Friday, March 24, 2023  |



Rey Vargas outpoints Tomoki Kameda in awkward, disappointing WBC 122-pound title bout

Rey Vargas takes it to Tomoki Kameda. Photo by Tom Hogan / Golden Boy Promotions

CARSON, California — It wasn’t the kind of stirring action fight we’ve come to expect from a Mexico-vs.-Japan matchup, but Rey Vargas, The Ring’s No. 2-rated junior featherweight, was busy and effective enough to earn a comfortable decision over game challenger Tomoki Kameda on Saturday at the Dignity Health Sports Park.

What wasn’t comfortable for Vargas was all the booing he received from the fans in attendance, and it wasn’t just from Kameda’s vocal, drum-beating cheering section that made a lot of noise during the fight, which was streamed live on DAZN — the disapproval came from Mexican fans.

Vargas and the WBC 122-pound belt. Photo by Tom Hogan / Golden Boy Promotions

Vargas (34-0, 22 KOs), who won by unanimous scores of 117-110, made the fifth defense of his WBC 122-pound title, a strap that has been up for grabs in several Mexico-vs.-Japan matchups over the decades. In the 1990s and early 2000s, hall-of-famer Daniel Zaragoza and Oscar Larios defended the green belt numerous times in Japan. In recent years, however, Japanese stars Toshiaki Nishioka and Hozumi Hasegawa got the better of top Mexican contenders and veterans.

Vargas scored one for Mexico, but it’s not the kind of victory that fans from his country will beat their chests about. Mexican fans love winners but they love great fights even more.

“The idea was to throw a lot of punches and to have a very intelligent fight,” Vargas said during his post-fight interview. “I believe that we made this a very smart fight, an intelligent one. This is a boxer’s style, to fight with precision. I believe that he brought a lot of fans from Japan and that’s why they don’t agree with the decision.”

Nobody had a problem with the decision, it was the lack of action that agitated the crowd. At least Kameda tried to make a fight of it, which is why he was cheered during his gracious post-fight interview.

“I want to say thank you to everyone,” said Kameda, who was often the aggressor and appeared to be the harder puncher. “I recognize Vargas. I believe that he won the fight tonight and I respect him as a champion. He won. I need to learn and to practice more in order to get another chance to be champion again. I am very grateful for all the Mexican people.”

Perhaps expectations for this fight shouldn’t have been very high.

Despite their heated words during fight-week events and the proud boxing traditions of their countries, nobody could be sure how the Vargas-Kameda matchup would turn out. Vargas is a well-schooled boxer (as he should be, his coach and mentor is hall of famer Nacho Beristain) but he is painfully awkward and isn’t afraid to stink out a fight. Kameda was a hot bantamweight for a years and the 28-year-old Osaka native had a good story — as a 15-year-old he’d moved to Mexico (where he lost an amateur bout to Vargas), learned the language and embraced the culture. However, American fans hadn’t seen him since he dropped back-to-back decisions to Jamie McDonnell in Texas in 2015.

And sometimes styles DON’T make fights.

Vargas lands a long-range bomb to Kameda. Photo by Tom Hogan / Golden Boy Promotions

Vargas, who stands nearly 5-foot-11, is ridiculously tall for a junior featherweight. The 28-year-old Mexico City native was able to take advantage of his height and reach with a long-range jab, right-hand pot shots and lateral movement in enough rounds to get into his herky jerky rhythm and frustrate Kameda, who seemed be in search of a one-punch KO. Kameda had success in spots, usually when he was able to pin Vargas against the ropes, but he was often tied up on the inside by Vargas. The judges obviously rewarded Vargas for his activity and ring generalship.

Despite the loss to a very difficult titleholder, Kameda could still make for good matchups at 122 pounds. He’s got the kind of mentality and personality that hardcore fans appreciate (and his Spanish trash-talk game doesn’t hurt his marketability to the Latino market).

What’s next for Vargas? The WBC beltholder set himself up for either a mandatory showdown with Cuban veteran Guillermo Rigondeaux or a unification bout with WBA/IBF titleholder Danny Roman, who was ringside.

“Danny Roman,” Vargas called out during his post-fight interview, “we need to unify titles, why not? I want all three titles. Danny, we are ready. I am ready whenever you want to fight. You know when a Mexican fights another Mexican, it’s a war.”

That’s usually true, Rey, but don’t make any promises to the fans that you can’t keep.


Email Fischer at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter and IG at @dougiefischer, and watch him on Periscope every Sunday from SMC track.


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