Holding the distinction as the first (and subsequently only) notable welterweight fighter signed to Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport after the promoter inked a historic $1 billion deal with DAZN in 2018, it was apropos, in a way, that Jessie Vargas would be one of the competitors involved in the streaming service’s first significant 147-pound bout just two years later.
Vargas (29-2-2, 11 KOs), a former two-division champion, was on the verge of taking his career north to junior middleweight in search of a third world title when Hearn recently signed Mikey Garcia (39-1, 30 KOs) to a one-fight deal with options.
The pair of exciting Mexican-American fighters will square off Saturday (DAZN, 8 p.m. ET) in a welterweight duel inside The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, that has both fighters hoping a victory lifts them to a summer showdown with WBA champion Manny Pacquiao.
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With DAZN noticeably thin at welterweight and junior middleweight, Vargas’ hope of challenging Jaime Munguia for his 154-pound title went up in smoke when the exciting Mexican slugger moved up to middleweight.
Instead, the 30-year-old Vargas will hold advantages of five inches in height and three inches in reach against Garcia, who hasn’t fought in 11 months since a one-sided loss to unified champion Errol Spence Jr.
“I was looking forward to the 154-pound division and becoming a world champion but this opportunity came and I’m in this position where I can still make welterweight with plenty of sacrifice but I feel comfortable at 154 as well,” Vargas told CBS Sports’ “State of Combat” podcast in December. “It’s well worth it when it comes to giving the fight fans what they want.”
The narrative that Garcia could be entering a trap fight against the aggressive Vargas, who has evolved into an elite body puncher, has become the main storyline entering the fight. Garcia, 32, could’ve sought lucrative fights at 140 or 135 pounds, not to mention an easy tuneup.
Instead, the four-division champion lived up to his recent reputation as a dare-to-be-great fighter who seeks legacy above financial reward.
“I wanted to get a fight that made sense and could get the people excited,” Garcia told CBS Sports. “Being that Jessie Vargas is a two-division world champion and one of the best to get in the ring, and his only defeats came to Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley, that tells you the kind of fighter that Jessie really is. I know he’s going to be hungry and motivated. That’s going to bring out the best of me.
“[The size difference] is part of the challenge and why I took this fight. It is a challenge and I get to show everybody what I can do. This fight is going to answer all those questions.”
Vargas was originally known as a slick boxer during his days as a junior welterweight titleholder. He began to step on the gas pedal more at 147 pounds following a decision loss to Bradley in which he scored a knockdown late in Round 12 and briefly thought he had won the fight due to referee indecision.
A knockout of unbeaten Sadam Ali followed as Vargas captured the vacant WBO title he would lose to Pacquiao eight months later. From there, Vargas has almost rebuilt himself exclusively as a come-forward fighter who settled for draws in competitive shootouts with Adrien Broner and Thomas Dulorme in 2018.
“I want to give my fans excitement and if it needs to be in the clinch sometimes and let my hands go, I need to do that,” Vargas said. “I don’t want to give my fans any boredom, as cliche as it sounds. If it that means taking a punch or two, I’m willing to do that and it has become my style. I think it’s a characteristic that fans have come to expect from me.”
This fight card is pretty deep with fighters hardcore fans can’t get enough of, including a pair of title fights. Julio Cesar Martinez takes on Jay Harris in the co-main event as Martinez defends his WBC flyweight title. The 25-year-old Mexican boxer is coming off a ninth-round TKO in December over Cristofer Rosales. Harris is undefeated in 17 professional bouts with nine knockouts.
Fight card, odds
Mikey Garcia -500
Jessie Vargas +350
Julio Cesar Martinez -800Jay Harris +550WBC flyweight title
Khalid Yafai -125
Roman Gonzalez +105
WBA super flyweight title
Joseph Parker N/A
Shawndell Winters N/A
There is huge potential for this to be a shootout given Vargas’ size advantage and pressure style. Unless Garcia can significantly hurt him early with his trademark accurate counter shots, expect to see a 12-round version of high-speed chess between two skilled fighters.
The key will be how well Garcia can establish himself from a physical standpoint in the new division. Was his loss to Spence more a showcase of what makes the unbeaten southpaw one of the most well-rounded fighters in the game or was it a warning sign that Garcia may be over his head in terms of weight?
Although he was able to outbox Broner, who gave Vargas all he could handle, with ease in their 2017 bout at 140 pounds, Garcia took legitimate damage in his only other fight at the weight class when he edged Sergey Lipinets to claim the IBF title in 2018.
The possibility of seeing Garcia have to fight his way out of trouble in order to win against Vargas is the main hook in why this has become such an anticipated fight. If Vargas has an easy time going to the body, this could be a long night for Garcia who typically does his best work countering from the outside.
At the end of the day, Garcia may just be too skilled not to be able to sway the judges. He’ll need to be active enough to do so but the chin he showed against Spence late suggests at the very least he has the punch resistance to compete at welterweight, even if his power doesn’t have the same damaging affect it had at 135 pounds.
Pick: Garcia via UD12
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