A few days away from the biggest fight of his career, Jessie Vargas is supremely confident he will pull off an upset against former eight-division champion Manny Pacquiao and become boxing’s next big star.
“I’ve prepared for this moment for so long. It’s the only thing on my mind, every day when I wake up and when I go to sleep,” Vargas, 27, said by phone. “I have a great team behind me, and things could not be any better.”
Vargas (27-1, 10 KOs), the WBO welterweight champion, and Pacquiao (58-6-2, 38 KOs), the first-term Filipino senator who is coming out of a short retirement, are promoted by Top Rank, which, in addition to marketing the fight, is handling its own pay-per-view telecast (Saturday, 9p.m. ET) from Thomas & Mack Center in Vargas’ hometown of Las Vegas.
Despite the fact that Pacquiao, 37, is a 7-1 favorite, Top Rank chairman Bob Arum thinks Vargas, a decade younger than his opponent and several inches taller, has a great chance to defeat Pacquiao, who has not won by a knockout in seven years.
“The reason is that Manny has been consumed by all of this talk that he has to become a knockout guy again, he has to go all out to sustain his popularity,” Arum said, “so Manny will go after Jessie and be very, very careless. … If Manny is going to go in there with the intention of knocking out Jessie and being very aggressive, that gives Jessie the best opportunity to win the fight.
“He becomes not just a champion but a superstar. I will deny to him that I said that because I will have to negotiate his next fight,” Arum said, laughing. “He would be a superstar, there is no question about that, if he were to beat Manny Pacquiao.
“I don’t know who is going to win, but I’m confident it’ll be by knockout. Jessie has a hell of a shot to win.”
If that happens, Vargas says, a star will be born. “That’s what’s going to make me into a household name and Top Rank’s main guy in the stable,” he says.
Vargas’ confidence comes from his newfound power, which the fighter credits to the training methods of his new team, led by head trainer Dewey Cooper.
Until his last two fights, Vargas was considered a light-hitting boxer with a low knockout rate.
But in June 2015, after getting outboxed most of the way by Timothy Bradley, Vargas connected with a right hand late in the 12th round that seemingly had the former champion wobbly and out on his feet. Vargas went for the kill, but referee Pat Russell mistook the 10-second warning for the final bell and ended the fight eight to 10 seconds early. Thinking Russell had stopped the fight and he had won, Vargas celebrated. He thought he could’ve been the first to stop Bradley with the extra time but ended up losing a unanimous decision for his only career loss.
In April in Washington, D.C., Vargas fought undefeated former Olympian Sadam Ali for the vacant WBO belt. With Cooper in his corner for the first time, Vargas stopped Ali in the ninth round, and suddenly people began talking about Vargas’ power.
Yet few give him a chance against future Hall of Famer Pacquiao, who will try to win back the belt he once held. Many experts, including those in the media, think Vargas has little or no shot.
“People are underestimating my power, and possibly if Manny underestimates my power it’s going to backfire on him,” Vargas said. “Everybody got a taste of the new and improved Jessie Vargas early this year when I captured my second world title and will see an even better Jessie Vargas Nov. 5. Not even I have seen myself this strong and this fast. And it all has to do with my team.”
Pacquiao, who trained for the fight around his Senate sessions, is not taking Vargas lightly.
“Vargas is a world champion, and you can never underestimate a boxer who is a champion,” Pacquiao said. “He is good. I just have to make sure that I am 100% ready for the fight”.