By Jake Donovan
Some fighters prefer a certain style – say, straight-forward brawlers as opposed to slick movers. Jessie Vargas may or may not have an affinity for unbeaten Russian southpaws, but that’s what the Vegas native gets for his second straight fight of 2014 as he faces Anton Novikov in a 12-round super lightweight title fight Saturday evening at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The bout serves as the chief support to a welterweight clash between Brandon Rios and Diego Chaves. Both fights will air live on HBO.
Vargas (24-0, 9KOs) makes the first defense of the belt he claimed this past April in a hard-fought split decision win over Khabib Allakhverdiev. The 25-year old struggled to make weight for Saturday’s fight, but after stripping down to his birthday suit was able to come in right at the 140 lb. divisional limit, his third straight fight at the weight class after dropping down from welterweight last year.
Like the defending champ, Novikov (29-0, 11KOs) has spent the majority of his career fighting at welterweight. The 26-year old Russian came in at 139.8 lb., the lightest weight of his career. His last ring appearance was a 10-round decision win over Javier Castro in May, with his previous two fights taking place closer to the super lightweight division.
Neither fighter has scored a knockout in more than two years. Novikov has been extended the distance in each of his past six contests, while Vargas has been forced to go to the cards in eight straight fights.
Is another distance fight upon us? Will Novikov overcome a champion’s hometown advantage and walk away with the prize? Or will Vargas – Las Vegas’ second-ever home-grown titlist – remain the its only current champ by night’s end?
Read on to see how the staff at Boxingscene.com believes tonight’s action will go down.
BOXINGSCENE.COM STAFF PREDICTIONS: JESSIE VARGAS vs. ANTON NOVIKOV
Ryan Burton (Vargas UD): “I think this will be a good fight early on but Vargas turns it on in the 2nd half and wins around. 116-112.”
Jake Donovan (Vargas SD): “It’s tempting to go with Novikov based on natural size advantage and Vargas struggling to make weight. But the fighting pride of Las Vegas always seems to find a way to win, even in the most unlikely of scenarios. I’ll say the same plays out here.”
Cliff Rold (Novikov Dec.): “This could be a fascinating fight as neither man is a big puncher. Novikov's accuracy and combinations should allow him to outwork Vargas.”
Francisco Salazar (Vargas MD): “Will Jessie Vargas fight a consistent fight? Depends on what Novikov does. Novikov is sometimes too patient, which may bring lulls in the fight. Vargas has sometimes been in fights where he does not stick to game plan, where he is pulled into exchanges where he shouldn't be. It'll be a close fight and the house fighter (Vargas) gets a close decision.”
Reynaldo Sanchez (Vargas UD): “Novikov seems like the perfect guest here.”
Alexey Sukachev (Vargas UD): “Both fighters are very much alike, the difference is that Vargas is much more experienced and more refined on this level. Novikov is sturdy, active but he has no special abilities, and in his opponent's backyard it can be fatal.”
Anson Wainwright (Vargas UD): “Vargas won the title out, like many before him that experience will have helped mature him as a fighter. Novikov is a solid Russian who like Vargas isn't known as a puncher, as such I expect this to go the distance. I feel Vargas greater experience will aid him well in a solid if not compelling contest. All told Vargas to win a unanimous decision, something like 117-111.”
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