Savage Science on display with Berchelt-Vargas, Miura-Roman
INDIO, Calif. – HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” doubleheader from Fantasy Springs Casino on Saturday was not a fight card for the faint of heart.
Both bouts promised blood and guts and both delivered. The Sweet Science was not on display during Miguel Berchelt’s 11th-round stoppage of Francisco Vargas or Takashi Miura’s 12th-round stoppage of Miguel Roman, but the Savage Science certainly was.
The four co-featured fighters exhibited a lot of offensive technique and strong wills that thrilled the blood-thirsty ghouls that chose to watch the card over the excellent doubleheader offered on Showtime the same night, but probably not enough defensive savvy, lateral movement and holding for the pugilistic pacifists out there.
Fans that define “boxing skill” as evasive tactics and technical athleticism (with a smidge of offense) who missed this B.A.D doubleheader need not bother watching the replay. These fights were too punishing, too bloody. The so-called purists would be better served going to a ballet performance. There’s amazing technique, poise, balance, and artistic athleticism on display and NO PUNCHING! (Hey, the sanctimonious slobs might as well get some culture if they’re going to act like they’re too high and mighty to enjoy a good old fashioned fist fight.)
It’s their loss if they write off a talented young boxer like Berchelt just because he makes for entertaining fights. The unheralded 25-year-old Cancun native proved to be more than just a puncher in Saturday’s main event, which saw him expertly batter the previously unbeaten WBC 130-pound beltholder into bloody submission 2 minutes and 19 seconds into Round 11.
Berchelt (31-1, 28 knockouts) proved to a skeptical boxing public that he possesses considerable skill, technique and heart to go along with his ballyhooed power (which was indeed for real). Many doubted Berchelt’s chances against Vargas (23-1-2, 17 KOs) because:
- He had suffered a first-round stoppage loss to an unknown fighter nine bouts ago, and
- Vargas had proven his mettle in back-to-back Fight-of-the-Year battles against Miura in 2015 and Orlando Salido in 2016.
However, Berchelt reminded fans and media that a knockout loss doesn’t always signify the end of a fighter’s career, and there’s a fine line between being battle tested and battle worn. Vargas, a 32-year-old Mexico City native, may have lost a step during his grueling title bouts against Miura, who he had to rally to stop in nine rounds, and Salido, who fought him to a breathtaking 12-round draw.
“Francisco is a great champion,” Berchelt graciously said after the fight, “he has fought the best and has been in two Fight-of-the-Year contests.
“I knew what I was getting into. He has great heart. I left my heart and soul on the mat. I am young and hungry, and I want to fight the best because that is how champions are made.”
Berchelt did exactly what a young and hungry challenger should do when sharing the ring with an older, battle-scarred champion, he boldly pushed Vargas off the proverbial ledge. Although it must be noted that the defending titleholder did not go quietly.
Vargas battled through the gruesome facial lacerations and swelling that have become his trademark, had moments of success in Rounds 6, 7 and 8 when it seemed as though Berchelt, who had never fought past six rounds, was doubting his stamina, and lasted as long as he possibly could (and probably a few rounds longer than he should have been allowed to) when Berchelt caught his second wind and put an unmerciful beating on him.
Vargas’ spirit was willing but his facial flesh was too weak to hold up under Berchelt’s relentless one-two combinations.
“It was a tough fight,” Vargas said in an understatement that was as gross as the bleeding gash over his left eye. “(Berchelt is) young with a lot of heart and passion and hunger. He cut me, and I just wasn’t able to see because the blood kept coming into my eyes.
“I am not the type of fighter to give in, and I will always be fighting. I am a warrior, and I will be that to the very end. I probably would have kept going if they wouldn’t have stopped the fight.”
In stopping Vargas, THE RING’s No. 2-rated junior lightweight going into Saturday’s fight, Berchelt stamped himself as a legitimate player in the deep 130-pound division. The next time U.S. fans watch him fight, they won’t doubt him. In fact, they will probably have the same expectations they had for Vargas, which was the guarantee of a thrilling shootout or battle of attrition.
And they’ll likely get what they want because Berchelt will probably be facing Miura, whose final-round stoppage of Roman is an early Fight-of-the-Year candidate.
Miura (31-3-2, 23 KOs), a 32-year-old former WBC beltholder from Akita, Japan, had only fought one round – a first-round stoppage of an over-matched opponent in Tokyo last May – since losing his title to Vargas, but the southpaw slugger hadn’t forgotten how to hold his own in a barnburner or what had earned him a place among the top 130-pounders: his sledgehammer left hand and a willingness to walk through fire.
Miura and Roman (56-12, 43 KOs), who carried an 18-bout win streak and a lot of confidence into the ring, battled on even terms during the early rounds. When the 31-year-old veteran from Ciudad Juarez, got the better of Miura during brutal infighting in the middle rounds of the bout, the Japanese warrior sucked it up and continued to fire his left cross, occasionally mixing in hard right hooks to the body and head.
Miura’s technique fell off as fatigue and Roman’s body attack took their toll, but his spirit never wilted, and neither did his punching power. A wrecking-ball left to the body dropped Roman hard in the final seconds of Round 10 and firmly turned the bout in Miura’s favor. Only a chants from the heavily Mexican crowd inside the Special Events Center and fierce pride allowed Roman to get up from an 11th-round knockdown (which occurred from an accumulation of power shots with his back to the ropes) and last into Round 12 when a left cross to the chin finally put him down for the count.
“These are the types of fights that I want,” said Miura, who has a history of hardscrabble fights against Mexican fighters. “I want the winner of Vargas-Berchelt next.”
Miura, the WBC’s No. 1-rated junior lightweight, will get his wish as his fight with Roman was a WBC title-elimination bout and Berchelt’s promoter, Fernando Beltran of Zanfer Promotions, told members of press row that his fighter would honor the sanctioning organization’s mandate.
Does HBO want Berchelt-Miura? One has to figure that the network is interested even though the fighters aren’t well known in the U.S. The bottom line is that they make for the kind of all-action scraps that put the “Boxing After Dark” series on the map – dramatic shootouts like Arturo Gatti vs. Wilson Rodriguez, scintillating battles of attrition like Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Kennedy McKinney, or 12-round wars like the first showdown between Erik Morales and Barrera.
Barrera-McKinney (the first B.A.D. main event) and Gatti-Rodriguez took place almost 20 years ago; Morales-Barrera I took place in 2000, but fans still rave about these fights. Those fights helped convert a lot of casual boxing observers into hardcore fans.
Berchelt vs. Miura or either fighter in a rematch with Vargas or in a showdown with Salido, who was ringside for Saturday’s action, are the kind of fights that will make a new generation of hardcore boxing fans.
Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer