Floyd Mayweather Jr. played his role perfectly Saturday night.
Manny Pacquiao didn’t do quite as well.
With Mayweather at ringside, silently bringing hope to those who hope to see the two men fight again in the spring, Pacquiao was supposed to respond with a spectacular performance against WBO welterweight champion Jessie Vargas.
Pacquiao was good, winning a lopsided unanimous decision, but couldn’t get the knockout he needed. He dropped Vargas early and cut him later in the fight, but once again, his opponent was upright and fighting back at the final bell.
“I’m very happy with my performance,” Pacquiao said after the fight. “I was trying to knock him down in every round, but he’s tough.”
That’s a serious problem for a rematch with Mayweather, because he’s not going to outbox the most talented fighter of his generation. If Pacquiao can’t threaten a knockout, the fight is almost certainly going to end in another easy Mayweather win.
Mayweather’s return will draw money, but if he comes out of retirement, it is going to be for a huge purse. That doesn’t happen without an opponent who at least provides some danger, and while Pacquiao still can fight at a high level, he doesn’t fulfill that requirement.
While Mayweather hugged people from Bob Arum’s Top Rank before the fight, he didn’t take part in any post-fight antics and only told media members that he was there because his daughter wanted to see the fight.
If Mayweather does want to come out of retirement, he will have fighters lining up for the shot. He doesn’t need Pacquiao.
The opposite, though, isn’t true. Pacquiao is only fighting at this point to get a rematch with Mayweather, and if that doesn’t happen, there’s no clear direction for his career. There are talks about matching him with junior-welterweight champion Terence Crawford, but that would be a dangerous fight at this point in his career.
“I’m going to go back home to the Philippines and back to work in the senate, and then I’ll talk [to] Bob about my next fight,” Pacquiao said. “I don’t know who the fight will be — whoever the people want me to fight. I am not picking an opponent. Whoever my promoter gives me, I will fight. Anybody at 147. Crawford at 140? Not a problem.”
While Pacquiao didn’t get the knockout he needed to sell a fight with Mayweather, he did show that he’s still talented enough to beat top fighters at 140 and 147 pounds. He dominated Vargas, showing his trademark speed and punching accuracy, and he will be a tough opponent for anyone he fights. Even Mayweather would have to work hard to beat him, although he almost certainly would do it.
There are flaws, though. His lack of power meant that Vargas was able to challenge him in toe-to-toe brawls and get away with it. Vargas landed some serious shots in the middle rounds, and although he didn’t have the power to take advantage of it, fighters like Crawford, Shawn Porter and Keith Thurman wouldn’t give Pacquiao the same escape.