(UPDATED) Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao made history anew as he became the first active senator to win a world boxing championship.
The 37-year-old Pacquiao, who was elected a member of the Senate last May, overpowered the younger Jessie Vargas in 12 rounds, showed off his still remarkable speed and accuracy and flashed his punching power in front of a sellout crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
The "Pacman" was looking to end a knockout drought that dated all the way back to 2009 but had to settle for flooring Vargas once en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Judges scored the bout 114-113, 118-109, and 118-109, all for Pacquiao who saw his record improve to 59 wins with six losses and two draws.
Vargas, making the first defense of the title that he won back in March, was a game opponent, but was simply unable to match Pacquiao's firepower and found that even his vaunted right hand had little effect on the challenger.
It was only the second loss of Vargas' career against 27 victories.
"I'm happy," Pacquiao said after the bout. "I'm trying every round to knock him down, that's why I'm always aggressive, but not careless. I'm very careful to go inside, because I know he will counter me."
It was an impressive victory for Pacquiao, who briefly retired after beating Timothy Bradley Jr. back in April, only to make a quick comeback months later, citing a still burning passion for the sport and a desire to make history – which he did decisively.
The win came in front of a crowd of over 16,000 fans, which included Pacquiao's longtime rival, retired American Floyd Mayweather Jr. who afterwards congratulated the Filipino star for his win.
Accompanying Pacquiao into the ring were Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach and Philippine National Police chief Dir. Gen. Roland "Bato" dela Rosa.
Second round knockdown
A slow first round ended in a flurry, with Vargas landing a series of punches in the final ten seconds only for Pacquiao to come back with a short uppercut that snapped the champion's head back as the bell rang.
The second round was clearly Pacquiao's, as he landed a left straight flush to Vargas' face that sent the Mexican-American fighter to the canvas with 27 seconds to go. It was a good display for the Filipino star, who blocked Pacquiao's jab before unleashing a rapid-fire counter that Vargas did not see coming.
Vargas beat the count, but the knockdown clearly fired up Pacquiao. The "Pacman" came out even more aggressively in the third round, and hurt the champion anew with stinging right jabs. Vargas, for his part, missed wildly with his hooks, though he landed a good right hand late in the right.
The right side of Vargas' face began to swell by the fifth round, as Pacquiao's heavy jab found its target repeatedly. The champion's best round was the sixth, when he landed a right hook that clearly hurt Pacquiao and forced the Filipino to step back for a moment.
Unfortunately for Vargas, he was unable to build on the punch, as Pacquiao came back with more firepower of his own, including a left straight to the face of the champion.
Vargas had to have his right eye treated ahead of the seventh round, but he endured even more punishment as a short, sharp punch from Pacquiao opened up another cut on his head midway through the eighth round. The "Pacman," smelling blood, unleashed several unanswered punches, though Vargas was able to survive.
Pacquiao tried to hunt for a knockout in the final three rounds, and Vargas twice went down but was ruled slips in both instances.
"I felt like I can do more," Pacquiao said. "But my aim every round was to knock him out."
Vargas, who entered the fight brimming with confidence, was gracious in defeat though he maintained it was a "very close fight."
"It was a chess match, back and forth. We were on our toes trying to catch each other," Vargas explained. "His speed surprised me at the beginning."
Prior to the bout, Pacquiao said that no matter what happened, he will return to the Philippines in order to fulfill his duties as a senator and he doubled-down on that commitment after his victory. "I'm going back to the Senate," he said.
As for his boxing career, Pacquiao was non-committal.
"I don't know. Whoever the people want me to fight," he said in an interview immediately after the fight. "I'm not picking any opponent or choosing any opponent. Whoever my promoter gives me, I will fight."
Mayweather reportedly gave a thumbs-up after the bout and told boxing media that the fight was "not bad," although he did not give an interview. The American boxer recently said that the door remains open for him to make a comeback, but as for now, he does not miss the sport that made him the richest athlete in the world.
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