We finally got a great fight in 2016. We were well overdue, and it was worth the wait.
Francisco Vargas and Orlando Salido fought to a draw in the kind of bout where hardly anyone cared what the scorecards read: We witnessed, on HBO Saturday night, the best the sport has to offer. Two men with indomitable wills, iron in their gloves and something yet stronger in their chins delivered ring perfection less than a day after Muhammad Ali died.
This excellence occurred even without either man touching the campus. It was just a back-and-forth war, round after round, through all 12.
It took all of two minutes to turn into a brawl. On my card, Vargas was ahead early. Through five, he was controlling the fight, fighting more from the outside, landing more often, boxing slightly better. And every round surpassed the one before it for blistering action.
The 6th, too, went well for him — at least at the beginning. He rocked Salido with a right hand, buckled his knees. But Salido being Salido, he rallied, taking the remainder of the round.
That seemed to fortify the crusty old man, who demonstrated superior energy and kept the steam on his crisp combinations. Make no mistake, neither of these men are masterclass boxers, but they also are smarter in there than they get credit for, and Salido was putting in beautiful work with his combos.
But Salido wasn’t the only comeback artist in the ring. Vargas cemented his status with fans with a comeback of his own against Takashi Miura last time out, and suddenly he found a second wind in the mid-late rounds. He did it even with two nasty cuts, the full length of the crevasses — no exaggeration with that word — unclear until the post-fight interview.
Yet Salido wasn’t done coming back, and trumped Vargas’ comeback with one of his own over the final two rounds. The 6th was a surefire Round of the Year candidate; the 12th threw its hat into the ring, too. That Salido got a little dirty was inevitable, but his low blows and head butts (intentional, this time) did little to take away from the glorious finale.
The scorecards read 115-113 for Salido, 114-114 and 114-114, making it a majority draw. I scored it 115-113 for Vargas, but anybody could’ve won. That it was a draw was fitting. Neither man lost in any true sense of the word. Both men won, with us.
We almost didn’t get this fight because of a bad drug test for Vargas. At the time, that produced mixed emotions. Nobody wanted this fight to be called off; everybody knew it would be special; but failed tests probably ought to lead to a fight being called off. Whatever the wrong message it sent, we’re plenty lucky, independent of that larger question, that Vargas-Salido happened. Because were were all correct: It WAS special.
Vargas didn’t jump at the idea of a rematch, saying he needed to rest. That’s fine. He probably does. The winner of next weekend’s Vasyl Lomachenko-Roman Martinez fight at 130 pounds would make a great match-up with either man, or even the loser would. We’ve seen Salido-Martinez twice, and it was pretty good both times. We’ve seen Salido-Lomachenko, and it would be good again, too. Really, there’s no combination of these four that isn’t terrific.
But that can all wait. As of Saturday, we should all be basking in what we just witnessed. It’s probably worth replaying a few times over the next couple days.
The undercard, unfortunately, sullied things a bit. Featherweight Abraham Lopez somehow took a decision victory at all, and somehow took it 98-92, 97-93 and 97-93. Julian Ramirez deserved the win, and maybe by scores inverse what Lopez got. Lopez fought well, mind you, and we got a pretty good fight, if not great one, but Ramirez was busier and more accurate.
(Orlando Salido connects on Francisco Vargas; via)