With six weeks still remaining in 2015, perhaps it is still too early to definitively hand Fight of the Year honors to Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura. But even with some promising fights left on the schedule for this year, it’s tough for me to imagine any of them surpassing the WBC super featherweight clash staged between the heroic Mexican challenger and the relentless Japanese champion Saturday night, on the undercard for Saul Alvarez’s victory over Miguel Cotto.
Francisco Vargas’ Round 9 KO made him the new champion. The efforts of both men should win them Fight of the Year honors.
As with any sort of ranking, ranking prizefights is subjective. But these are the qualities I look at when I rate a fight as truly great: 1. A high level of action. 2. Durability and stamina, mixed with courage and heart—what the old timers would have called “bottom.” 3. Dramatic rallies and swings in momentum. If a fight ends in electrifying fashion, so much the better.
Francisco Vargas’ title victory had all of these qualities. In the first round, the challenger rocked Miura, buckling his knees and nearly sending him to the canvas. For a moment, it looked like the champion might not survive the round.
But he did survive, and by the middle rounds of the fight, the incredibly rugged, power-punching champion appeared to be taking control of the fight. The southpaw is a never back up fighter, with little regard for defense. He forced Vargas into a brutal war of attrition, pounding at the challengers torso and opening up cuts both above and below Vargas’ right eye. Vargas fought back gamely, scoring with good combinations of his own, but he was clearly in the deep waters, and it was unclear how much longer he’d be able to keep himself a float. Just the fact that his badly injured eye was nearly swollen shot made an early stoppage appear inevitable.
Matters were made worse for Francisco Vargas in the closing seconds of Round 8, when he was badly stunned by a left hand from Miura. If the same shot had landed mid-round, it’s not clear Vargas would have made it back to his corner.
So things were looking bleak for Vargas as Round 9 began. Miura came out for the round smelling blood. But then, just seconds into the round, Vargas caught the aggressive Miura with a beautiful right-left combination that sent the champion tumbling flat on his back. Miura beat the count and staggered around the ring, attempting to clinch Vargas and hold on, to somehow manage to keep his feet as Vargas strafed him with stinging follow-up shots.
The referee halted the carnage at 1:31 of the round. While Miura was still on his feet at the time, it was a very appropriate stoppage. Miura was not at all intelligently defending himself, but simply attempting to hold on with desperation, as he ate on big punch after another. It was a clearly a case where a fighter needed to be saved from his own bravery.