What was once a crowded fight day is now down to just one major boxing event in the United States.
A junior middleweight clash between Liam Smith and Jessie Vargas is once again placed on hold. The bout was due to headline a February 5 DAZN show from Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona, only for the event to be scrapped as Vargas was forced to withdraw after testing positive for Covid.
“Despite being well, Jessie Vargas has tested positive for Covid,” Eddie Hearn, head of Matchroom Boxing—representing both boxers—revealed on Wednesday. “[T]here will be a small delay to his Feb 5th fight with Liam ‘Beefy’ Smith. There will be a further announcement of the new date in due course.”
Speculation of at least a postponement—if not outright cancellation—swirled on Wednesday once the arena’s website took down any reference to the event after previously advertising the show. Tickets were scheduled to go on sale earlier in the week, only to be met with “TBD (‘To Be Determined’) placeholders before dropping the show altogether.
The battle of former titlists has been in the works for more than two years, with plans finally materializing to headline the first DAZN show of 2022.
Smith (30-3-1, 17KOs) remains in the hunt for a second title run in the junior middleweight division. The 33-year-old was the first of his fighting family to win a major title, claiming the WBO 154-pound belt in a seventh-round stoppage of John Thompson in October 2015. One successful defense followed before suffering a ninth-round knockout at the hands of Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez in September 2016.
Nine fights have followed, including a competitive but clear defeat to then-WBO junior middleweight titlist Jaime Munguia in July 2018 which was preceded by two straight wins over veteran contender Liam Williams. Smith’s lone other career defeat came in a questionable twelve-round, unanimous decision in favor of unbeaten Magomed Kurbanov this past May on the road in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Smith quickly rebounded with an eighth-round stoppage of Anthony Flower this past October 9 in his Liverpool hometown, calling out Vargas in the aftermath.
Vargas (29-3-2, 11KOs) has not fought since a competitive loss to former four-division titlist Mikey Garcia last February 29 in Frisco, Texas. The welterweight affair headlined the last DAZN show before the pandemic, with the sport having since returned but with Vargas remaining idle while in search of the right opportunity along with other ventures.
Outside the ring, Vargas has previously worked as a commentator for DAZN’s Spanish feed and has also recently announced a bid for a seat in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District in the upcoming election next November. Vargas—whose family relocated to Vegas from California when he was five years old—is seeking a place on the Republican ballot as a former Democrat who plans to fight for voters with conservative values.
Meanwhile, he continues the actual fight to become a three-time titlist.
Vargas previously held the WBA junior welterweight belt and the WBO welterweight title, the latter claimed in a ninth-round stoppage of Sadam Ali in March 2016. Vargas lost the belt in his first attempted defense, a lopsided defeat to Manny Pacquiao in November 2016—immediately after Pacquiao’s own political run when he claimed a seat in the Philippine Senate earlier that May.
Vargas has fought just five times since then, going 2-1-2 over that stretch including back-to-back draws in 2018 with former four-division titlist Adrien Broner and veteran former title challenger Thomas Dulorme. The last in-ring win for Vargas came in a sixth-round stoppage of former two-division titlist Humberto Soto in April 2019.
The fight was originally pitched to take place January 29 at The Cosmopolitan in Vargas’s hometown of Las Vegas, only to move back one week. The date change also resulted in a location switch, since Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) already booked the Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas for a Fox Sports Pay-Per-View event which not only remains in place but is now the only show taking place on the date.
Earlier this week, Top Rank was forced to postpone its February 5 ESPN+ event after Jose Pedraza tested positive for Covid ahead of his planned showdown with Jose Ramirez. The clash of former titlists was due to take place at Save Mart Arena in Fresno, with the venue to now house the rescheduled March 4 event.
It has yet to be determined if Smith-Vargas will remain in Arizona or head back to Las Vegas, the latter seemingly the preferred destination.
“Let’s go back to Vegas, Jessie’s backyard,” Smith quipped upon learning of the postponement.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox