NEW YORK – Liam Smith couldn’t help but laugh after hearing what Jessie Vargas had to say about their upcoming grudge match.
The battle of former titlists has become the most heated among the eight bouts on this weekend’s show at Madison Square Garden in New York (Saturday, DAZN, 7:30 pm ET), an event that includes two undisputed championship clashes. There is clearly no love lost between Liverpool’s Smith and Las Vegas’ Vargas, with both threatening to cause harm to one another.
Given their recent results, the visiting Brit fancies his chances this weekend.
“I’m gonna beat him up and enjoy doing it,” Smith told BoxingScene.com shortly after finishing his appearance for the fight week open workout Wednesday afternoon held Chase Square at MSG. “Jessie claims he’s gonna destroy me. Come on. When was the last time he destroyed anyone? When was the last time he even beat anyone?”
To the point raised by Smith (31-3-1, 17KOs), this past Tuesday marked three years to the day since Vargas (29-3-2, 11KOs) saw his arm raised in victory. The moment came in a sixth-round stoppage of faded former two-division titlist Humberto Soto in April 2019 in a bout that marked the first for both above the welterweight limit.
Vargas enters Saturday’s fight having won just two of his last five starts spray painted over more than five years since his WBO welterweight title loss to Manny Pacquiao in November 2016. In his most recent start, Vargas was competitive in a twelve-round defeat to former four-division titlist Mikey Garcia in February 2020, just before the pandemic.
Smith has been more active and successful of the two following the end of his own title reign, losing the WBO junior middleweight belt in a September 2016 ninth-round stoppage to pound-for-pound king Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (57-1-2, 39KOs) in Arlington, Texas. Smith is 7-2 (4KOs) since that fight, with a competitive but clear loss to then-WBO junior middleweight titlist Jaime Munguia (39-0, 31KOs) in July 2018 and a highly questionable twelve-round points loss to unbeaten Magomed Kurbanov last May in Ekaterinburg, Russia.
Saturday’s fight comes just shy of seven months from Smith’s eighth-round knockout of countryman Anthony Fowler last October 9 in Liverpool. A quick turnaround was expected in a scheduled February 5 DAZN main event versus Vargas, who had to withdraw after testing positive for Covid.
The wait has not at all eased the tension between the two, or the desire for Smith to send the former two-division titlist into retirement.
“If he wants to hold the Canelo lost against me, fine. I was stopped by the best fighter in the world,” noted Smith. “Jessie Vargas is no Canelo and I’m going to enjoy beating him up on Saturday night.”
Smith-Vargas serves as the co-feature to an historic pound-for-pound showdown between undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor (20-0, 6KOs) and record-setting, seven-division titlist Amanda Serrano (42-1-1, 30KOs).
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox