By: Bill Dwyre * – It is Friday of fight week, and a female friend has it labeled perfectly: Boys in Underwear Day.
Weigh-in day for boxing matches represents the single most-consistent and predictable no-news day in sports journalism. The fighters know what they have to weigh, what the consequences are if they are too heavy — loss of a portion of their purse and sometimes, even a fight cancellation — and so the parade to the scale is about as dramatic as a soccer injury. Player falls, player grimaces and writhes in pain, stretcher carts player off, player returns to game in 30 seconds.
Boys in Underwear Day, then, is a good chance to catch up on the facts, figures and nuances of Saturday night’s major boxing card at the Thomas & Mack Center here.
The main event is the comeback of the Philippine hero, senator and boxing legend Manny Pacquiao. He had left us there for a few months, saying he was retired. In essence, it was a boxing retirement, as opposed to an actual retirement. Think of it like you would one of those end-of-the-world-coming-tomorrow predictions. In other words, it ain’t gonna happen. For further perspective, Google Floyd Mayweather Jr., and await the next announcement.
Pacquiao’s opponent for this 147-pound feature, on a card that also features three other title fights, is Las Vegas’ own Jessie Vargas, who is 27 and ten years younger than Pacquiao, is about four inches taller, is undefeated and has, perhaps, a puncher’s chance, as we say in boxing. He is also a 7-1 underdog.
Some bits and pieces as we welcome back the lore of Manny and the buzz he invariably brings with him:
· Pacquiao’s record is 58-6-2, with 38 knockouts. His trainer, Freddie Roach, is betting (literally) that that will read 59-6-2 (39) after Saturday night. On Boys-In-Underwear Day, Roach was carrying around a $100 win-by-knockout ticket from the sports book. If Pacquiao wins by KO, add $300 to Roach’s always-substantial training fee.
· Vargas is 27-1 (10 KOs). He is the actual champ in this fight, currently owning the World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight crown. Pacquiao has held that title two times previously and has also held a record eight-division titles.
· The Nov. 5 date for the fight was problematic. That’s why promoting group Top Rank is handling the pay-per-view telecast on its own, rather than having it on a cable network such as HBO or Showtime. Pacquiao’s Philippine senate left only the Nov. 5 date workable because it is not in session now. HBO had contracted to carry a major fight two weeks later in Las Vegas and balked at doing two major fights that close together. Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who is not altogether unhappy at being in total control of his own show, said, “In this one, I had no choice. The Philippine senate schedule dictated.”
· In the Philippines, where Pacquiao served two terms as a Congressman, the senate setup is different from that of the United States. There are 24 senators, 12 elected every six years, and they serve the entire country, not just a district, state or province.
· Among Arum’s themes for this fight is that the sport of boxing is perhaps the most global sport of all. To demonstrate, he has a boxing card that will not only include three undercard title fights, but also boxers from a total of ten separate countries: U.S., Philippines, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, China, Brazil, Russia, Panama and Las Vegas.
· The three lead-in title fights match Zou Shiming of China against Prasitak Phaprom of Thailand for the WBO flyweight title; Nonito Donaire of the Philippines against Jessie Magdaleno of Las Vegas for the WBO junior featherweight title, and Óscar Valdez of Mexico against Hiroshige Osawa of Japan for the WBO featherweight crown.
· Pacquiao said the moment he decided to come back occurred when he was at home in the Philippines, watching a Triple-G (Gennady Golovkin) match on TV. “I wasn’t part of boxing anymore,” he said. “I felt lonely.” That would somewhat contradict what Roach said earlier this week: “Before the April (Tim) Bradley fight, Manny looked at me and said, ‘We aren’t done yet.’ I said, ‘I know.’ ”
· Arum, as invested in the country’s politics as anybody around and a longtime Hillary Clinton backer, has been mostly restrained in his political commentary this fight week, as the election nears. But last week, during a radio interview at Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles, Arum couldn’t hold back. “God forbid Donald Trump gets elected,” he said. “It would be the end of this country, as we know it.”
· Both Vargas and his trainer, Dewey Cooper, have added nice color to this promotion. Vargas pretty well keynoted his approach to this fight when he said, “Everybody knows who Manny Pacquiao is. When I beat him, everybody will know who I am.” Cooper, 41, a former UNLV football player and champion kick-boxer, characterized Pacquiao’s boxing style as “kind of a basketball point guard and a Tasmanian Devil.”
· Pacquiao, under frequent questioning about his charitable works, said that he has probably given away 50% of his boxing winnings to charitable causes in the Philippines. Research shows that Pacquiao has earned about $500 million boxing, meaning the poor and needy of the Philippines have received a $250 million infusion of funds from him.
· At 6 p.m. every day during fight week, in a room just down the hall in the Wynn Las Vegas resort and casino from the fight media headquarters, a short and stocky man steps to a podium and conducts Bible studies for 30 or so people. His name is Manny Pacquiao.
· Tim Bradley will be part of the Top Rank pay-per-view telecast team for the fight. He has often said, in his trilogy with Pacquiao, that the Pacman’s punches were so heavy that they really hurt — an unusual admission from any boxer about an opponent. He said here Friday that, while he thinks Pacquiao will win, that Vargas has one secret weapon, the one he used against Bradley and nearly knocked him out in the 12th round of their June, 2015, match won by Bradley. That is Vargas’ only loss. “He has this overhand right that is dangerous,” Bradley said. “If he lands that, he has a chance.”
That’s all for now. Time to go watch boys in underwear.
By Bill Dwyre * – Boxing is the great worm in the world of sports. Sever the tail and the main body keeps squirming. Chop it into four pieces and all four wiggle off somewhere, waiting to regroup.
We are now a few days away from yet another Manny Pacquiao fight, and regrouping is coming to pass.
A big cloud formed over the sport when Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. fought a stinker a year and a half ago. That made it easy for fringe fans to say, “See, I told you so,” and walk away. Mayweather, both controversial and supremely skilled, has retired and actually stuck to that — for the moment. There are no longer any Klitschkos in the heavyweight division, nor anything else there worth goosebumps.
HBO and Showtime are watching their budgets for fight telecasts a bit more carefully and MMA and UFC, for reasons inexplicable to normal thinking people, thrive at the expense of boxing.
Nevertheless, there are suddenly more bright spots on the boxing horizon than dark ones. Simple passage of time does a lot of that. But the Pacquiao-versus-Jessie Vargas World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight championship matchup Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas is an ideal showcase for what is ahead.
Two weekends later, Nov. 19, Andre Ward will fight Sergey Kovalev in the new T-Mobil Arena in Las Vegas. If you have even a flicker of interest in the sport, you want to see that one. They are two Mack Trucks on a collision course.
Then you have Triple G, Gennady Golovkin, knocking out all comers while he waits for Canelo Alvarez and his promoter, Oscar De la Hoya, to strategize just the right time for that battle royal in 2017. Think of that one as Ward-Kovalev II.
And in the fringes, you have a still-hungry and able Tim Bradley awaiting what comes next, and a flashy newcomer in Top Rank’s Irish Olympic star Michael Conlan. Put Conlan in a ring almost anywhere and the UK fight fans will come, beer in hand, and singing nonsensically at the top of their lungs. Think of what Ricky Hatton did in his Las Vegas fights to stir up the sport. Think of what that might have become if Hatton actually could fight.
But now that Pacquiao has unretired — he said he was done after his masterful April victory over Bradley and we all rolled our eyes — his role in the sport’s immediate future is huge.
Assume a victory over a good and aggressive Vargas, and even assume a full-action fight. That leaves Top Rank’s boss, Bob Arum, with several intriguing next options for Pacquiao. The obvious is Terence Crawford, who was a recent main-event star in Las Vegas against Viktor Postol. Pacquiao’s trainer, the legendary Freddie Roach, was in the wrong corner for that fight, but got a good look at Crawford while trying to help Postol figure out what to do next.
“Crawford is like a young Mayweather,” Roach said. “He has great legs and can go the full 12 rounds. We have to be looking at that.”
Arum also tossed out another appealing prospect, although one a bit more difficult to envision because of a weight difference.
“I’ll tell you one,” he said. “Manny and (Vasyl) Lomachenko. “I’d give anything to see that one. I haven’t even asked Manny yet.”
The weight difference is difficult for that one, although not un-achievable. Pacquaio has become most comfortable at 147 pounds, doesn’t even need to try to get to 140 and says he can easily get back down to 135. Lomachenko just moved up from 126 to 130 and will fight tough Jamaican Nicholas Walters, also in Las Vegas, Nov. 26. Roach says he would be O.K. with that fight, obviously because the size difference would give Pacquiao an edge. He would not be O.K. with Pacquiao fighting at 135. Arum certainly likes it because, with both Crawford and Lomachenko under contract to Top Rank, he would have a nice, in-house, three-fight, run-up for Pacquiao, positioning him for boxing’s ultimate Mulligan:
Pacquiao versus a coming-out-of-retirement Mayweather.
Roach has a quick answer to those who think that, now that so much time has passed, Mayweather might actually stay retired.
“Why would he come to my gym twice this year?” Roach said. “Had to be looking for Manny.”
Pacquiao’s several new storylines, since beating Bradley in April, are compelling enough on their own to stir interest. He is the first sitting Filipino senator to fight in a pro boxing match, maybe the first one anywhere. The political activity is apparently not a fraud. All reports have him not missing a main senate session, nor a committee meeting, in the leadup to this fight. He trained around his politics, rising at around 6 a.m. for workouts, then staying in committee meetings and main senatorial sessions until, sometimes, as late as 7 or 8 p.m., before going back to train.
“We never missed a late session,” said Roach, who was with him for a month in Manila. “He boxed a minimum of 40 rounds a day. Even if he got there at 8, he went at least the 40 rounds.”
The Top Rank staff released a list of 15 committees Pacquiao is serving on. In addition, he has taken stances that can be controversial in the U.S., where his large ticket-buying base could be affected. One stance is his promotion of the death penalty in the Philippines. Pressed to explain, he did so well.
“In Asia,” he said, “the Philippines are the only ones without a death penalty. People are bringing drugs from other countries. We had Brazilians bring in $120 million in cocaine. That is one compelling reason.”
The line that Pacquiao walks as a superstar boxer is a fascination. He has made millions of dollars, and has done things with that, such as buy a fleet of boats for local fisherman, pay for a hospital, finance university scholarships and, recently, finance the construction of 1,000 homes for the less privileged.
“Manny fights for money,” Arum said, “but not for money to buy cars.”
To that topic, Pacquiao said, “I keep boxing to bring honor to my country. I am the first senator to be a boxer at the same time, and that is an accomplishment.”
He also said, separately, “I am happy because I can contribute to the history of boxing.” And, in a thinly veiled shot at his fellow politicians, “I enjoy politics because I serve honestly.”
In a few days, we have Pacquiao-Vargas and, suddenly, a rush for more.
Let the fun begin. Again.