LAS VEGAS—Though he owns a contested decision over Josesito Lopez, Jessie Vargas was the one fighting on a smaller ESPN2 show Thursday night at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino while Lopez gets ready to fight box-office star Saul Alvarez at the MGM Grand in a major card on Showtime this coming Saturday.
Though his payday is a fraction of what Lopez will make, the Las Vegas product Vargas (20-0, 9 KOs) took care of business in his Top Rank debut as he outhustled an up to the task Aron Martinez (18-2-1, 4 KOs) of East Los Angeles en route to a unanimous decision.
There were lulls in action, but as well there was some terrific infighting throughout. The bout also featured more than its fair share of fouls and referee Jay Nady didn’t do his best job in keeping things in control, warning both fighters a number of times without ever taking a point.
When the action picked up, the crowd got into the fight, spurning on Vargas to throw a high volume in close. Martinez did his part in almost always firing back, even landing his fair share in return.
Still, Martinez wasn’t winning rounds, and by the time Vargas slowed the way he did against Lopez last September, the fight was nearly over and Martinez couldn’t fully capitalize, though he enjoyed his best work in the fight’s 9th and 10th rounds.
Vargas showed again where his biggest weaknesses lie: his lack of punching power and questionable stamina down the stretch reared its head, though the level of opponent wasn’t strong enough to provide a big enough scare. Scores read 99-91, 98-92, and a bit too close 96-94 all in favor of Vargas.
In a closely contested junior lightweight co-feature, unbeaten but unheralded Jose Felix Jr. (21-0-1, 17 KOs) of Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mex. scored an upset over Luis Cruz (20-2, 16 KOs) of Puerto Rico, earning a unanimous decision in a fight that could have gone either way.
Felix started out strong, rocking back Cruz a number of times over the first few rounds to build an early lead. Cruz seemingly got back into the fight in round four when he dropped an off-balance Felix with a nicely placed counter shot.
From that point, the fight was nip and tuck with Felix beginning to utilize his movement against Cruz, who had a hard time cutting off the ring and timing him. Both guys did their best work when they countered the other guy, and many in press row were surprised at Felix winning unanimously as it felt like a very close fight ringside.
The scores were 96-94 twice and 97-92 in favor of Felix. Cruz drops his second straight decision and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Felix get a Diego Magdaleno fight before the end of the year.
Fan favorite super heavyweight Andy Ruiz Jr. of Mexicali, Mexico (16-0, 10 KOs) made quick work of Houston’s Maurenzo Smith (10-3-2, 7 KOs), disposing of him in one round. Ruiz, despite his lackluster fitness, has fast hands for a heavyweight. He worked at a slow pace to start but eventually put Smith on his back with a left to the body/right up top combination. Referee Kenny Bayless counted Smith out at 2:11 of the round.
Omaha, Neb. lightweight Terence Crawford opened the night up with an excellent display of boxing, admittedly against a lower-tiered opponent in Hardy Paredes of Osomo, Chile, ultimately stopping him in the 4th round of a scheduled eight with a left hook to the body at the 40 second mark.
Crawford (18-0, 14 KOs) boxed really sharply, not wasting any shots as he dropped Paredes near the end of the 2nd round with a double left hook to the body. Crawford couldn’t miss throughout as he broke Paredes (15-11, 9 KOs) opponent down before the last body shot was met by a chorus of boos, the crowd wondering if the fight had left Paredes more than anything. Joe Cortez definitely thought so, stopping the fight without a count.
Canadian junior middleweight prospect Mikael Zewski (16-0, 12 KOs) needed just three minutes to barrel through Xavier Tolliver (23-9, 15 KOs) of Atlanta, Ga., battering him until the final bell of the opening round, after which referee Jay Nady had seen enough to signal the fight over. Zewski did a good job of trapping his experienced opponent in the corner, especially in the final seconds where he landed some devastating combinations.
Popular ticket seller Jesus Gutierrez (6-0, 2 KOs), a lightweight out of Las Vegas, earned a unanimous decision over Chico, Calif.’s Joaquin Chavez (1-3-2, KO), much to the delight of the crowd.
Among those in attendance at the Hard Rock were Top Rank’s Bob Arum, boxers Miguel Cotto, Mike McCallum, Paulie Ayala and Joel Casamayor, as well as a high number of other reputable names in the sport. Though the fight was a couple of days before either “Big One,” it drew quite a cast of characters.