Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
If any fight can be simultaneously highly anticipated and under the radar, Saturday’s StubHub main event between Francisco Vargas and Orlando Salido on HBO Boxing After Dark (10:30 PM ET/PT) surely fits the bill.
Barely a blip on the broader sports radar, overshadowed by NBA and NHL Finals and the upcoming summer of soccer, among hardcore boxing fans it is generating anticipation to the point of salivation. The feeling of understatement that has pervaded fight week is at least partly a reflection of the two combatants’ personalities: Vargas is friendly and outgoing, and smiles at the memory of his recent brutal war with Takashi Miura and the prospect of another bloodbath with Salido; his fellow Mexican, in contrast, rarely seems to smile or laugh, but the brooding menace that courses through his veins rarely if ever bursts through to the surface until he steps between the ropes.
But for those who know what each man is capable of doing to the other, Saturday evening cannot come soon enough. The aforementioned Vargas-Miura battle was not only adjudged 2015’s Fight of the Year; it was the kind of contest that lingers long in the memory and is destined to forever be featured in highlight reels and Discovery Channel documentaries on the limits of human endurance. Salido’s career, meanwhile, has generally alternated between brutal beatdowns of foes who cannot match his strength and intensity and back-and-forth brawls in which, win or lose, he hits the deck once, twice or three times.
If there is a pessimistic note sounded by any pre-fight prognosticators, it is that the two men’s penchant for exciting battle will work against them on Saturday, that perhaps their meeting will be one fight too far for the veteran Salido or a little too early for a Vargas who still visibly carries the scars of the mayhem with Miura. The likelihood is, however, that the clash will be one for the ages and that, after all the relative niceties and the expressions of genuine mutual respect, the glowers they exchanged in front of an excited crowd at the weigh-in are but a precursor to an evening to remember.
“We are warriors,” explained the deadpan Salido when asked why he believes the fight is destined to set pulses racing. Vargas, after professing the need to fight intelligently and use his boxing skills, accepts that the battle will nonetheless eventually devolve into trench warfare.
“Without a question,” he said. “At one point it is going to happen. Without a question.”
Don’t be surprised if that point is at the opening bell. In a sport that constantly devises ways to disappoint, this feels as much of a can’t-miss matchup as any in recent times.
Official weights from Carson, California:
Francisco Vargas 129.6 lbs
Orlando Salido 130 lbs
Julian Ramirez 125. 4 lbs
Abraham Lopez 125.6 lbs