Derek Bonnett reports from the undercard at the Forum as Jessie Vargas gets a career-enhancing victory
At the Forum in Inglewood, CA, USA, Jessie Vargas encountered an internal crisis. Riding back to back draws and testing his third weight class, Vargas needed to make a statement during the debut with his umpteenth trainer Freddie Roach. Humberto Soto didn’t make it easy for him.
Soto, 38 and as experienced as the come, started with early thunder and caused a clash of heads, but no cut surfaced at this time. Soto jabbed and looked like the stronger man in spite of being a one-time lightweight titlist weighing in a junior middleweight. Soto dropped to the canvas following a low blow early in the round. Vargas, 29, jabbed to body, feeling things out, but mostly felt the left hooks by Soto. Flip a coin to determine the winner of the first frame, but things turned for the worse for Vargas in the second. Another head clash left Vargas badly cut on the left eye-lid. Vargas appeared rattled, possibly seeing his third consecutive draw on the horizon or worse. Soto landed hard counters and fought freshly, possibly reinvigorated by his recent upset of Brandon Rios. Vargas touched body well enough, but he failed to slow Soto down. Even a great right hand by Vargas could not deter the former champion. Both men went all out at the start of the third, but Soto landed cleaner. Vargas timed a good left hook opening, but Soto calmly worked his way inside after shaking the blow off. Vargas, fueled by fear – his eyes said this or something like it-- fought a bit unnerved. Still, he landed big left hooks late in the round to put it in the bag.
Soto had success as a ring general making the possibility of another upset look real. Subtle movements pulled Soto inside for good straight shots. Vargas failed to effectively connect with counters and would be forced to reset. Soto took the off-mark punches easily and countered. Technique prevailed over youth in the fourth. Vargas looked down at a serious crossroads inside his own head between rounds. He jabbed the body of Soto to establish some rhythm, but he couldn’t find it. Soto started school Vargas with timing. Vargas dug to body, but he came up short on a lot. Soto continued connecting cleaner shots through five to build an unofficial lead at SecondsOut of 49-47.
Then came the sixth. Vargas broke through with a nice combination to drop Soto. A big right hand did the damage and Vargas swarmed the veteran to keep him unstable. Not pretty, but effective: Vargas tagged Soto repeatedly prompting the referee to save him at the 1:48 mark of the round.
Vargas, a two-division belt holder, broke his neutral streak to move to 29-2-2 (11) as a professional. Where he goes at 154 is unclear, but he’s set his sights on Jaime Munguia. Soto’s future looks more definite as he alluded to retirement should he be met with defeat. Soto’s ledger now stands at 69-10-2 (37).
Also on the card, rising prospect Anthony Sims Jr., settling in at super middleweight, produced a career most impressive performance in his sternest test to date. Sims, 24, was pressed hard for ten rounds by Vaughn Alexander, but earned a unanimous decision by scores of 98-92 twice and 96-94. Sims stayed unbeaten 19-0-0 (17). Alexander, 33, fell to 14-3 (9).