Seeking stardom: Jessie Vargas aims for KO over Pacquiao

Ryan Songalia
Seeking stardom: Jessie Vargas aims for KO over Pacquiao
Jessie Vargas says he has been dropping sparring partners in the gym and wants to do the same to Manny Pacquiao on fight night

MANILA, Philippines – Jessie Vargas remembers the Manny Pacquiao of a decade ago, when he himself was just an amateur and Pacquiao was becoming a crossover star. Pacquiao, then a relatively unknown fighter from the Philippines, made his name by knocking out Mexican legends Marco Antonio Barrera (in 2003) and Erik Morales (in 2006), fighters whom Vargas looked up to as heroes. 

Barrera, then rated among the pound for pound best, was thoroughly dominated before his corner threw in the towel, while Morales, a former trainer of Vargas’, was stopped twice in brutal fashion despite having previously never been knocked down.

Now Vargas wants to return the favor.

“He was able to defeat Morales and Barrera, and now it’s my time to defeat Manny Pacquiao, give him that same taste,” the WBO welterweight titleholder Vargas (27-1, 10 knockouts) told Rappler ahead of his November 5 showdown with Pacquiao, an 8-division champion who is, at 37, 10 years his senior.

Vargas, a Mexican-American who was born in Los Angeles but has lived in Las Vegas since he was 5, has fought long and hard for respect since turning pro in 2008, winning the WBA junior welterweight title in 2014 before knocking out previously unbeaten New Yorker Sadam Ali in March to win the 147-pound title he currently holds, a belt which Timothy Bradley, the only person to defeat Vargas, vacated in order to fight Pacquiao for a bigger paycheck in April.  

Pacquiao dominated his third encounter with Bradley before announcing a brief retirement ahead of his senatorial campaign victory in the Philippines. 

LONE LOSS. Jessie Vargas' only pro defeat came against Timothy Bradley Jr, whom he almost stopped in round 12. Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images/AFP

Vargas had fought twice on Pacquiao’s undercards, and says this has been the fight he’s wanted since signing with Top Rank in 2012, and even earlier. 

“Ever since I was a kid I’ve been wanting to face a fighter known as the best,” said Vargas. “That way I can prove that I am the best after beating that fighter. In this era it’s Manny Pacquiao, and the way it would change my life is, it would be a dream come true.” 

(READ: Pacquiao continues to fight because that’s what Pacquiao does)

For this camp, Vargas has been hard at work with trainer Dewey Cooper, a former heavyweight boxer and kickboxing champion whom Vargas has known since he was young. Vargas had previously worked with Morales and Roy Jones Jr, plus Roger Mayweather and Cornelius Boza-Edwards while under Mayweather Promotions, and had struggled with his in-ring identity.

Vargas seemed to find himself in the Ali fight, displaying serious power in knocking out the 2008 US Olympian and is planning to bring even more power to this fight at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, claiming that he’s knocked down “a handful” of sparring partners, some of whom had been used previously by Floyd Mayweather Jr. 

“Never in any training camps have I taken down as many sparring partners as I have in this camp, and that says a lot. My trainer Dewey Cooper, [assistant trainer] David Hayes, they’ve been making sure that I’ve been sitting down on my punches because power is gonna be a definite change in this fight from my fights in the past,” said Vargas.

“If Manny thought that Floyd was strong, I can only imagine what he thinks when I land a clean shot to the chin.”

“Vargas will defeat Pacquiao. Whether it ends Pacquiao’s era is completely up to Manny,” added Cooper, who says Pacquiao’s last fight against Bradley showed he still had much to offer as a fighter.

Training camp is a family affair for Vargas, with his dad organizing camp, his mother preparing his meals, and his sister, who is studying for her master’s degree at UNLV, making sure to “take care of anything needed.” Vargas still lives at home with his parents. “They’re not in a hurry to kick me out,” he added.

One person that he has denied is a part of his team despite reports to the contrary is Angel “Memo” Heredia, the controversial conditioning coach who had helped Juan Manuel Marquez before his knockout win over Pacquiao in 2012.

Vargas has dismissed claims that Pacquiao is past his prime, stating that the Filipino boxing icon is “in very good shape for a 37-year-old.” He added, however, that his respect for Pacquiao’s past accomplishments will go out the door once the bell rings.

“All the respect is thrown out the window as fighters, as a person you keep that respect no matter what. But inside the ring the only thing I’m focused on is beating Manny Pacquiao, knocking him out, making a statement in beating him,” said Vargas. –

Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA), and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.

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