Every generation produces certain fighters that fans know they can count on for a Fight-of-the-Year contender bout, every single year. At least, that’s how it seems when they are in their glory years.
These are fighters like Arturo Gatti and Bobby Chacon. They develop a popularity with the fans that is denied many boxers with more technical skill.
Francisco Vargas has emerged as one of this generation’s version of the type. He stole the show on the Alvarez-Cotto undercard in November 2015, when he captured the WBC super featherweight title from Takashi Miura. It was an action-packed war, but beyond that, it was a fight with an epic narrative arc.
He battered Miura in Round 1, nearly finishing him off. He continued to carry the early part of the fight, but by the middle rounds, it was Miura who had taken control of the fight. He deposited Vargas on the canvas in Round four. By the time Vargas came out for Round 9, his eyes were both badly swollen and cut. He seemed impossible that he should even still be in the fight. Yet he managed the swing the tide back in his favor one last time in the ninth, finishing the bout at 1:31 of the round.
Vargas retained his title in June 2016, when he fought to a brutal, back-and-forth draw with Orlando Salido, another ring warrior who is regularly in classic slugfests. Again, Vargas was a participant in a lot of people’s Fight of the Year.
On Saturday night, he will face 30-1 Miguel Berchelt. At 25, Berchelt has won 27 of his bouts by stoppage. He has defeated decent opponents and is a legitimate contender.
Vargas will be a legitimate step up in competition. But on paper, at least, Berchelt looks like the kind of opponent who could put Vargas in another Fight of the Year.