Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao (59-6-2, 38) might be heading towards his 38th birthday, and may have retired earlier this year, but he rolled the clock back big time earlier today as he reclaimed the WBO Welterweight title and dominated Jessie Vargas (27-2, 10).
From the opening round it looked like Pacquiao had all the tools to reclaim the throne as the best Welterweight on the planet. He seemed far too quick, too sharp and too powerful for Vargas, who looked game throughout but could never match the ability of Pacquiao.
The success of Pacquiao, from the opening round, seemed to be focused on him landing his vaunted left hand which Vargas had little answer for. Whilst Vargas did have some success with his own right hand it was limited success, and only a shot here or there whilst he was forced to take a steady stream of shots from Pacquiao, ranging from the thunderbolt left hand to various hooks, uppercuts and even the occasionally nasty jab.
The power of Pacquiao was visible through out. He dropped Vargas in round 2 with massive left hand, left Vargas swollen around the right side of his face and had him wobbling at various times in the latter stages.
Whilst in total control going into the latter rounds Pacquiao seemed to put on cruise control and hold back rather than let his hands really go with bad intent. It seemed, on a number of occasions, that if he had gone for the stoppage he'd have manage to force it, with Vargas's senses looking scrambled at several points.
Whilst Vargas was thoroughly out boxed and outfought he did show some fire, some willing and never gave up trying to land his right hand. Sadly though Vargas' inability to consistently land his right hand, control the bout with his jab or force his fight allowed Pacquiao to almost get away with cruising to the victory.
Two of the cards had Pacquiao winning the bout clearly, a result that most saw, amazingly however one judge had the bout amazingly close with just a point between the two men, a crazy score-card. Sadly that third card could end up being a major talking point with the bout it's self unlikely to live long in the memory, despite the fact that it's seen Manny Pacquiao being crowned a world champion once again.
For Pacquiao the future seems like a ring return in 2017 is likely whilst Vargas will go back to the drawing board, but will almost certainly be back himself at some point during the next 12 months.
Some fights make give us low expectations and we end up having the fight we expect with little in terms of highlight action. Other fights however end up being better than expected and the WBA "regular" Light Welterweight title fight this past Saturday certainly exceeded expectation with both men giving their all. Despite some major question marks from the judging panel which again managed to over-shadow a very good fight.
The fight saw defending champion Jessie Vargas (25-0, 9) start off fast against Russian challenger Anton Novikov (29-1-0-1, 10) before being forced to slow his work rate courtesy of Novikov's body shots. The slowing of Vargas appeared to let Novikov back in to the fight and he appeared to win the next 3 to tie the bout off going into the second half of the contest. From then on however things became more and more competitive with neither man really establishing themselves as the boss for more than a few rounds at a time.
The back and forth, not just of rounds but actually in the rounds themselves was great to watch with both men appearing to trouble the other at times but neither really being all that hurt, in fact Novikov's legs straightening was as close as we get to a knock-down as the lack of power from both men showed it's self. Thankfully however the lack of power, which could have destroyed the bout in some ways, actually helped the bout with both men looking happy to take one if they were to land one, in fact both guys were happy to take 2 or 3 if they felt comfortable in landing the same in return.
By the later rounds Vargas was being admonished by his corner as they seemed to feel he was letting the title slip away. Round after round his corner were asking him what he was doing whilst he was being out landed, out hustled and generally given a very hard time by the Russian visitor. As well as struggling to keep the pace Vargas was also struggling to keep shots north of the border with several shots landing clearly below the belt. There was never any time in which 1 fighter appeared to look comfortable.
Sadly however Novikov he had battles outside of the ring that he was never going to win and when the score-cards were read out as 118-111, 118-111, 117-111 it was clear he was never going to win the fight with out scoring a knockout, in fact there every chance he was going to be jobbed even if that happened.
We have no problem with Vargas winning, but it was close and 115-113 either way would have been acceptable, in fact 116-112 either way was understandable. How any judges had it wider is a mystery though should make it clear that fighting Vargas in Nevada isn't worth the effort. This is the 4th or 5th time he has been given the nod in a close fight and it seems it will be impossible to dethrone him there.
We're glad that the fight was unexpectedly good, we're ashamed of the judging however.
The first of two world title fights this weekend saw the WBA Light Welterweight title change hands as the previously unbeaten Russian Khabib Allakhverdiev (19-1, 9) was narrowly out pointed by unbeaten American Jessie Vargas (24-0, 9) in a very tough and very evenly fought contest.
Early on it did look like the title was changing hands with out any questions. The first 2 or 3 rounds were all Vargas, he was too quick for the Russian and his shots were taking an effect almost from the off with Khabib's right eye beginning to swell from the second round. It seemed like a matter of time before Khabib's eye would shut and Vargas would get his first stoppage since 2011.
Strangely from Vargas he then began to slow down and Khabib started to time the American making things very competitive, especially at the end of round 3. The following round saw Khabib possibly winning his first round as he moved up a gear as if to suggest he knew he was trailing on the cards.
After the well fought action of rounds 3 and 4, which could easily have gone either way, it seemed that Khabib then became a little apprehensive. He continued to start though for the first minute of the round he was being out-manoeuvred and at the end of the round a flurry from Vargas stole him the round.
Having had round 5 stolen from him Khabib then kick started round 6 with an assault from the off. It was clear round 6 was one of Khabib's better rounds but it was tough and Vargas's persistent movement and jab was making life hard for the champion who was only managing to have success in spurts. Those spurts were rare in round 7 as he became overly apprehensive and struggled to connect with much of note.
If round 7 had been bad for Khabib then round 8 was a nightmare as a clash of heads left the Russian was a horrible cut over his left eye. This cut threatened to force an early conclusion to the bout though remarkably Khabib's corner managed to control it excellently. The cut, which could easily have ended the fight, seemed to fuel Khabib who tried to turn the fight in to a war and at the end of round 8 we had some of the most exciting of the fight.
Khabib began round 9 as he had ended round 8, cut and knowing the fight could be over at any point. Unfortunately the cut was a giant bullseye and Vargas targeted it with straight shots for the first 90 seconds of the round. This caused the doctor to take a look before allowing the fight to go on. The inspection seemed to fire up Khabib who tried to steal the round and turn it in to a fight but Vargas was equal to it.
Knowing he was behind Khabib really put his foot on the gas in the later rounds and he appeared to do all he could to try and over-turn the clear hole he was in. This saw Khabib out working Vargas in the championship rounds as Vargas appeared to cruise a little bit. It was a risky strategy from Vargas considering many of the rounds had been highly competitive but it was one he probably got away with as he was fighting at home.
Unfortunately for Khabib the judges seemed to agree with the view that Vargas had they awarded him the decision with cards of 115-113, twice and 117-111. It was a bout that had been competitive enough in a number of rounds to have gone 8-4 either way, with that in mind we can't complain about the winner as it seemed likely a close bout was going to go the local fighter. We do however have an issue with the 117-111 scorecard, a 9-3 card, from Jerry Roth. There had been competitive rounds but their had also been clear rounds each way, the final 3 for example were Khabib's with arguments out there for a further 5, to not Khabib a single one of those close rounds is harsh.
For Khabib this is probably the end of his run in the top 10. It's a loss that will cost him not just in future earnings but also in hospital fees as he'll need some major work on the cuts he suffered. As for Vargas he looks like a poor champion and although he's well schooled and fast he seems like the sort of fighter who could lose at any point.
(Photo, courtesy of the WBA, shows Khabib with the WBA title prior to his loss)
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.