Photo: Will Hart
For the knowledgeable boxing fan, there are few matchups that beat a Mexican turf war in the lower weight classes between two high-volume hitters with good knockout records. Such will be the case when Francisco Vargas defends his WBC super featherweight belt against highly regarded contender Miguel Berchelt on Jan. 28 at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif.
Vargas is coming off back-to-back Fight of the Year wars against Takashi Miura and Orlando Salido, respectively, while Berchelt has stopped nine in a row since his only defeat nearly three years ago. Will Vargas again prove he is battle-tested or will Berchelt's talents reveal Vargas to be battle-worn? Either way, it's bombs away!
To Hell and Back: The Miura and Salido wars saw a blood-soaked Vargas roar from behind to pull out a TKO win over the former and a draw from the latter. In winning the title from Miura, Vargas overcame a fourth-round knockdown, cuts over and under the right eye and a punishing eighth round to produce an electrifying knockdown in the ninth. Shortly after, the fight ended. Vargas averaged 82.8 punches per round to Miura's 53.9 and his last-round outburst (33-2 overall, 32-2 power) propelled him to connect leads of 269-166 overall, 65-33 jabs and 204-133 power.
Vargas' attack was even more robust against fellow warrior Salido, as Vargas averaged 98.7 punches per round to Salido's 78.3, jabbed much better (34 thrown/7.3 connects per round to Salido's 10.2/1.0) and lead 386-328 overall and 87-12 jabs (but trailed 316-299 power). That power total -- as well as the severe cuts over both of Vargas' eyes -- led many to believe Salido should have won, but the round-by-round breakdowns reveal Vargas out-landed Salido in nine of the 12 rounds overall, 11-1 in jabs and 6-5-1 in power shots.
How punishing were Vargas' last two fights? The average 130-pounder absorbs 17.4 total punches and 13 power shots per round; against Miura and Salido, Vargas absorbed 23.5 total punches and 21.4 power shots as well as 40.1 percent of his opponents' combined power shots. The good news is that Vargas dished out 31.2 total connects and 24 power connects per round and landed 40.5 percent of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. He'll need to inflict similar pain to the skilled Berchelt. In his last five fights, Vargas averaged 88.8 punches thrown and 30.5 landed, with both numbers well above the weight-class average. He also landed 39.1 percent of his power punches and 7.8 jabs per round. Meanwhile, opponents landed 16 power punches per round, which is above the weight-class average (13).
Mystery Man: This will be Berchelt's first appearance on American TV but those who watch the Spanish-language channels are very familiar with the Mexican's all-around skills. Those skills center around his tremendous jab which, in five CompuBox-tracked fights against Rene Gonzalez (KO 5), Sergio Puente (KO 5), Rolando Giono (KO 3), George Jupp (KO 6) and Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (KO 4), was used 39.5 times per round and recorded 10.1 connects per round, more than double the 4.4 super featherweight average. That jab (whose 26% accuracy is above the 20% division norm) will be a prime weapon against Vargas' cut-prone eyes.
Another favorable factor: Berchelt, like Vargas, has a prolific trigger. He averaged 83.7 punches per round against his five foes and the distribution between jabs and power shots is well-balanced (39.5 jabs, 44.2 power punches). Better yet, he's been an effective defender as he absorbed a combined 19 percent overall, including 10 percent jabs and 26 percent power -- all well below the division averages (30% overall, 20% jabs and 37% power) as well as Vargas' last five CompuBox-tracked fights (30% overall, 16% jabs, 35% power). Offense may attract highlight reels but defense may well be pivotal.
Prediction: Despite his terrific upside, Berchelt is still making a leap up in class and circumstance. He also has yet to fight past the sixth round, so, unlike Vargas, we don't yet know how he'll handle the later rounds. The guess is that Berchelt has the height, reach, volume and power to either box or slug with Vargas as he sees fit, plus he has the jab to cut Vargas to ribbons. Vargas has had a terrific Gatti-like run but it will end here, either by cut-induced TKO or on points.