By almost every measurement boxing prognosticators use to predict a fight’s outcome, Manny Pacquiao (58-6-2, 38 KOs) should be considered the underdog when he faces Jessie Vargas (27-1, 10 KOs) for the WBO welterweight crown Saturday night in Las Vegas. Vargas is 10 years younger, has a longer reach and the height advantage, and is actually more rested and focused on boxing compared to the newly elected Senator of the Philippines.
But heading into the bout, Pacquiao sits as a -650 favorite compared to Vargas’ +450, according to the latest odds from Sportsbook.ag.
Oddsmakers are taking Pacquiao’s lack of a knockout in almost four years into account, with the fight’s chances of going longer than 8.5 rounds deemed much higher at -340 to +230, but given Pacquiao’s dominance of the sport over the last 21 years and most recent victory, it seems misguided to doubt his chances against a less experienced boxer who only recently claimed a major belt.
Pacquiao's political career is likely the main avenue allowing doubt to creep into his chances. Pacquiao, 38, has been splitting his time between training and his duties as a senator in his home country. In May, roughly six weeks after winning his rubber match with American Timothy Bradley, Pacquiao was elected to the Philippines senate and assumed office in June and many believe he’s on a fast track to the presidency.
And since then, Pacquaio’s reportedly written or co-written 17 bills and joined 15 Senate committees by day and trained at night, USA Today’s Boxing Junkie reported, even though he announced his retirement from boxing following his 12-round decision over Bradley.
Pacquiao insisted to reporters last month that time management and discipline were actually problems in the past, unlike now.
“The most difficult part is trying to control my time and to manage and discipline myself,” he said according to Boxing Junkie. “The most difficult part of training in the past has always been when I do a bad job of managing my time. This time I managed my time and disciplined myself from going to my work to my training and that’s what I did in the Philippines. I don’t have any time to spend with my friends – just time for hard work.”
Considering Pacquiao’s impressive hit list and celebrated opponents, it’s almost shocking to believe work ethic was ever an issue. Pacquaio has suffered three losses in his last seven fights, but the lone letdown to Bradley was a highly questionable decision that caused boos to rain down from the MGM Grand Arena crowd and the incredible knockout at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez was the only time the Mexican had ever sent Pacquaio to the canvas in their four fights.
Furthermore, Pacquiao fought through a shoulder injury during his 12-round decision loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. last year.
Vargas is on the rise after taking the WBO belt from up-and-coming American Sadam Ali in a ninth-round technical knockout in March. But he also lost to Bradley by unanimous decision last year, though he had the veteran boxer on the ropes near the end of the fight. Vargas' next-toughest opponent, Antonio DeMarco, seems to be on the decline after losing his two subsequent bouts.
This time around, Vargas has said he has improved his "mental game," as well as his speed and power. And the Los Angeles native certainly isn’t lacking in confidence.
“I see [me] coming out with a big victory in front of the entire world in spectacular fashion and [surprising] everyone,” Vargas told reporters recently according to the Los Angeles Times. “I am going to use every advantage I have in this fight.”
Betting Odds: Pacquiao -650, Vargas +450 via Sportsbook.ag.
Over/Under: 8.5 rounds
Prediction: Roach recently told the L.A. Times that Pacquiao looks just as fast as ever, and that’s been the most surprising aspect of his style that’s thrown opponents off. The age difference, though considerable, is actually a boon to Pacman, since Vargas has never taken a stage this bright before. It should go to the judges’ scorecards with Pacquiao earning the decision.