This weekend’s bout between undefeated Jessie Vargas and two-division champion Timothy Bradley has generated less chatter than other fights in recent months, but it is an extremely relevant fight for the top of the welterweight rankings, featuring two talented boxers at different points in their careers.
For Vargas, this is a first true test against a true boxing star. His best victory to date came over fellow unbeaten Khabib Allakhverdiev in April 2014. Allakhverdiev is a legitimate world-title contender and while I actually scored it a close win for the Russian, Vargas turned in a gutsy performance and busted Allakhverdiev up. For the judges to hand him the victory was hardly a robbery, even if I disagreed.
That win made Vargas the WBA “regular” world champion, which is of course not a world championship at all, but rather an embarrassing marketing sham that the WBA insultingly fosters off on the boxing public. Nevertheless, it was an important win for Vargas. Since then he’s extended his undefeated record by beating fellow unbeaten Anton Novikov and faded former lightweight champion Antonio DeMarco.
Timothy Bradley should be an entirely new order of test for him. Bradley has been a world champion at 140 and 147 pounds. While his 2012 split-decision victory over Manny Pacquiao was a notoriously outrageous decision, his 2013 victory over Juan Manuel was entirely deserved. His 2013 battle with Ruslan Provodnikov was the best fight in recent years and demonstrated that “Desert Storm” is one of the toughest hombres in a sport stuffed with tough hombres.
Bradley comes into this fight with the undefeated young Vargas in unfamiliar territory—mired in a bit of a career slump. Bradley looked flat-footed and surprisingly low in energy when he lost to Pacquiao last year in their rematch. Last December he was robbed when he received a draw against the brawler Diego Chaves. Still, it was a bit alarming to see Bradley let a fight with a guy like Chaves get close enough for the judges to blow it.
A loss for Bradley will send his relevance tumbling. For Vargas, just 26, a loss will be far less damaging, but a win will send his career soaring. So there is a lot at stake for both men, and for the big fights that might get made later this year and early in 2016.