By Derek Bonnett
Every now and then a boxer emerges who seemingly puts his well-being aside for the benefit of the fans. These thrill-a-minute champions are never a bore to watch and it is wise to never miss their performances because they, most often, are not around for that long. Francisco Vargas came into his title defense against fellow Mexican Miguel Berchelt on the heels of Back to Back Fight of the Year performances against Takashi Miura and Orlando Salido. The writing seemed on the wall for Vargas so much that I included him among my list of Champions To Go in 2017. Vargas did not disappoint.
Vargas, a titlist at 130 pounds, and rated third by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, started the bout quickly with a fast jab and good footwork. He peppered his challenger before serving up nice uppercuts to the body and head to Berchelt. The challenger appeared stunned, but came back to land a nice right hand later in the round. Speaking of rounds, round two between this men also could earn consideration for Round of the Year. Berchelt returned the favor and stung the champion to the body. Warmed up after the first frame, Berchelt punched more fluidly and unleashed some mighty left hooks on the champion again and again. Vargas nailed his insolent challenger with an overhand right to settle the score, but the two carried on like bulls for the remainder of the round. Berchelt grew in confidence and began working behind the jab with great fervor. As his confidence grew, so did his punch output. Both men attacked the body in the third for some good back and forth action. However, it was round four that also looked like Round of the Year material. Vargas was cut over the left eye and stunned with a left hook from the challenger. The champion rallied his punches to the body to soften his foe, knowing that the younger fighter had never been passed the sixth round. After four rounds, Secondsout saw the contest 39-38 for Berchelt or 2-1-1 in rounds.
The fifth started off more slowly as Berchelt used more footwork and technical boxing to set a new standard for the fight. Vargas lured Berchelt back to an inside fight and out landed his challenger for an edge in the round. However, Berchelt resumed control in the sixth with the same boxing tactics that kept him on the outside pumping his jab. Vargas was rocked several times with power shots behind the jab. Berchelt pounded the champion’s body in the seventh, but still reset himself to land long combination from a distance each time. Both of Vargas’ eyes swelled and the cut worsened. Berchelt’s defense was far superior to Vargas’ which became non-existent. Berchelt’s body blows continued to weaken the champion as the bout now began to turn one-sidedly. SecondsOut’s unofficial tally favored Berchelt 78-75.
The ringside physician examined Vargas carefully between rounds, but did not intervene. Berchelt’s jabs stayed in the face of the champion. Blood poured down the face of Vargas in the ninth and the end seemed near as the challenger out landed the champion 44 to 12. Berchelt continued to fight beautifully using long-range punches to worsen the cut on the champion. His work even inspired the commentary team to discuss Vasyl Lomachenko as a possible opponent before Berchelt even won the title. The end came in round eleven though. Vargas, battered and utterly defenseless, was saved at the 2:19 mark after absorbing punch after punch and stumbling around the ring with only his bravado keeping him upright.
Vargas’ team could have spared their man unnecessary punishment, but thrill-a-minute champions leave it all in the ring, sometimes literally. Berchelt captured his first world title and lifted his dossier to 31-1-0 (28). Vargas fell to 23-1-2 (17).