Vargas promises to pick up where he left off and wants Gary Russell
LAS VEGAS – For two years, from 2017 to 2019, Rey Vargas held the WBC junior featherweight world title and dominated his title defenses.
He won the vacant 122-pound belt on the road in England by split decision over Gavin McDonnell and then won five consecutive title defenses, all by wide decision.
Vargas, of Mexico, beat a solid collection of contenders in those defenses: Ronny Rios, Oscar Negrete, Azat Hovhannisyan, Franklin Manzanilla and former bantamweight world titlist Tomoki Kameda.
By the time he beat Kameda in July 2017, Vargas was widely viewed as the No. 1 fighter in the weight class, but he has not fought since.
A lot has happened with Vargas over the past 2½ years. He vacated his title with the plan to move up to featherweight; saw his promotional deal with Golden Boy Promotions expire; aligned himself with Premier Boxing Champions; and suffered a broken left leg.
After that long layoff, Vargas is finally set to return to the ring against Leonardo Baez (21-4, 12 KOs), 26, of Mexico, in a 10-round featherweight bout on the Canelo Alvarez-Caleb Plant undercard on Saturday (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET, $79.99) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“I’m very proud to be fighting on this card. I’m eager to show everyone what I can do after two years away. I’m ready for Saturday,” Vargas said through an interpreter on Thursday. “If you think that I’m rusty, you could not be more wrong. I’m here to show that I can still bring the fight. I’m still very much a contender. We’ll see what happens on Saturday, but I’m confident in my skills.”
WBC featherweight titlist Gary Russell Jr. has a pending mandatory defense to make against Mark Magsayo in a bout that is likely to take place in early 2022. If Vargas beats Baez, he will be the next mandatory challenger, a fight that WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman told The Ring that the Russell-Masayo winner would be ordered to make next.
“If the fight with Gary Russell Jr. is on the table, then I’ll be ready to take it and go after the featherweight title,” Vargas said. “Right now though, we’re just focused on Saturday and nothing past that.”
Vargas (34-0, 22 KOs), who turns 31 later this month, tried to explain why he wound up in such a protracted layoff right when he seemed to be at his peak.
“The layoff I’ve had has happened for a couple of different reasons,” Vargas said. “I had a situation with my former promoter (Golden Boy) and my contract had ended. I respectfully made them aware of that and I wanted to let six to eight months pass and then start anew.”
Then Vargas signed with PBC but said he had potential fights called off three or four times “and then pandemic happened.” The broken leg also hindered his plans to return. Put it all together, and it led to a layoff far longer than Vargas had planned for.
“But all of that is in the past now,” Vargas said. “I’m ready for an amazing fight on Saturday.”