Photos: Will Hart
By Eric Raskin
On rare occasions, one look at the winner’s face can tell you everything you need to know about a fight. Francisco Vargas’ right eye was slammed shut, his cheek gashed, his entire visage discolored and lumped up—and you shoulda seen the other guy. Vargas dished out ultra-violence, went through hell, then pulled out a minor miracle to triumph over Takashi Miura in the co-feature to Cotto-Canelo, earning a 130-pound title belt and quite possibly longer-lasting recognition as the victor in 2015’s Fight of the Year.
The bout between the unbeaten Mexican challenger and the southpaw titleholder from Japan was nearly over inside half a round, as Vargas clipped Miura with a short right hand that made his knees dip within an inch or two of the canvas. How Miura stayed on his feet throughout the ensuing onslaught is a mystery. But not only did he escape the round without a knockdown (though it probably should have been scored 10-8 anyway), he soon took over the fight. From rounds three through eight, Miura stalked, strafed Vargas with left hands, raked his body, and dished out a systematic beating—highlighted by a fourth-round knockdown with a straight left. The 2008 Mexican Olympian could barely see the left hands coming, and a mercy stoppage seemed to be in the offing.
But then the pendulum swung one more shocking and decisive time. Vargas hurt Miura with a straight right hand just seconds into the ninth round, and followed up with a crushing right uppercut and left hook, causing Miura’s legs to all but liquefy as he dropped and needed two tries to get up. But get up he did, beating Tony Weeks’ count and insisting he could continue. Vargas unloaded every punch in his arsenal; Miura (29-3-2, 22 KOs) held on. The Japanese warrior tried to stand his ground, but Vargas (23-0-1, 17 KOs) kept firing and found the perfect combination of blows to convince Weeks to wave off the contest at 1:31 of the round.
Early on, we thought we were watching an epic comeback by Takashi Miura. A few rounds later, Francisco Vargas showed us what an epic comeback truly looked like. There was no possible better way to prime a rabid fight crowd for the main event.