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Roach warns Vargas no easy foe

Jessie Vargas. www.boxing360.com

MANILA, Philippines – WBO welterweight champion Jessie Vargas may not be a devastating puncher but Hall of Fame boxing coach Freddie Roach said he’s not to be taken lightly as Manny Pacquiao sets to regain the crown in their 12-round title bout at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5.

Vargas, 27, has scored only 10 knockouts in compiling a record of 27-1 since turning pro in 2008. Although he’s not known for his power, Vargas surprised fans by staggering Timothy Bradley with 15 seconds left in their 12-round fight in Carson, California, last year. Bradley was almost out on his feet when referee Pat Russell suddenly intervened with seven seconds to go in the bout. Russell stepped in because he thought the final bell had rung. So Bradley was saved by the bell and won on points. The referee’s mistake couldn’t be reversed.

In Vargas’ most recent outing, he dropped previously unbeaten Sadam Ali twice in scoring a ninth round stoppage for the vacant WBO welterweight throne in Washington, D. C. last March. It was by far Vargas’ most impressive performance ever as he displayed a lot of pop in his sock.

Roach said Pacquiao, 37, has to grapple with age in battling Vargas. He estimated about a 10 percent decrease in Pacquiao’s power but it’s still potent. From working the mitts, Roach said Pacquiao’s stronger than he was five years ago. Pacquiao hasn’t scored a knockout since halting Miguel Cotto in 2009 and Roach said it’s because he’s been facing bigger opponents.

Pacquiao has registered 10 knockdowns without a knockout since the Cotto demolition. He dropped Sugar Shane Mosley once in 2011, Juan Manuel Marquez once in 2012, Chris Algieri six times in 2014 and Bradley twice last April. Roach said when Pacquiao moved up to welterweight and even to superwelterweight, he hasn’t been able to carry over the power that waylaid opponents from the lightwelterweight division down. It appears the bigger fighters are able to withstand Pacquiao’s power. Another factor could be Pacquiao’s transformation as a merciful Christian as he once confided he doesn’t need to knock out opponents to score a win.

“Now, Manny wants a knockout and I think it will happen,” said Roach. “But it won’t be easy against Vargas. He’s a two-time world champion. He won’t be able to knock out Manny because he doesn’t have the power. He’s not as quick as Manny so he’s hittable. Still, you’ve got to respect what he’s accomplished. He’s not a two-time world champion for nothing although you can argue about the quality of his opposition. Like, he knocked out Ali but who’s Ali?” Vargas has the edge in height and reach over Pacquiao. He’s 5-10 with a 71-inch wingspan.

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The 10-year age difference could be a handicap for Pacquiao. Then, there’s speculation that notorious steroid dispenser Memo Heredia is back on Vargas’ team. It was Heredia who transformed Marquez into a machine-like monster in the fourth meeting with Pacquiao four years ago. Marquez was bloodied, battered and on the way out when in a flash, the Mexican lashed out at Pacquiao and knocked him out cold with a single blow in the sixth round. Marquez had never looked as muscular in their previous three encounters.

Roach said there may be ways to escape detection in drug tests. He noticed there was acne on Marquez’ back, a strange body phenomenon at his age (he was 39 then) that could be traced to an infusion of hormones or steroids.

Roach said recent photos of Vargas showed he’s been buffed up. Heredia used to work with Vargas until their breakup was announced last year. But the word is Heredia is back with Vargas. The bad news is two fighters, whom Heredia recently trained, allegedly tested positive for steroids. Roach was reportedly told of Heredia’s involvement by WBA featherweight champion Jesus Cuellar of Argentina. Cuellar is trained by Roach and will defend his title against Mexico’s Abner Mares in Los Angeles on Dec. 10.

If Vargas is juiced and manages to escape detection, he’ll be able to take Pacquiao’s punches without too much difficulty. At the same time, he’ll be stronger in hitting Pacquiao. That could be a problem for the Filipino icon.

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