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Jessie no more in Manny’s shadow

WBO welterweight champion Jessie Vargas has fought twice in the undercard of Manny Pacquiao mainers. This weekend, the man called “Ruthless” will move from wallowing below the radar to sharing the spotlight with Pacquiao in their 12-round title bout at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. | AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

MANILA, Philippines - WBO welterweight champion Jessie Vargas has fought twice in the undercard of Manny Pacquiao mainers. This weekend, the man called “Ruthless” will move from wallowing below the radar to sharing the spotlight with Pacquiao in their 12-round title bout at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Vargas, 27, said his time to shine has come at Pacquiao’s expense. “I promise you an electrifying performance,” said Vargas, quoted by Mark Butcher in Boxing Monthly magazine. “I have so many people who are doubting me that it just fuels the fire. I never seem to get the respect I deserve. Eventually, I will get it. I’m going to shut up a lot of people. Pacquiao is one of the best of this era but there is no one I can’t beat. I will defeat him and a new star will be born that night.”

Vargas made his first appearance in a Pacquiao undercard in April 2014, outpointing Russia’s Khabib Allakhverdiev. In the main event, Pacquiao beat Timothy Bradley. In November that same year, Vargas was back in a supporting role to Pacquiao in Macau. This time, Vargas showed up with Roy Jones Jr. in his corner and decisioned Antonio DeMarco with Freddie Roach in the opposing corner. Vargas won on points while in the mainer, Pacquiao decked Chris Algieri six times to score a lopsided verdict.

Vargas didn’t wait too long to rise from the fringes to join Pacquiao in a main event. Now, he has a chance to prove his worth.  Pacquiao, 37, is the hot favorite to dethrone Vargas and regain the 147-pound crown. Bookmakers recently dropped the odds from 9-to-1 to 8-to-1, still in Pacquiao’s favor, meaning a $800 bet will earn only $100. In contrast, a $100 wager on Vargas will clear $550 if he prevails.

Vargas elevated his game ironically after losing a decision to Bradley last year. The defeat to Bradley is the only stain in his record of 27-1, with 10 KOs. Vargas, however, came close to knocking out The Desert Storm as in the last 15 seconds of the fight, Bradley was on the verge of a total meltdown. Referee Pat Russell saved Bradley from collapse when he inadvertently stopped the bout with seven seconds left, thinking the final bell had rung. Vargas then went on to floor previously unbeaten Sadam Ali twice and win the vacant WBO throne on a ninth round stoppage last March in what had to be his most impressive performance ever.

The factors going for Vargas against Pacquiao are his age (he’s 10 years younger), height (at 5-10, he’s four inches taller) and reach (at 71 inches, he’s four inches longer). Vargas is also hungrier as he’s never reached Pacquiao’s level of success, fame and fortune.

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“A lot of people are underestimating me but they always do,” said Vargas, quoted by Butcher. “When I became a world champion back in 2014, I was a heavy underdog. My fans were able to come up on the odds at the casinos. On Nov. 5, my name will be respected. Now, I have so much more experience. I have learned what I should and shouldn’t do in training camp. I will be very well-prepared technically, physically, mentally. I’m in my prime, I’m 27 and this is the opportunity for me to show the world what I have. This is a dream of mine, a goal I have had since I was a kid and I’m going to accomplish it on Nov. 5. No matter what I have to do to win, I will. I have no doubts.”

Vargas said he will display his new-found power against Pacquiao. He credited trainer Dewey Cooper, a two-time world kickboxing champion, for making him a potent puncher. His previous trainers were Roger Mayweather, Cornelius Boza-Edwards, Ismael Salas, Erik Morales and Jones. There is talk that Vargas has rehired strength and conditioning coach Memo Heredia to build him up for Pacquiao. Heredia, who has been accused of juicing fighters with steroids and performance-enhancing drugs, was the same man who transformed Juan Manuel Marquez into a physical monster at 39 in his fourth encounter with Pacquiao four years ago.

Vargas’ hunger comes from his determination to rise from humble beginnings. His parents migrated from Mexico to find new life in the US. He was born in Los Angeles and moved to Las Vegas when he was six, growing up in a tough neighborhood which forced him to learn self-defense.

It was inevitable that Vargas found in boxing a way out of poverty. He mastered the craft in the gym and set a goal of becoming the next Julio Cesar Chavez. Now that he’s a two-time world champion, Vargas said it’s time to give back to the community. With fighter Zab Judah, Vargas has organized youth camps in Las Vegas to reach out to troubled kids. “I advise them not to make the wrong decisions, learn from any mistakes that have been committed, but to be a good citizen, stay positive, have a good life and stay out of trouble,” he said. “They help me to change, too and that’s what makes my day.”

 

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