The last time former junior welterweight and welterweight world titlist Jessie Vargas was in the ring was in the main event of one of the final cards before the coronavirus pandemic shut boxing down for several months.
On Feb. 29, 2020, he faced four-division world titlist Mikey Garcia at the Ford Center – the training facility of the Dallas Cowboys -- in Frisco, Texas. Garcia knocked him down in the fifth round and won a competitive unanimous decision in an entertaining bout.
Vargas will return not too far from that defeat looking to put it behind him and in a new division.
He told BoxingScene.com on Wednesday night that he will box on Canelo Alvarez-Billy Joe Saunders card on May 8 (DAZN) at AT&T Stadium – home of the Cowboys – in Arlington, Texas.
“We hope to line up as the co-main event. I think we have the recognition and the respect from the fans that we deserve a spot as the co-main event, but at the end of the day that’s up to my promoter (Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing) and what he sees as best,” Vargas told BoxingScene.com.
Vargas said he does not yet have an opponent locked in nor is the weight set but he plans on moving up to junior middleweight and soon after to middleweight.
“I’m not even certain if it will be 154, 155 or 156 pounds,” Vargas said. “That’s pending because things are just being set up with Eddie and my advisers (Guadalupe Valencia and Al Haymon). Eddie Hearn has taken care of me. He’s given me several opportunities and I appreciate it. I’ve been working with my team for years now and I just want to show them that I’ve elevated to another level this last year.”
Vargas said he attended Alvarez’s third-round knockout victory over Avni Yildirim on Feb. 27 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, where he worked as a commentator on DAZN’s Spanish-language broadcast team but also met during the week with Hearn to discuss the plans for his next fight and he was happy when offered a spot on the Alvarez-Saunders card.
He said it is time for him to move up in weight for good. Vargas (29-3-2, 11 KOs), 31, of Las Vegas, has been a pro since 2008 and has fought his entire career at junior welterweight and welterweight except for when he was 150 pounds for a sixth-round knockout of former world titlist Humberto Soto in April 2019.
Vargas planned for that to be his way of easing into the 154-pound junior middleweight division but when he was offered the fight against Garcia it was too good to refuse.
“I was successful and felt great (against Soto) but got the opportunity to go back down to 147 for a major, major fight,” Vargas said. “It was the biggest fight I had in front of me on paper at that time so we said, alright, we’ll go back down for one last fight at 147 and we did that. Everyone knows the result. It was a great fight that people loved. I felt comfortable at 154 but, honestly, it’s not that easy to make either.
“I can make it because I’m very dedicated to what I do. But you have to learn when to listen to your body and know when it’s reacting well and at the optimal level. During this pandemic I actually spoke to a few doctors during a Zoom meeting with the WBC and they informed me on several aspects, like how athletes need to have a certain amount of body fat. They gave me very valuable information.”
So, now it’s onward and upward in terms of the weight, Vargas said.
“I fought at 141 in the amateurs when I was 14 years old,” Vargas said, noting that he had already fought several welterweight bouts before dropping back down to junior welterweight to challenge Khabib Allakhverdiev for a world title in 2014. Vargas won the fight by decision and made two defenses before returning to welterweight, where he nearly knocked out Timothy Bradley Jr. in the final seconds but lost a decision in an interim title bout.
After that loss, Vargas upset Sadam Ali, knocking him out in the ninth round to win a welterweight world title in 2016, which he lost by decision in his first defense against Manny Pacquiao later that year.
Vargas is 2-1-2 since, including a disputed draw with Adrien Broner and a draw with Thomas Dulorme in an all-action fight, Vargas’ first after signing with Hearn when he was launching his series of fights on DAZN.
At junior middleweight and middleweight, Vargas said he has one goal.
“My goal is to become world champion once again,” said Vargas, who believes his 5-foot-11 frame will handle the weight without any issues. “At 154 it can be done. Yes, we know who has the titles right now (unified champion Jermell Charlo and Brian Castano) but those are fights I believe can be made. My team can make it happen if we pursue it.”
But first comes his return on Canelo’s show.
“I want to have a good performance on May 8 and after that I’ll look for a world title, whether it’s at 154 or 160,” Vargas said. “At 160 you have (Demetrius) Andrade, GGG (Gennadiy Golovkin); you have (Ryota) Murata and (Jermall) Charlo. Those are fights that can be made. I feel good in those divisions. I’m gonna show what I’m about at 154 and 160, that they are weights that are not too big for me.
“I’m putting everything in in this second stage of my career. I want to show everybody how much I’ve improved over this last year after my previous fight. I think my power is going to show in the new weights because nothing is holding me back. I’ll fight anyone. I’m not afraid of anyone in those divisions. I am positive and certain that come May 8 you’re gonna see a different Jessie Vargas. The power is going to be a big asset in this second part of my career. I think it will surprise a lot of people. I have much more left in me. This is going to be the best part of my career coming up.”
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.