On Saturday night, Manny Pacquiao will face Chris Algieri on HBO PPV, but on the undercard a bout looms that may focus more on where the division is going. Jessie Vargas will defend his WBA world lightweight title against Antonio DeMarco in what could be a coup de gras for who faces Pacquiao next if he is able to win.
Vargas has silently become a champion and built up a bit of hatred along the way, mostly unfairly. It essentially started as hatred and jealously in the begining as he was alined with Mayweather Promotions fighting on major pay-per-views for abnormal sums of money early in his career. So began his critics as he began to underwhelm fans, think of the Steve Forbes fight. Vargas had a fight of the year type bout with Josesito Lopez that continued to sway public interest away from him as fans looked disgusted when he was awarded the victory as it appeared to many fans that Lopez won.
It came as a bit of a surprise when Vargas moved to Top Rank, but it seemed that the move was essentially for bigger money bouts i.e. Manny Pacquiao. In fact it didn’t resonate with me until I was in Las Vegas, NV for Pacquiao-Marquez IV and attended a card that Vargas headlined that I realized it happened. Much like Vargas’ career up until this point he has been very good but lived in anonymity. Even though we know his name and can paraphrase a style, it is hard to really remember off hand his last three fights.
Vargas follows a narrative of a UFC fighter, Fabrico Werdum, who enjoys playing the background and subtly just wins time and time again. Vargas may just be one of the best in the division in either welterweight or junior welterweight , but somehow is largely unnoticed. Vargas spent the last two years looking mortal as he fought a tough fight against Wale Omotoso at welterweight in Carson, CA that was overshadowed by the fight of the year of Tim Bradley versus Ruslan Provodnikov.
In one of the most enjoyable fights of the past year, Vargas fought Khabib Allakhverdiev to win the WBA junior welterweight title in a very competitive fight, but once again the narrative was not about grit, but rather that he barely won again. In August, Vargas returned again against Anton Novikov and was once again criticized for the wide scorecards and inability to keep the unknown Nokivkov off him.
Vargas needs to look good against Antonio DeMarco this weekend. If he can put together a dominant performance like Bradley did when he fought on the undercard of a Pacquiao PPV, he could be next in line for the Filipino icon. Looking back at his memorable fights with Jorge Linares and John Molina, DeMarco is the perfect foe for this type of endeavor.
Vargas essentially has to look above average in this fight to merit a shot at Pacquiao or Algieri and looking at the stable on Top Rank’s end, he seems to be the most likely to be pitched to the forefront. Vargas, who caught up with me prior to the Allakhverdiev fight explained that moving to trainer Ismael Sales had helped him progress further in his career, six months or so later, Sales is now gone and replaced with Roy Jones Jr.
It seems like maybe more so then anything the biggest fault of Vargas is a lack of stability as from the small window of access I have had to him has seen him move around a bit with training, which may or may not be good. In the end, Vargas is a fighter who much like most of his career will be hidden on the undercard, but this might be changing in the near future.