By Cliff Rold
Washington, DC - The evening’s co-feature was expected to be the best fight of the night and gave fans their money’s worth. After trading rounds early, 26-year old welterweight and former Jr. welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas (27-1, 10 KO),146 ½, physically took over and stopped 27-year old 2008 US Olympian Sadam Ali (22-1, 13 KO), 147, of Brooklyn, New York, in round nine. Vargas scored knockdowns in rounds eight and nine. The referee was Kenny Chevalier.
After spending a minute mostly staring at each other, wondering who would lead, Ali let loose a quick salvo. Vargas fired, landing to the body and with a couple of good hooks. Sparse action in the first gave way to a more promising burst of energy in the second.
Ali slipped on a wet spot in Vargas’s corner shortly after a Vargas punch, creating the illusion he might be hurt. Ali caught his balance and tied up, the fight settling back into a chess match. Vargas timed some good shots throughout the round; Ali got the better of a closing flurry.
Vargas, feinting to set up the lead left, was finding a home for the lead left hook. Ali, in exchanges, was often missing punches and landing only on the cuff of his wrist. That theme carried from the second into the early part of the fourth before Ali suddenly seemed to figure out the timing he needed. Busting Vargas with straight counter right and hard uppercuts, Ali looked like he had his man buzzed as the bell rang to end round four.
In the fifth, the pendulum swung back to Vargas. A body shot sent Ali into the ropes. While not hurt, Ali was knocked off balance and the ropes kept him up. It could have, perhaps should have, been ruled a knockdown. At the end of the round, Ali’s right eye was swelling. In the sixth it meant chances for Vargas to blind him with the jab and land thudding rights down the pipe.
Vargas started and finished the seventh round better but Ali was far from done. Remembering his uppercut, Ali battled back in the middle of the round and kept it close. Ali’s susceptibility to the right remained critical in the eighth. Having a decent round, Ali was toppled over with a huge right. Vargas was warned to stay in the neutral corner, breaking the count and perhaps allowing Ali precious seconds as the round came to a close.
A livid Vargas played to the crowd at the bell while Ali stumbled first to the wrong corner and then to his own on rubber legs. Vargas jumped right on him to start round nine. Ali tried to tie up but he couldn’t muster any real offense. Vargas scored another knockdown, again delayed as Chevalier forced him to the neutral corner. Ali tried to survive but when a final right hand from Vargas had him nearly on the floor, Chevalier made the fair call and halted the action at 2:09 of round nine.
Vargas picks up a belt in his second weight class after a brief run as a WBA titlist at 140 lbs. The WBO title was vacated when Timothy Bradley opted for a third fight with Manny Pacquiao over a defense against Ali. Bradley defeated Vargas for what was then the WBO’s interim welterweight title last year. Vargas was making his first start since that loss and picks up his first win at welterweight since 2013.
“This is what I’ve been working for all my life since I was eight years old,” an emotional Vargas declared during the post-fight interview. His future hopes were clear. He wants a rematch with Bradley, continuing that discussion with the assembled press after the fight. His promoter, Bob Arum, seemed open to the possibility should Bradley defeat Pacquiao next month.
Ali tried to stay optimistic in defeat. “Before the fight I felt really strong I felt very confident and sometimes that isn't enough. I need to go back to the drawing board and make sure to correct the mistakes that I made in the ring tonight. I'm going to come back better than ever.”