Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Kieran Mulvaney
INDIO, Calif. -- It is said often that, for boxing to survive and thrive in the modern mass media world, it needs big names and big personalities. Consider the most recent Golden Age of boxing, when the stage was bestrode by the likes of Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, between them assuming the mantle passed by the greatest of them all, Muhammad Ali, before in turn handing the baton to that perfect storm of terror and parody, Mike Tyson.
But if outsized personalities are what helps propel boxing – and indeed any sport – into broader public consciousness, what keeps it ticking over, what captures new fans and maintains existing ones is good, exciting, high-quality fighting. On Saturday night in Fantasy Springs Resort and Casino, the assembled audience and those watching at home on HBO Boxing After Dark can expect just that.
Neither Francisco Vargas nor Miguel Berchelt is much of a trash talker. Neither is a shouter. Neither wears outrageous clothing, drives limited-production, incredibly-expensive supercars, or takes selfies on a private jet. But both denizens of the 130-pound division can fight.
Vargas, in fact, has been in the Fight of the Year two years in a row: last year in a bruising draw against Orlando Salido, and the year before that against Takashi Miura, against whom he rallied from a beating to score a dramatic ninth-round knockout. Vargas may have to produce a third such outing in a row if he’s to overcome the challenge of Miguel Berchelt, who has fought only once outside Mexico and never before on HBO or against someone of Vargas’ caliber, but who appears to have the skills and strength to, at the very least, ask serious questions of his countryman.
Should Berchelt, who breaks down his foes with a multitude of punches including a highly effective version of the patented Mexican left hook to the liver, prevail, he will upset his compatriot’s hopes of a rematch with Miura, who takes on Miguel “Mickey” Roman in the broadcast’s opener.
Berchelt, of course, would be just fine with that.
“Francisco Vargas is a great champion,” he allows. “He’s very valiant and he has a lot of heart. But I bring my own [heart]. It’s two Mexicans in the ring. It’s going to be a great fight. But for me, it’s an opportunity I can’t let go by.”
After back-to-back battles that left him severely bloodied and bruised, Vargas laughs when it is suggested to him that maybe this time he might try to box a little more and slug a little less, to protect the scar tissue that is accumulating on his face and preserve his body for the long haul.
“There is a possibility,” he smiles, “but it all depends on what happens in the fight and what the opponent brings.” In fact, the very word “boxing” causes Vargas to wrinkle his nose. “Box, box, box all night … that’s really not my style,” he says. He is indeed a fighter in the true sense of the word, and he sees as much in his younger opponent, too.
“It’s his opportunity. He has to come with everything. I have to be ready when he comes,” Vargas says, before countering the cautionary note with the closest thing either man comes to any kind of trash talk: “When he feels the power of my punch, it will give him pause.”
And rest assured that once Vargas lands that punch, Berchelt will respond in kind and any early boxing will yield to a true fight once again. That’s something that both main eventers will relish. And so too will the fans.
Weights from Indio:
Francisco Vargas 129.6 pounds | Miguel Berchelt 129.8 pounds
Takashi Miura 129.8 pounds | Miguel Roman 129.2 pounds