By Jake Donovan
Rey Vargas has never been one to run his mouth, especially heading into any given fight.
Perhaps it’s why he’s already grown tired of hearing from his next challenger.
The unbeaten super bantamweight titlist returns to the ring this Saturday following a nine-month absence, as he defends his belt versus Venezuela’s Franklin Manzanilla. Their 12-round bout will stream live on DAZN from Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, California.
For weeks, Vargas has been forced to listen to the insistence that Manzanilla is prepared like never before to take his title and unblemished record. The one thing keeping him sane throughout fight week is that with each day is one step closer to fight night.
“I’m thrilled to be able to return to the ring,” Vargas (32-0, 22KOs) said of his first bout since recovering from a hand injury which occurred in his 12-round win over Azat Hovhannisyan last May. “I really don’t have much to say about this fight, I’ve always been more comfortable doing my talking in the ring.”
In that regard, it’s pained Vargas that he hasn’t been able to have much to say for the past nine months. The healing process from his hand injury overlapped a brief bout with pneumonia, after which he and his team were forced to wait on available date for the fourth defense of his 122-pound title.
From the moment Manzanilla was chosen, the surprise contender has promised to shock the world on February 9.
“Rey and his team are very confident that they are going to win. Well, I also remember when (everyone) said that (former 122-pound titlist) Julio Ceja would stop me,” Manzanilla (18-4, 17KOS) pointed out of the fight which led him to this point.
What was believed to be a routine tune-up bout for Ceja en route to a second crack at a major title instead turned into a nightmare performance last May. The former titlist was well in control for much of his affair with Manzanilla but was also forced to contend with a badly fractured nose that wouldn’t stop gushing blood.
The damage sustained was deemed too severe to permit Ceja to continue, with the contest halted prior to the start of the fifth round.
“I have heavy hands,” Manzanilla insists. “If you don’t believe me, just ask Pollito Ceja. Vargas will find this out. He hasn’t faced an opponent as tall as him (5’7½”, tall by super bantamweight standards) or who hits as hard as I do.
“I told him to not get too comfortable as champion because he will be going home with a loss on Saturday.”
Naturally, that mindset is expected of any opponent. Vargas may understand as much, but isn’t particularly in the mood to hear it—though he ultimately plans to use it as motivation.
“I’ve let (Manzanilla) know to mentally prepare for the loss he’s about to be handed on Saturday,” promises Vargas, who—with a win on Saturday—will celebrate two years as a titlist later this month, having decisioned Gavin McDonnell in Feb. ’17 to win the vacant title on the road in Hull, England.
“He claims that I am overconfident. Maybe that’s his whole game plan, to hope that I am overlooking him. I can promise you, that is never the case any time I step in the ring. Every time I fight, I go in with a smart, well-prepared game plan.”
The bout will serve as the co-feature attraction to unbeaten Alberto Machado in a 130-pound title defense versus Andrew Cancio.