By Jake Donovan
You can say that securing Francisco Vargas his biggest fight to date was truly a family affair.
The unbeaten super featherweight prospect once again steps up in class, as he takes on former two-division champ Juan Manuel Lopez on July 12 in Las Vegas. The scheduled 10-round fight serves in supporting capacity to a pay-per-view headliner between Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Erislandy Lara.
The lure of fighting on a major card is normally motivation enough for a fighter to accept a bold challenge. It’s usually differing agendas among key team members that lead to necessary fights not happening, but that was never a concern for Vargas, whose manager and promoter happen to be a pair of brothers who get along very well and see eye to eye on all boxing matters.
“This fight was easy to convince (Vargas) to take,” admits Oscar de la Hoya, President of Golden Boy Promotions, with whom Vargas signed in 2010 following a run with the 2008 Mexico Olympic Boxing team. “Francisco is a fighter who has the amateur experience. He’s stepping up in competition and moving in the right direction. It was a fight he jumped on right away.”
Vargas (19-0-1, 13KO) has been on a roll since turning pro, scoring impressive wins in three straight step-up fights heading into the July 12 showdown with Lopez. His most recent performance also came on the undercard of an Alvarez-headlined pay-per-view event in Las Vegas, scoring a 10-round decision over Abner Cotto this past March.
The win came on the heels of his shutout over Jerry Belmontes last December and a landslide win over previously unbeaten Brandon Bennett before that. The 29-year old Mexican boxer has quickly advanced in the rankings as a result, with a win over Lopez possibly leading to a shot at a major title in his very next fight.
“This is a great step for my kid,” acknowledges Joel de la Hoya. “This fight is the resurrection of Juanma versus the step up for Francisco. It comes on a great stage. You couldn’t ask for a better platform for this fight.”
One week after Vargas outpointed Cotto in Las Vegas, Lopez (34-3, 31KO) resurrected his free-falling career with a 2nd round knockout win over Daniel Ponce de Leon.
The win came after a collective gasp when Lopez – who was stopped in four rounds by Mikey Garcia in his previous fight – was down in the opening round of their super featherweight bout. The Puerto Rican southpaw dusted himself off, however, and came back to drop and eventually stop Ponce de Leon in the next round for his second in win in as many fights in their rivalry.
Lopez has been stopped in all three of his career losses. The flip side of that, however, is that he’s never lost a decision. On the rare occasions in which his fights go to the scorecards, Lopez is 3-0. The last such occasion came way back in Oct. ’09, barely outlasting Rogers Mtagwa in his final fight as a super bantamweight.
Two weight classes later, Lopez is still capable of closing the show at a moment’s notice.
“One thing with Juanma, he has that power,” Joel de la Hoya acknowledges. “That’s the last thing to go on a fighter. Vargas has all of the tools to beat him. He has to take it from him.”
For what it’s worth, the rising prospect seems up to the task.
“I know he boasts a lot of experience and is a great fighter,” Vargas realizes. “That’s why we’re working hard. A victory here will get me a world title.”
Golden Boy is angling for the winner to secure a shot at a 130 lb. title, though confirmed that the fight itself is not a sanctioned eliminator.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox