Sometimes, a title win is validation of a fighter’s placement in the upper echelon in their division.
Sometimes, the conditions of the win leave the jury still out.
There’s no real debate that Mark Magsayo did enough to take the WBC featherweight strap off Gary Russell Jr. in January. It was a good, honest win...but also awful close by the end. It was hard to miss Russell’s limitations that night, fighting most of the night one handed and with little offense. Russell came up just short in a fight where he was getting by with guile more than his talent.
Could Magsayo have beaten a two-handed Russell? Is he the real deal at the title level?
Rey Vargas might be able to help viewers answer that on Saturday night (Showtime, 9 PM EST). Making only his second start since 2019, the former 122 lb. titlist is abnormally tall and long for a featherweight with ring smarts and tricky punch selection. We can assume he’s coming two-handed and while rust could be an issue Vargas should be healed from injuries that derailed him.
This could be a real summer sleeper..
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: WBC Featherweight (2022-Present, 1st Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 125 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Rizal, Metro Manila, Philippines
Record: 24-0, 16 KO
Press Rankings: #2 (Ring, BoxRec), #3 (TBRB), #4 (ESPN), #10 (TBRB)
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-0
Last Five Opponents: 148-16-2 (.898)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: None
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Pungluang Sor Singyu UD12; Julio Ceja KO10; Gary Russell Jr. MD12
Current Title: None
Previous Titles: WBC Super Bantamweight (2017-20, 5 Defenses)
Height: 5’10 ½
Weight: 125 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Mexico City, Mexico
Record: 35-0, 22 KO
Press Rankings: Unranked
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-0
Last Five Opponents: 106-12 (.898)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Oscar Negrete UD12; Tomoki Kameda UD12
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Alexander Munoz TKO5
The Pick: On paper, Vargas has some interesting physical advantages. He’s longer armed than Magsayo and will stand at least five inches taller. Vargas has shown resolve in the past, fighting through cuts and never wavering from what he does well. Vargas has a long, active jab, a smart lead right hand, and knows how to tie up a shorter opponent. Magsayo should be a little quicker, and he’s the more explosive of the two in combination, but Magsayo will have to figure out how to cross the real estate consistently to get to Vargas.
Magsayo can sometimes be caught in transition between offense and defense and his offense can be predictable. Vargas’s lead right hand is going to be handy there. As the fight progresses, and Vargas has seen the early offense of Magsayo, timing the rushes of the titlist could get easier. Vargas is a long night for anyone, posing odd physical challenges with ring smarts that allow him to think from his comfort range. The more polished and experienced fighter here is Vargas and he’s the pick to win a decision in a fight that gets less interesting, and maybe even a little mugging and ugly, in the second half.
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Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com