LOS ANGELES — The Manny Pacquiao circus is alive and well.
Fans crammed into the Crystal Ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Thursday to see the return of the Filipino superstar on U.S. soil. But the event wasn’t just about the legendary Pacquiao — Top Rank Boxing had a fight to promote.
Jessie Vargas understood the horde of media and fans weren’t there to see him. The Las Vegan was OK with that. He just wanted a megafight to prove himself, and he finally got his shot when the Vargas-Pacquiao matchup Nov. 5 at the Thomas & Mack Center was officially introduced during the news conference.
“I’ll just need to turn them into believers,” Vargas said about being thrust into the spotlight. “I’m probably the only champion that hasn’t gotten the proper credit.”
That’s right, Vargas (27-1, 10 knockouts) is the WBO welterweight champion. But the belt didn’t matter to the spectators inside the classy hotel on the famous Sunset Boulevard.
The line to interview Pacquiao (58-6-2, 38 KOs) was longer than getting into one of Steve Wynn’s nightclubs on the Strip. Wynn, the casino mogul, was also at the news conference, which turned into paparazzi hysteria, as a throng of photographers battled for a snap of Pac-Man.
Vargas wasn’t alone, with trainer Dewey Cooper, manager Cameron Dunkin and Vargas’ father, Jose, next to him on the podium. Wynn showed his support by calling Vargas his “homeboy.”
“Jessie being from Las Vegas and Pacquiao being a senator particularly makes this (fight) delicious,” said Wynn, whose Wynn Resorts is hosting the fight-week festivities.
Top Rank will go outside the norm and distribute its own pay-per-view fight without one of the major networks. HBO declined to televise the Pacquiao-Vargas matchup.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum didn’t announce the price of the PPV or what fights will be on the undercard. Arum said he hopes to add three more title bouts.
Pacquiao was open about his duties as a senator in his native Philippines, and said the Senate didn’t care about him returning to boxing as long as it didn’t affect his work.
“I have a perfect attendance,” said Pacquiao, who is doing most of his training in the Philippines. “I make all the hearings, I don’t miss anything. Everything is good.
“(Being a senator) won’t affect me. In the Philippines, I jogged in the morning, then went to work in the office and be in the hearings and meetings, and after the Senate, go to the gym.”
Pacquiao said he felt lonely without boxing and chose to fight Vargas because he is a champion in the welterweight division.
The questions, of course, turned to a possible rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“If the fans want it, then I’m open to it,” Pacquiao said. “I’m open with everybody.”
Questions about Pacquiao’s star power being on the decline could be put to rest, at least for now.
It appeared Pacquiao, who turns 38 in December, was headed down the celebrity status list. He received backlash for his anti-homosexual comments this year, and the public responded by not watching Pacquiao’s trilogy fight against Timothy Bradley Jr. in April. The pay-per-view bout did 400,000 to 500,000 buys, a big letdown after drawing 4.4 million versus Mayweather last year.
The bout with Mayweather did more bad than good for Pacquiao, who fought with a bum shoulder in a dismal performance to anger fans.
But a three-month retirement could have given Pacquiao new life. Ticket sales are off to a good start, with 2,000 sold in the first few hours, according to the former eight-division champion. Sen. Pacquiao was definitely missed.
“Boxing still likes me, so why do I stop boxing?” Pacquiao asked. “I decided to change my mind and to continue my career.”
Contact Gilbert Manzano at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0492. Follow @gmanzano24 on Twitter.