The entire boxing world may be in a state of mourning, but the sport must continue to function, even if only to distract the masses. Thankfully two Mexican warriors, Francisco Vargas and Orlando Salido, engaged in what could only be described as the leading contender for “Fight of the Year” on HBO, providing much more than just a diversion for the crowd at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. Though the battle ended in a majority draw, the lack of a decisive winner in no way detracted from the visceral thrills these two incredibly tough gladiators gave us.
Vargas fought off Takashi Miura in The Fight City’s “Fight of the Year” for 2015, so it made sense that this showdown with a gritty road warrior like Salido would turn into a bruising affair. For his part, Salido has participated in a contender for the award every year since 2011, save for 2013. Vargas vs Salido had war written all over it, and both men welcomed the violence when it became unavoidable.
Now 23-0-2 with 17 knockouts, Vargas retained the WBC super featherweight belt with the draw, and his early work with the jab was no doubt a factor in the scoring. In the first two rounds Vargas controlled the pace and distance with his jab while Salido had difficulty drawing in the younger man. It seemed like finally the 35-year-old may have realized his age, but then Salido surged in rounds three and four, finding a home for his patented body attack and clearly slowing Vargas down. Most importantly, Salido’s resistance signaled to Vargas that standing his ground would be necessary if he was to get past the experienced veteran.
Rounds five through seven could all be considered for “Round of the Year,” as all three offered furious back-and-forth action. Of the 204 total punches thrown in round five, for instance, only one was a jab. And both men followed up that round with more intense skirmishing before Vargas appeared to be shutting down and letting Salido have his way in round eight.
It wasn’t over, though, and Vargas made an impressive stand in rounds nine and ten before Salido did the same in 11 and 12. The rough collisions and booming punches made for swollen mugs on both men, but Vargas walked away with serious cuts near both eyes that will require time to heal. Suffice to say, both men made huge sacrifices to produce a battle worthy of inclusion in any list of great Mexico vs Mexico clashes.
One card reading 115-113 for Vargas was overruled by two cards with 114-114 scores, but somehow the draw wasn’t a tough pill to swallow. While Salido won his rounds more decisively, Vargas still matched him in tenacity and out-worked him for stretches, and ultimately there really wasn’t much separating the two. At 43-13-4 with one no contest and 30 knockouts, Salido’s record is the most deceptive of any top level fighter in boxing, and a rematch is not only welcome, but deserved on his part.
In the featherweight co-feature Abraham Lopez and Julian Ramirez delivered their own entertaining scrap over ten rounds, but Lopez walked away with an unlikely unanimous verdict. Through the first half of the bout, it was a battle pitting Ramirez’s body work against Lopez’s uppercuts and movement, but both fighters were rocked or stunned at a few different points. Ramirez appeared to have the edge going into the later rounds of the fight, but he slowed down, allowing Lopez to open up more with his offense.
The entertaining scrap ended as it began: both men moving their hands and trying to seize the win. Two cards read 97-93 — questionable enough — but a laughable third card reading 98-92 brought Lopez’s record to 21-0-1 with 15 knockouts. But for as many eyebrows as the strange decision raised, Ramirez’s deceleration at key points in the contest was worthy of criticism. But based on the scorecards, one might surmise that Ramirez never had a chance to win no matter what he did. And that is disturbing. His record falls to 16-1 with 8 knockouts. — Patrick Connor