For the many fight fans he let down while losing to Floyd Mayweather Jr. last year, Manny Pacquiao has staged a redemption tour.
His second follow-up victory came Saturday night, a convincing, unanimous-decision triumph over Jessie Vargas that the retired Mayweather watched from ringside and that stoked talk that Pacquiao and he will fight again.
“If the rematch happens, I want to make sure the fans love it,” Pacquiao told reporters from his Las Vegas suite Sunday. “I will give all I can to give my best to the fans.”
Pacquiao (59-6-2) took great satisfaction in doing so again Saturday, when he claimed the World Boxing Organization welterweight belt for a fourth time.
In front of 16,132 at Thomas and Mack Center — including 7,000 in the upper deck who embraced Pacquiao’s $50 ticket price — the first-term senator from the Philippines knocked Vargas down in the second round and proceeded to a 115-113, 118-109, 118-109 victory on the scorecards.
Judge Dave Moretti’s narrow scoring was soundly panned.
“I was looking for a knockout and was so eager to put on a good fight,” Pacquiao said. “[Vargas] said he would fight toe to toe. He changed, he adapted, and I had to be careful not to be careless.”
Referee Kenny Bayless missed two more Pacquiao knockdowns in the 11th and 12th rounds, respectively, calling them slips, but Pacquiao’s complete victory was revealed in punch statistics that showed Vargas landed just 104 of 561 punches, while Pacquiao smacked Vargas with 101 of 212 power shots.
Though he’ll be 38 next month and his Senate workload forced him to spend six weeks of training camp in the Philippines, Pacquiao produced a showing that Mayweather rated “not bad.”
Mayweather turns 40 in February, and could finish 50-0 should he opt for a rematch of a fight he convincingly won as Pacquiao labored through a serious shoulder injury.
When someone asked Pacquiao how much he had left in the tank Sunday, he spoke of how much fresher he felt than in his past two bouts and replied, “Full tank.”
“I thought Manny performed extraordinarily well,” Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum said. “When he’s moving and punching like that, disappears around a guy and comes out on the other side throwing punches — that’s great craftsmanship.”
In April, Pacquiao scored two knockdowns to defeat former two-division champion Timothy Bradley Jr.
“He was very quick on his feet,” Vargas said of Pacquiao. “When Bradley complained about his toes [in fighting Pacquiao], you definitely have to stay on your toes. He was quick.”
Manny Pacquiao connects to the face of Jessie Vargas during their WBO welterweight title bout in Las Vegas on Saturday night.(Isaac Brekken / Associated Press)
Manny Pacquiao throws a left to the body of Jessie Vargas during their welterweight championship fight Saturday in Las Vegas.(Isaac Brekken / Associated Press)
Manny Pacquiao covers up as Jessie Vargas goes on the offensive during their WBO welterweight title bout Saturday.(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)
Jessie Vargas tries to duck away from a left punch by Manny Pacquiao during their WBO welterweight championship fight at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday night.(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)
Manny Pacquiao lands an overhand left that knocked down Jessie Vargas in the second round of their WBO welterweight championship fight.(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)
Manny Pacquiao knocks down Jessie Vargas during their WBO welterweight title bout in Las Vegas on Saturday night.(Isaac Brekken / Associated Press)
Jessie Vargas throws a left hook to the body of Manny Pacquiao during their welterweight championship fight in Las Vegas.(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)
Jessie Vargas tries to cover up as Manny Pacquiao lands a right during their WBO welterweight championship fight Saturday.(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)
Manny Pacquiao gathers himself in his corner after the conclusion of his fight against Jessie Vargas.(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)
Manny Pacquiao celebrates after defeating Jessie Vargas in the WBO welterweight title bout on Saturday night in Las Vegas.(Isaac Brekken / Associated Press)
And now, after Mayweather accepted a Pacquiao invitation to attend the fight, the question is whether they will meet again after their long-anticipated May 2015 bout generated a record 4.6 million pay-per-view buys and more than $600 million.
“There’s no discussions for now and that’s not in my mind right now,” said Pacquiao, who resumes Senate work Tuesday.
Yet the invitation revealed the free communication that exists between Pacquiao and Mayweather now, in contrast to the situation before the long-delayed first fight.
Back then, as Arum and Mayweather manager Al Haymon presided over talks that repeatedly failed, it took a chance face-to-face meeting at an NBA game to propel the fighters to strike a deal.
“Because we have this contact now, this can be easier to talk about if there is a rematch,” Pacquiao said.
Even if super-lightweight Terence Crawford and super-featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko would be in consideration for Pacquiao too, Mayweather is of most interest.
“Not only for myself, but if the fans in boxing want that rematch, then why not?” Pacquiao said. “We can easily talk about that. It’s not a problem.”
Pacquiao said he’s aware boxing pay-per-view sales have languished since his loss to Mayweather, saying he “will do all I can do” to rebuild interest and give fight fans better value next time around.
Saturday night, with Pacquiao waving his right glove to Mayweather just before the first bell and delivering a knowing grin when victory seemed secure before the 12th, will keep the subject on boxing’s front burner for the next few months.
Todd duBoef, Arum’s stepson and his company’s president, embraced Mayweather at the fight and said it will be intriguing to see how matters transpire. “It’s good for banter. It’s good for headlines,” duBoef said.