WBO Junior Welterweight champion Jessie Vargas has a golden opportunity before him. He can be the guy to officially end the great Manny Pacquiao's career.
Vargas, 27-1, will collide with Pacquiao, 58-6-2, for the championship in Pacquiao's return from a short-lived retirement. It's the biggest fight of Vargas' career, his biggest payday, and more importantly, a watershed moment for the future of both fighters and the sport of boxing.
If Vargas can pull off the upset, he will emerge as one of boxing's next great fighters. If Pacquiao wins, he opens the door to several huge payday fights with the upper echelon of combatants, ensuring a breakthrough 2017 for the sport.
So, how does Vargas, a 27-year-old who lost to the only Top 10 fighter he has ever faced, overcome one of the greatest fighters of all time, not that far removed from his prime? The short answer: He will have to use his size, youth and punching power to fight a perfect fight to frustrate, and eventually KO Pacquiao. Vargas will need to cull everything he has ever learned, and apply it against Pacquiao if he expects not to choke in his biggest professional moment.
Let's take a look at Vargas' strengths, as well as what he needs to do seal Pacquiao's fate, and cement his own place in boxing history.
Vargas is 10 years younger than Pacquiao. That matters, particularly against a guy with as much as experience as Pacquiao. The Filipino hero is not a young 37. He first fought in 1995 -- when's TLC's "Creep" ruled the radio and Brad Pitt's Legend of the Fall owned the movie theaters. That was a long, long time ago.
Vargas debuted in 2005 and has a lot more gas left in the tank. He should be in better shape for the fight, which means he should be stronger going into the later rounds. Not even Pacquiao can turn back the clock, and fighters sometimes grow old right before our eyes. Vargas needs to use his youth to his advantage by surviving Pacquiao's flurries and using his conditioning wisely during the inevitable rapid-fire exchanges. Vargas was the stronger fighter at the end of the Timothy Bradley fight, but the terrible luck of having a bad referee botch his potential victory.
Despite his lack of knockouts, one can argue that Vargas is the more powerful puncher. He has a devastating overhand right hand, that if landed, could send Pacquiao back to Juan Manuel Marquez territory. Vargas is capable of knocking the Filipino out with one punch. He'll need to follow the Marquez blueprint and time Pacquiao as he's coming in.
If he can make Pacquiao feel his power early, the Filipino might be more tentative in his whirlwind approach of overwhelming Vargas. Vargas has to land early to make Pacquiao respect him. Whether its an occasional elbow or just throwing Pacquiao off of him hard during the clinch, Vargas needs to set the tone early. He can't win a defensive fight by decision.
Vargas is six inches taller than the diminutive Pacquiao. That, in itself, could be a huge factor for him. He will need to use his left jab, effectively and often, to keep Pacquiao away from him, and then time Pacquiao with the right hand as he's coming forward. Vargas needs to use his longer body keep Pacquiao away from him.
He needs to keep his chin high, his hands up, and pepper Pacquiao with the tips of his gloves. He can't crouch down with Pacquiao in order to get on his left. That would be a huge mistake. Vargas needs to make his body work for him and force Pacquiao to adjust to get inside his power. Although Pacquiao has shown an ability to defeat larger men in the past, such as Oscar de la Hoya, it is hard work, and Vargas should learn from those fights.
Let's get real, Pacquiao's superior speed could light up Vargas all night, so Vargas needs to be smart about how he fights "Pacman." He will fail if he tries to slug it out with Pacquiao, proving that he can't trade with the ex-champ. He can't let a hot head or a macho attitude overtake a smart game plan.
Vargas needs to fight disciplined enough to avoid Pacquiao's strengths: speed, movement and aggressiveness. Nobody has ever defeated Pacquiao by trying to replicate his fight style.
Vargas will need to box, bob and weave, and most importantly, he'll need to decide when it's imprudent to wade in throwing recklessly. He has showed defensive vulnerabilities by letting himself get counter-punched during exchanges. Most other fighters will land one counter punch when you leave yourself open; Pacquiao will land three.
Vargas needs to fight with discipline, using the ring to force Pacquiao to work and eventually get tired, which will open a path for him to land his right hand. Vargas' only path to victory is by knockout, but if the fight turns into Hagler-Hearns, he's losing, and losing badly.
Coming tomorrow: How Manny Pacquiao Will Beat Jessie Vargas