Francisco Vargas respects that Isaac Cruz is a much younger, powerful opponent attempting to fight his way to a world title shot.

The 36-year-old Vargas considers Cruz’s most recent performance evidence, however, that he can be beaten by an experienced ex-champion Saturday night. The William Hill sports book lists Cruz as a 6-1 favorite in a 10-round lightweight bout Showtime will televise as part of a tripleheader from Toyota Center in Houston, but Vargas views this as a perfect opportunity to rejuvenate his career on the Jermall Charlo-Juan Macias Montiel undercard.

“My mindset is that I have to put up a great fight,” Vargas told, “because, in the end, all I wanna do is show the fans that ‘The Bandit’ is still right here. … My opponent is a young, strong stud that wants to leave his mark. But I’m ready for him. Don’t miss this fight. It’s gonna be good.”

Mexico City’s Vargas (27-2-2, 19 KOs), a former WBC super featherweight champion, is 2-0 in lightweight bouts since countryman Miguel Berchelt beat him by technical knockout in their rematch two years ago. Berchelt (38-2, 34 KOs) battered Vargas during their mostly one-sided second fight, which was stopped following the sixth round in May 2019 at the Tucson Convention Center in Tucson, Arizona.

“Whatever happened in the past is in the past,” Vargas said. “I’m focused on this next fight and I’m feeling good right now. That’s what matters.”

A reinvigorated Vargas feels fresher fighting at the 135-pound limit than he did boxing at 130, the division in which he spent nine years as a professional.

Cruz (21-1-1, 15 KOs), who knocked out Diego Magdaleno in the first round October 31 at Alamodome in San Antonio, had some difficulty dealing with previously unbeaten Matias Romero in his most recent fight.

The 23-year-old Cruz won a unanimous decision March 13 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, but Cruz edged Romero by only one point on one of the scorecards (118-109, 115-112, 114-113). Cruz, also a Mexico City native, had a point deducted in the sixth round for repeatedly landing low blows against Argentina’s Romero (24-1, 8 KOs).

“Isaac definitely could’ve lost that fight,” Vargas said. “It was a very tough, close fight. But in the end, Cruz won. From what I saw, he gets easily exasperated when things don’t go his way. It’s a desperation of sorts. That is something I may be able to exploit on Saturday night.”

Cruz is ranked second among the IBF’s contenders and third among the WBA’s challengers for IBF/WBA/WBC franchise/WBO lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez (16-0, 12 KOs). Vargas is ranked seventh by the WBC, but he isn’t listed in the top 15 by the IBF, WBA or WBO.

“He is highly ranked,” Vargas said. “The most important thing is that if I do manage to beat him, it’ll take me one step closer to fighting for a world title.”

Showtime will air Cruz-Vargas as the co-feature before Houston’s Charlo (31-0, 22 KOs) makes an optional WBC middleweight title defense against Mexico’s Montiel (22-4-2, 22 KOs) in the 12-round main event. The network’s telecast will start at 9 p.m. EDT with a 10-round junior featherweight bout between Albuquerque’s Angelo Leo (20-1, 9 KOs) and Mexico’s Aaron Alameda (25-1, 13 KOs).

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.