READY or not, amid the belief of many that his early return to the ring is actually tied to his political foray in the May 2013 elections, Manny Pacquiao is planning to lace on the gloves again in April to rebuild his boxing castle that was reduced into rubble by a Mexican usurper named Juan Manuel Marquez.
Pacquiao has bounced back from a resounding defeat before, but it is different this time as he is older and, in the opinion of astute observers, shop-worn. Pacquiao was only 17 years old when he was knocked out in three rounds by countryman Rustico Torrecampo in 1996. Predictably, he came back strong, collaring the World Boxing Council flyweight title (112 pounds) just two years later. Pacquiao was 20 years old when he was knocked out again by Thai Medgoen Singsurat in three rounds. The defeat was Pacquiao's own doing, as he stayed too long in the flyweight class and struggled to keep the weight. He returned stronger, heavier, and wiser, never to lose in a resounding manner again (he only lost by a narrow decision to Mexican Erik Morales in 2005) until Marquez knocked the daylights out of him in December.
Having turned 34 and entering his 18th year in pro boxing, Pacquiao is anything but a debutante in the fight game. Not only is he coming off the worst knockout defeat of his career, he is also hitting the comeback trail with his followers divided on whether or not he is doing the right thing. Truth be told, Pacquiao has not shown anything to convince many that his attention is now solely focused on the sport. In fact, many feel Pacquiao is returning ahead of schedule because he wants to gain some publicity mileage before he dips his fists into the political jar again.
Regardless, everybody – notably the medical experts who are claiming that the fighter may already be exhibiting signs of Parkinson's disease – is keeping a close tab on Pacquiao's return. The former eight-division champ is looking at a short-list of possible next foes – either American Jessie Vargas or Ukrainian Vyacheslav Senchenko.
Senchenko is a former World Boxing Association welterweight (147 pounds) champion who is coming off a ninth-round knockout victory over Briton Ricky Hatton in November. Senchenko, 33-1 with 22 knockouts, is already 35 years old and was losing to Hatton when he nailed the latter with a good body punch. Senchenko boasts of above-par punching power but he is a tough sell because of his age and the fact that he is not even known in his own household.
Vargas is a young 23 and totes a record of 21-0 with nine knockouts. He reportedly has the inside track because he is also promoted by Bob Arum's Top Rank Promotions. Vargas is also easier to sell to the public because he is undefeated and has Mexican blood running in his veins. Oh, with only nine knockouts, Vargas also appears to be a safe opponent for Pacquiao.
Born in Los Angeles, Vargas moved to Las Vegas, Nevada at age six and developed an interest to boxing at age eight after his father gave him a documentary video of one of Mexican's greatest champions, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. Vargas was a two-time National Golden Gloves champion and compiled an amateur record of 120 wins against only 20 losses before turning pro in 2008 with a first-round knockout of Joel Gonzales.
Vargas initially fought for Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s boxing outfit before he jumped ship and joined Top Rank Promotions early last year. Vargas holds victories over world champions Vivian Harris and Steve Forbes, but remains untested. He has not scored a knockout victory in his last five fights and was lucky to escape with a split decision over Mexican Josesito Lopez in September 2011. Vargas' last knockout victim was journeyman Walter Estrada, who showed up in the fight with a 39-14 won-loss record and was predictably dispatched in two rounds in July 2011.
While the names of Brandon Rios and Timothy Bradley Jr. have also been mentioned, all point to Pacquiao taking on a lesser-risk adversary. Vargas appears to fit the bill, the perfect cannon fodder for a fighter like Pacquiao who is looking to regain his competitive edge.
Seriously though, while it is relatively easy to dismiss Vargas and Senchenko as doughnut-knitted boxers, there is also no disregarding the possibility that Pacquiao may no longer be the fighter he once was after the numbing loss to Marquez. The loss Pacquiao suffered to Marquez is the type that cuts down a fighter's confidence to the size of a hobbit. Make no mistake, Pacquiao's bid to become the lord of the ring again figures to be one arduous climb.