Rey Vargas hopes to return to the top. Photo by Laurent Lustig
LAS VEGAS – For two years, from 2017 to 2019, Rey Vargas held the WBC world junior featherweight title and dominated his title defenses.
He won the vacant 122-pound road belt in England by split decision over Gavin McDonnell, then won five straight title defenses, all by wide decision.
Vargas of Mexico beat a solid collection of contenders in those defenses: Ronny Rios, Oscar Negrete, Azat Hovhannisyan, Franklin Manzanilla and former world bantamweight champion Tomoki Kameda.
By the time he beat Kameda in July 2017, Vargas was widely regarded as the No.1 fighter in the weight class, but he hasn’t fought since.
A lot has happened with Vargas over the past two and a half years. He left his title with the intention of switching to featherweight; has had its promotional contract with Golden Boy Promotions expire; aligned with Premier Boxing Champions; and suffered a fractured left leg.
After this long layoff, Vargas is finally ready to return to the ring against Leonardo Baez (21-4, 12 KOs), 26, of Mexico, in a 10-round featherweight fight on the Canelo Alvarez-Caleb undercard. Plant Saturday (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET, $ 79.99) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“I am very proud to fight on this card. I can’t wait to show everyone what I can do after two years away. I’m ready for Saturday, ”Vargas said through an interpreter on Thursday. “If you think I’m rusty, you couldn’t be more wrong. I’m here to show that I can still fight. I am still a competitor. We’ll see what happens on Saturday, but I’m confident in my abilities.
WBC featherweight titlist Gary Russell Jr. has a mandatory defense pending against Mark Magsayo in a fight set to take place in early 2022. If Vargas defeats Baez, he will be the next mandatory challenger, a bout the president will take on. WBC’s Mauricio Sulaiman told The Ring winner Russell-Masayo will be next.
“If the fight with Gary Russell Jr. is on the table then I’ll be ready to take it and go for the featherweight title,” Vargas said. “At the moment, we are only focusing on Saturday and nothing after that.”
Vargas (34-0, 22 KOs), who will turn 31 later this month, tried to explain why he found himself in such a prolonged layoff when he appeared to be in his prime.
“The layoff I had happened for a number of reasons,” Vargas said. “I had a situation with my former promoter (Golden Boy) and my contract was over. I respectfully informed them of this and wanted to let six to eight months pass and then start over. “
Then Vargas signed with PBC but said he had potential fights called off three or four times “then a pandemic happened.” The broken leg has also hampered his plans for a comeback. Put it all together, and it led to a much longer layoff than Vargas had anticipated.
“But this is all a thing of the past now,” Vargas said. “I’m ready for an incredible fight on Saturday.”