Mark Magsayo of the Philippines defends his WBC featherweight title against Mexico’s Rey Vargas at the Alamodome, San Antonio on Saturday night. Luke G. Williams previews a genuine 50-50 clash of unbeaten performers…
Mark Magsayo certainly can’t be accused of taking the easy option.
To become WBC featherweight champion the exciting Filipino had to battle his way past the vastly skilled and long reigning title holder Gary Russell Jr in January and now – in his first defence of the green and gold strap – Magsayo (24-0, 16 KOs) faces the highly accomplished and unbeaten Rey Vargas of Mexico in an intriguing headline contest at the Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas this Saturday night.
The 31-year-old Vargas is perhaps one of the most under-rated boxers in the business. Possessing a perfect 35-0 (22 KOs) ledger, the Nacho Beristain trained pugilist ruled as the WBC’s super-bantamweight champion from 2017-2020.
However, a subsequent fracture to his foot, followed by a bout of Covid, has seen Vargas fight just once since 2019. That sole outing came on the undercard of the Canelo Alvarez vs Caleb Plant event last November, as Vargas picked up an easy points win against unheralded Leonardo Baez. It was a low-key contest that proved inconclusive in what it taught us about whether Vargas is the same fighter he was a few years ago.
At super-bantam, Vargas was adept at using his jab, and proved himself a canny and technically sound operator whether moving forward or backwards. At just over 5’10” tall and with a 70” reach it must also be said that he looks like the ideal physical specimen to give the squatter and shorter Magsayo fits (the Filipino is 5’6” with a 68” reach).
Despite his recent lack of activity, Vargas is certainly talking a good fight.
“I’ve been preparing well for this fight.”
“I’m always looking to improve and step into the ring as the very best version of myself. The hard work is done, now I’m just focusing on what’s going to happen on fight night.”
“My goal is to dominate this fight and bring the title back to Mexico. I fight for my Mexican people and my family, and I work hard every day to make them proud. I’m not overconfident, but I know how hard I worked and what I’m capable of.”
“Magsayo will come out strong with lots of energy, but we will counter that. That’s when we’ll tear his head off. Mexico vs. Philippines has always been a great rivalry. It’s a guaranteed, can’t-miss show. This fight is not going to be the exception.”
For his part, Magsayo has urged Vargas to stand toe-to-toe and fight, although he has made it clear he expects the Mexican to box on the retreat. “I’m facing a fighter who’s usually going backwards,” the 27-year-old said. “He’s tall, so that’s always his plan. I’m hoping he doesn’t run too much in this fight. If I’m able to get to the right distance with him, I’m going to get the knockout.
“I’m prepared for anything he brings. I’ve gotten great sparring with guys who move, guys who go toe-to-toe and everything in between. It doesn’t matter how he fights, I’ll be ready for it. My footwork is definitely very important in this fight.”
“Just like against Gary Russell Jr., I’m going to have to make adjustments. I’m not expecting him to mix it up with me.”
The outcome of the bout will most likely rest on whether Magsayo can close the distance and cut off the ring sufficiently to chop Vargas down. The Filipino is full of heart and spirit – as he showed in spades against Julio Ceja in a thrilling eliminator which featured several dramatic shifts in momentum before Magsayo landed a spectacular tenth-round knockout. Magsayo also impressed against the technically brilliant Russell Jr, albeit with the caveat that the latter was clearly inconvenienced by a shoulder injury and at times was fighting one-handed.
In the final analysis, this is a genuine 50-50 fight which could swing either way. Vargas has shown vulnerabilities in the past, particularly early on in fights, having been decked in the second round of contests against Franklin Manzanilla, Manuel Gonzalez Garcia and Silvester Lopez. This factor, combined with Vargas’ lengthy absence from the ring and his lack of experience at 126lbs compared to Magsayo – who has proven power at the weight – leads me to lean slightly towards the Filipino winning via a late knockout, perhaps while trailing on the scorecards. However, a clear and comfortable Vargas win on points would also not surprise me, given the Mexican’s superior technique.