “That’s what we say.”
Top Rank Boxing’s promoter, Bob Arum, has been among the more hesitant to believe Pacquiao can be both an effective boxer and effective politician. Part of that hesitation is built from a promoter’s desire to make sure there seems to be a chance for Vargas, which the current 7-1 odds favoring Pacquiao would dispute. And part is just simple logic. How in heaven’s name can Pacquiao do both?
The answer will be blowing in the wind over the Thomas & Mack Center here Saturday night.
Vargas is younger, taller, the current 147-pound champion in the WBO and says, “This is my time.” He also says, “I want the best Manny Pacquiao out there, because I want to beat the best.”
For Vargas, who will be facing somebody who appears to be completely at peace with himself and his current in-ring and outside-the-ring spot in life, the response to that just might be the age-old comeback:
Careful what you wish for.
On Fight Night for the MANNY “Pacman” PACQUIAO vs. JESSIE VARGAS world championship event, Top Rank® will utilize Twitter’s (twitter.com/trboxing) polling functionality to allow fans to participate in each bout as a collective, unofficial “4th judge.” Fans that tune into Saturday’s live pay-per-view telecast or catch it from a coveted seat at the Thomas & Mack Center will be able to easily vote on who they think is winning each undercard matchup, with the winner being announced on air prior to the official judges’ scorecards. During the main event, fans will have the option to vote round-by-round. The broadcast team of Stephen A. Smith, Brian Kenny, Charissa Thompson and Tim Bradley, Jr., will deliver updates in between rounds, with scorecard graphics appearing on-screen throughout the main event. Employing this feature, fans are granted another avenue to engage with the historic night of world championship fights on November 5th.
In just three days, boxing’s only eight division world champion and the reigning Fighter of the Decade Senator MANNY “Pacman” PACQUIAO (58-6-2, 38 KOs), from General Santos City, Philippines, collides with World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight world champion JESSIE VARGAS (27-1, 10 KOs), of Las Vegas. Pacquiao and Vargas will go mano a mano and toe-to-toe in a high-stakes welterweight showdown. While Pacquiao will be looking to become a three-time WBO welterweight champion as well as the first senator to win a world title, Vargas will be resolute in enforcing a term limit on the future Hall of Famer’s boxing career.
Pacquiao vs. Vargas takes place This Saturday! November 5 at the Thomas & Mack Center, on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Pacquiao vs. Vargas and its three co-main event world title fights will be produced and distributed live by Top Rank® Pay-Per-View, beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT, and will be available on all conventional platforms, including all major cable and satellite systems, as well as Top Rank’s digital distribution via www.TopRank.tv and mobile devices.
The three additional world championship fights on the pay-per-view telecast include: four-division world champion NONITO “The Filipino Flash” DONAIRE (37-3, 24 KOs), from General Santos City, Philippines, defending his WBO junior featherweight title against undefeated No. 1 contender JESSIE MAGDALENO (23-0, 17 KOs), from Las Vegas; and newly-minted WBO featherweight champion and two-time Mexican Olympian ÓSCAR VALDEZ (21-0, 18 KOs), from Nogales, Mexico, making his first title defense, against No. 1 contender HIROSHIGE OSAWA (30-3-4, 19 KOs), from Osaka, Japan. The pay-per-view telecast will open with the rematch between top-rated contenders Chinese Olympic icon ZOU SHIMING (8-1, 2 KOs), from Guizhou, China, and PRASITAK PAPOEM (39-1-2, 24 KOs), of Buriram, Thailand, battling for the vacant WBO flyweight world title. Zou a two-time Olympic gold medalist trained by Freddie Roach, will have his hands full against Prasitak, who enters this fight riding a two-year, 12-bout winning streak, with all of his victories coming by way of knockout.
Promoted by Top Rank, in association with MP Promotions, Wynn Las Vegas and Tecate, remaining tickets to the Pacquiao vs. Vargas world championship event are priced at $1,000, $700, $500, $300, $100 and $50, not including applicable service fees. Tickets may be purchased at the Thomas & Mack Center Box Office (except on Wednesday, October 19 because of the Clinton – Trump presidential debate), online at http://www.unlvtickets.com/, at UNLVtickets Outlet Town Square Las Vegas and La Bonita Supermarkets. To charge by phone call 702-739-FANS (3267) or 866-388-FANS (3267).