Boxing fans were extremely disappointed when Manny Pacquiao announced earlier this month that his return bout in November would be against Jessie Vargas. It turns out that fans were not the only ones who were disappointed, though. Last week, Pacquiao’s long-time broadcaster, HBO, opted to pass on distributing the fight.
Jessie Vargas is a good fighter. He turned in an outstanding performance earlier this year when he stopped previously unbeaten Sadam Ali.
But he is not an appealing opponent for Pacquiao. Vargas was thoroughly out-boxed by Timothy Bradley last year. And Bradley was defeated with ease by Pacquiao just last April.
As a choice of opponent, Vargas was safe to the point of not being interesting. By opting to fight him, instead of a bigger star such as Terence Crawford, Pacquiao made it clear that this bout is nothing but a money grab.
According to statements made by Top Rank promoter Bob Arum in the L.A. Times, HBO’s stated reason for passing on the bout was due to the choice of date–November 5. HBO already has plans to broadcast a pay-per-view between Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward on November 19.
Arum can criticize HBO all he wants for “abandoning” Pacquiao after “sucking him dry for 10 years,” but his crocodile tears are not exactly persuasive. HBO spent that 10 years making Pacquiao fabulously rich, and Bob Arum richer than he previously was. The HBO broadcast team hyped Pacquiao relentlessly over that time.
At this point, HBO cannot be faulted for looking ahead, to the future of the sport. And in the immediate short-term, that future will revolve around the winner of Ward and Kovalev.
Pacquiao’s name recognition and dedicated fan base might actually allow him to out-sell Ward vs. Kovalev, especially with the backing of HBO’s promotional machine. In truth, Pacquiao-Vargas sales would very likely cut into Ward-Kovalev, with only two weeks separating the cards.
HBO is right to focus on the light heavyweight showdown between the undefeated American and the undefeated Russian. Ward vs. Kovalev is the biggest fight that can get made in all of boxing right now.