After 21 years in the professional ring, 18 years of world title fights and one year as senator in the Philippine government the boxing life of Manny Pacquiao still rumbles on.
The glimpses of the old Pacquiao were obvious enough as he beat Jesse Vargas on points to win the WBO welterweight belt Saturday at the Thomas & Mack in the Las Vegas suburbs. However, they were only brief, ruthless glimpses and the survival of Vargas was assisted by the decades of fighting and the struggle at the core of Pacquiao's desire -- the senator has been fighting with and without gloves since he was born.
Pacquiao at 37 is still big business in the gambling city and a smiling thumbs-up cameo from Floyd Mayweather Jr. at ringside only added to the circus, speculation and desire of the many Las Vegas fixers. Their technical fight, which is the politest way to describe it, last year generated $600 million and a rematch would do even more.
Pacquiao added the WBO bauble to the vast horde of boxing belts he has acquired during his lifetime; Pacquiao has won a total of 11 different belts, which is both a testament to his flexibility at gaining 35 pounds over the years and the nuttiness of sanctioning bodies with their desire to make official just about any scrap.
In the Thomas & Mack ring there were genuine moments of Manny magic, his feet found their wings, his punches had that bit extra back that has been missing and there was a nasty twinkle in his eyes. A quick ending would have moved a rematch with Mayweather closer because that is what the boxing business needed to help sell a return of last year's waltz.
It can still be sold, it would be a better fight, but now the emphasis will be on Mayweather's decay and not Pacquiao's rediscovery of violence. Pacquiao has not stopped or knocked out an opponent since 2009 and that sidelines any sales pitch that pushes his danger and any clear and present threat he poses Mayweather.
Vargas was a willing assistant in Pacquiao's latest fight -- his 67th -- and he flitted between nervous, respectful, hurt, bloodied, fearless, desperate and relieved. He knew his destiny long before the first bell, knew he was getting paid a hefty fee to help Pacquiao's endless quest. He also knew that if he was on his feet at the end, his belt might be gone but his reputation would be greatly enhanced.
One judge, clearly supping on a heady cocktail of incompetence and perceived independence, helped Vargas by returning a final score that only had him losing by one round. Pacquiao won a minimum nine of the 12 rounds.
Vargas was dropped lightly in round two when Pacquiao pulled off a move last seen on the night he ruined Ricky Hatton in 2009. Vargas shook his head clear and banged his gloves together and the moment for closure was lost. Vargas was not afraid to let his punches go and his own fast right repeatedly caught Pacquiao. It was a good fight, not a classic, but there was enough blood and enough wild exchanges to lift it above ordinary. At the end everybody was smiling.
Mayweather will fight again and Pacquiao is the only opponent that makes sense. Hopefully we won't have the six-year wait we had last time, which was really when the fire went out of the fight. The next time might just be a much, much better fight.