(Reuters) – Senator Manny Pacquiao takes a brief break from politics to challenge Jessie Vargas for the WBO welterweight title at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on Saturday.
After claiming a unanimous decision over Tim Bradley in their rubber match in April, Pacquiao said he was heading into retirement from boxing and focusing on his political career.
Pacquiao, 37, won his May election to the senate in the Philippines but decided on another challenge in the ring and found it against Vargas, who is 10 years younger and enjoys a 4 1/2 inch height advantage and 4-inch advantage in reach.
Boxing’s only eight-division world champion, Senator Pacquiao (58-6-2) is vying to become a three-time WBO welterweight champion.
“I feel I still have a lot to prove. I am not done with boxing. I will continue to keep fighting as long as I love boxing and boxing still loves me,” Pacquiao said during the run-up to the bout. “I do not feel old.
“I am fighting for history. I was the first sitting congressman to win a world title. I want to be the first senator to become world champion.”
Pacquiao believes he is ready despite his divided focus.
“It took discipline to manage my time effectively … to balance my training camp and my senatorial duties,” Pacquiao said. “Every day I was able to get in all my training.
“I ran every morning and did my strength and conditioning. I worked with Freddie (trainer Roach) every evening at the gym after work. Between the two ‘jobs’ I was averaging 14-hour workdays.”
Vargas is making the first defense of the title he won in March with a ninth-round stoppage of fellow American Sadam Ali and believes beating boxing legend Pacquiao would put him on another level.
“It would definitely put me on the world-wide stage, make me that boxing star that I have been looking forward to being,” said Vargas (27-1).
“The only fighters to beat Manny Pacquiao have become legends themselves. So I plan to become one of the few to beat Manny Pacquiao.”
(Writing by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Andrew Both)