Fight of the Year Nominations:
Krzysztof Glowacki KO11 Marco Huck
Lucas Matthysse MD12 Ruslan Provodnikov
Sergey Kovalev TKO8 Jean Pascal
Ryan Karl TKO5 Ken Alvarez
James DeGale W12 Lucian Bute
Francisco Vargas TKO9 Takashi Miura
Roman Martinez D12 Orlando Salido
Winner: Francisco Vargas TKO9 Takashi Miura
As both Mexico and Japan have long, distinguished histories in boxing, it makes perfect sense that a rivalry might spark between the two countries. A Mexico vs Japan rivalry, if it can be officially called that, extends back to the 1970s with fighters like Shozo Saijo, Ruben Olivares and Shig Fukuyama. Francisco Vargas’ gutsy win over Takashi Miura was an extension of wars past, but in 2015 it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs Miguel Cotto in November was 2015’s chance to redeem itself for the Mayweather vs Pacquiao debacle, the strange Premier Boxing Champions experiment, and the overall lack of entertaining, high quality fights. In the main event, two of boxing’s biggest stars were expected to best the sport’s biggest event, at least in terms of fun, and it was a match that meant something and was happening at the right time. But many boxing fans knew Vargas vs Miura might swoop in and steal the show.
While Vargas couldn’t equal the experience of Miura, who had defeated four Mexican opponents in his previous five bouts and earned the nickname “Mexican Assassin,” the 2008 Olympian, dubbed “El Bandido,” was installed as a slight favorite to nab Miura’s WBC super featherweight belt. And early on, the match looked to be headed that way in a hurry. Just over one minute into the opening round, a right hand nearly deposited Miura onto the canvas. The punch and the subsequent rally was taxing enough that it may have been better for the champion to take a knee for a few moments. However, he not only survived but rebounded to cut and swell Vargas up with some fierce work on the inside in round two.
Rather than tighten his defenses, Miura absorbed much of what was thrown his way, hoping only to slam home a southpaw left hand in return. A few of those lefts plus some well-placed headbutts in round three had Vargas bleeding from his right cheek between rounds, and when the Mexican stopped moving for too long in the fourth, a hard left caught him flush and sent him down. Just like that, the fight had essentially evened-up and momentum swung sharply in Miura’s favor.
The state of Vargas’ right eye and cheek deteriorated quickly, and a steady body assault looked to weaken his legs in the fifth. Likely sensing urgency, Vargas made an offensive stand in a riveting round six, taking some horrible body shots as the two men continually swapped power for power. It was an exhilarating war: gritty and stifling, but also tragic in that it was impossible not to believe both men’s physical primes were being shortened with every thudding blow.
Boxing well and using angles helped Vargas keep his output high, but he was still being found by Miura’s left despite his moving away from it and circling. Miura was just tenacious and reckless in rounds seven and eight, closing the eighth by trapping a wobbly Vargas on the ropes and unloading. While recklessness would catch up with him in the end, at this point it appeared Miura was on the verge of a stoppage win.
They had to manually pry Vargas’ eye open prior to the ninth, but he went straight to Miura and landed two right hands to deck his opponent just seconds into the round. Miura flopped about before scrambling up on shaky legs, gallantly raising his arms before action resumed. Unable to clinch or rally, the brave Japanese warrior did his best to stay in it, but was eating too many right hands for referee Tony Weeks’ liking. Fittingly, Miura lost while still trying to battle back in 2015’s Fight of the Year.
The explosive conclusion woke the crowd of the Mandalay Bay, as they had otherwise somewhat quietly watched two 130-pound men beat the hell out of each other for eight savage rounds. It was a thrilling battle with a startling and unexpected finish. The shifts in momentum and the rate at which both combatants were able to unload and withstand punishment throughout are what set Vargas vs Miura apart from the other Fight of the Year contenders in 2015, all of which are exciting struggles in their own right.
Beyond the fight itself, with the win Vargas emerged as a serious threat to a super featherweight division already packed with quality fighters. Fellow belt-holders like Jose Pedraza and Roman Martinez would both offer stiff challenges and a chance to capitalize on Mexico’s more popular rivalry with Puerto Rico. But should Vargas want a sturdier claim to supremacy at 130, a swipe at WBA titlist Takashi Uchiyama would capitalize on the sport’s emerging new Mexico vs Japan rivalry. As of course would a rematch with Miura. — Patrick Connor