Vargas: ‘I want to fight Leo Santa Cruz’

Mexico’s Rey Vargas became a two-division world champion Saturday night as he rose from a knockdown and boxed and banged his way to the WBC Featherweight World Championship against Mark Magsayo by split-decision in a dramatic showdown that headlined live on SHOWTIME from the Alamodome in San Antonio in a Premier Boxing Champions event.

“I’m at a loss of words,” said an emotional Vargas post-fight. “I worked hard for this. I want to thank God, my family, my trainer Nacho Beristain. The first title I won, I enjoyed it greatly, but this one is special. This win is for me.”

“It’s his today, no matter what, I’ll come back stronger, I’m disappointed but I did my best,” said Magsayo.

The battle of unbeatens was a fast-paced affair throughout, with both men holding momentum at different moments but never giving in to their determined opponent. Despite his height and reach advantage, Vargas (36-0, 22 KOs) was prepared to go toe-to-toe with the hard-charging Magsayo (24-1, 16 KOs) and was able to use his superior activity to edge the decision on the judges’ cards with two scores of 115-112 against a 114-113 score for Magsayo.

The only world champion from the Philippines heading into this fight, Magsayo was able to land numerous flush power shots on Vargas, who took them well and made sure to return fire with a versatile attack of his own. This success showed up on the punch stats, as Vargas out landed Magsayo 196 to 132 according to CompuBox.

“I just kept moving forward and shrugging him off no matter what was happening,” said Vargas. “All that mattered for me was coming out with the victory in the end.”

Now a two-division world champion, Vargas showed that he could rebound from adversity, as Magsayo nearly turned the tide of the fight by landing a sneaky right hand late in round nine that put Vargas down.

“It wasn’t a power punch that got me,” said Vargas. “It was more of something that happened because of how I was moving. We were able to recover and come back strong.”

“When I had him down, the punch was straight, he did his job in the ring, running,” said Magsayo. “I applied the pressure and did what we trained for in the gym, but he was taller and he’s the man today.”

Vargas showed his veteran mettle rising to his feet and surviving a shaky 10th round to come back and sweep rounds 11 and 12 on all three judges’ cards to clinch the victory.

“It was a good, enjoyable fight,” said Vargas. “We felt comfortable throughout. I was sound technically. We were just going round-by-round and we got the result we expected.”

“I will rest and watch the fight and I’m going to train to fight again and will correct my mistakes for the next time,” said Magsayo. “Thanks to all my fans in the Philippines. I did my best and will come back stronger.”

After the fight, Vargas set his sights on a potential unification fight against four-division world champion and current WBA Featherweight World Champion Leo Santa Cruz, a potentially huge Mexico vs. Mexico clash.

“Now I want the unification bout,” said Vargas. “I want to fight Leo Santa Cruz. We’ve already talked about it with my team and I’m ready.”

In the co-main event, hard-hitting former world champion Brandon “The Heartbreaker” Figueroa (23-1-1, 18 KOs) returned to the win column with a dominant sixth round TKO of Carlos Castro (27-2, 12 KOs) in their WBC Featherweight Title Eliminator.

Competing in his first fight at featherweight, and first action since dropping a narrow decision in a 2021 Fight of the Year against Stephen Fulton Jr., Figueroa showed off his power at 126 pounds by dropping Castro midway through round three. Using his customary bruising come-forward style, Figueroa landed a looping overhand left that hurt Castro and eventually sent him to the mat on his follow-up (watch highlight HERE).

“I know Carlos Casto is a crafty fighter,” said Figueroa. “I had to be patient. I knew how to put the pressure on him, after the barrage of punches, I got tired and had to step back. I knew he was hurt. and I had him, and I had to put more pressure on him. I caught him clean with a good looping left hand and I had him, I just put punches together and I dropped him.”

A veteran who was also debuting at featherweight, Castro was able to use his ring IQ to weather the early storm from Figueroa. His short hooks on the inside and hard uppercuts kept Figueroa from overwhelming him in the third round and helped carry him through the early rounds.

Despite taking that return fire, Figueroa was undeterred and continued to stick to his game plan and bring the fight to Castro. In round six, Figueroa broke through again with a series of shots, including a violent, short right hook that stunned Castro.

“Carlos Castro has a lot of heart, he’s a proven fighter in the ring and I knew it would be hard to get him out of there,” said Figueroa. “I hurt him, I was waiting for that shot to the body, once I caught him clean, I knew he was hurt. I put my punches together again.”

Figueroa took advantage of the moment and unleashed a relentless attack on the ropes that went unanswered and forced referee Mark Nelson to jump in and end the bout 2:11 into the frame (watch highlight HERE).

“I’m pretty proud of myself,” said Figueroa. “I know there’s a lot of work ahead of me, especially if I fight the winner of the main event. I have to study my fight and get back to the gym.”

In the telecast opener, unbeaten rising star Frank Martin (16-0, 12 KOs) showed the full complement of skills that has made him one of the most talked about up-and-comers in the 135-pound division, as he delivered a methodical destruction on his way to stopping Jackson Mariñez (19-3, 7 KOs) in the 10th and final round.

After a tentative first two rounds, the Derrick James-trained Martin began to use his superior footspeed to put himself into position to land his lethal left hand to the head and body.

“I was ready to go the distance whether I got the knockout or not,” said Martin, who’s stablemate and promoter, unified welterweight world champion Errol Spence Jr. watched his victory ringside and later told Jim Gray of SHOWTIME that he expects to face WBO titleholder Terence Crawford in a blockbuster welterweight undisputed championship fight later this year. “Me and Derrick James worked hard in the gym. It was just a matter of me being patient and not being anxious.”

Mariñez was able to use his size advantage over the early rounds to keep Martin honest, having success landing counter rights over the top of Martin’s guard.

“I felt great,” said Mariñez. “I was very comfortable inside the ring. It would absolutely have been a different result had I had more than eight days to prepare.”

Mariñez, who stepped in as a late replacement to face Martin, was unable to put together effective combinations and too often relied on single-punch counters. Martin was able to slowly break Mariñez down with a consistent body attack, landing 53 shots there throughout the action. He also held advantages in both punches thrown (505-411) and punches landed (160-106).

“I’m just an accurate puncher,” said Martin. “We had to really stay on the outside of the hook, I was doubling the two and trying to come inside with the hook.”

After a close first half of the fight, Martin began to pull away in the later rounds and finally broke through and hurt Mariñez late in round nine. He connected on a series of vicious left hands that staggered Mariñez, before a follow up attack left Mariñez on the mat in the neutral corner.

“The knockdown in the ninth changed the tone of the fight,” said Mariñez. “Maybe I could have been more careful. These things happen in boxing, and you just gotta be ready to roll with the punches. He had power, and so did I.”

Mariñez was able to get to his feet and survive the round, but Martin wasted little time restarting his offense in round 10. He pushed the pace from the outset and rained blows onto Mariñez, who was pinned against the ropes, until Mariñez hit the canvas again and referee Rafael Ramos jumped in to end the fight 30 seconds into the round.

“I was on him once I had him hurt, I was hungry, he was in deep waters so I had to get him out of there,” said Martin. “I’m right there with those top guys at lightweight, sit me at the table with them, whenever, I’m ready. I’m going to sit down with my team and hopefully get something big. At the end of the day we’ve won them all.”

Prior to the telecast, bouts streaming live on the SHOWTIME SPORTS® YouTube channel featured unbeaten contender and rising star Rashidi Ellis (24-0, 15 KOs) score two knockdowns on his way to a first round stoppage of late replacement Jose Marrufo (13-11-2, 1 KO). Ellis dropped Marrufo twice in the first two minutes of the frame before a follow-up attack forced referee Ellis Johnson to halt the action 2:17 into the round.

Additional streaming saw San Antonio-native Ramon Cardenas (21-1, 10 KOs) edging a unanimous decision over Venezuela’s Michell Banquez (20-2, 14 KOs) after 10 rounds of bantamweight action. In a close fight contested largely on the inside, Cardenas was given the nod by the scores of 97-93 twice and 96-94.

Photo: Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions

Magsayo, Vargas talk big fight Saturday night in San Antonio

WBC Featherweight World Champion Mark “Magnifico” Magsayo and former world champion Rey Vargas previewed their upcoming battle of unbeatens before they step into the ring this Saturday, July 9 headlining live on SHOWTIME from the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas in a Premier Boxing Champions event.

In what shapes up to be another Philippines vs. Mexico classic, both fighters will be led into this matchup by Hall of Fame trainers. Magsayo trains in Southern California under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, while Vargas trains in Mexico alongside Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain. Vargas will look to return to championship glory following a successful four-year run as a 122-pound world champion, while Magsayo looks to solidify his status atop of the division after wresting the belt away from longtime champion Gary Russell Jr. in January.

Here is what the fighters had to say about their matchups, training camp and more:

MARK MAGSAYO

“It was an amazing feeling to bring honor to my country by winning the world title earlier this year. But at the end of the day, I’m still the same humble guy that I’ve always been. It was very emotional returning home and seeing how proud everyone was of me.

“I’m facing a fighter who’s usually going backwards. He’s tall, so that’s always his plan. I’m hoping he doesn’t run too much in this fight. If I’m able to get to the right distance with him, I’m going to get the knockout.

“I’m prepared for anything he brings. I’ve gotten great sparring with guys who move, guys who go toe-to-toe and everything in between. It doesn’t matter how he fights, I’ll be ready for it.

“My footwork is definitely very important in this fight. Just like against Gary Russell Jr., I’m going to have to make adjustments. I’m not expecting him to mix it up with me.

“I’ve already faced the best fighter in the division, and that was Gary Russell Jr. I beat him clearly and I believe that sent a message to the rest of the division. Even before he hurt his shoulder or whatever happened, I was winning the rounds.

“I’ve learned so much at the Wild Card Gym with Freddie Roach. I’ve become a much more accurate puncher with a legendary coach like Freddie. It’s a relief to know that they have my back and will be able to get the most out of me as a fighter.

“The thing I learned from Manny Pacquiao is that discipline is the most important thing. Without that, you’re nothing in this sport. That’s what helps drive me day after day.

“There’s no ‘next Manny Pacquiao’, there’s only one Manny Pacquiao. My only goal is to make my career as great as I can. Being compared to Manny doesn’t faze me. I just want to put my own name in the history books.

“All of my opponents say they’re going to knock me out. I definitely don’t believe Vargas because I don’t see him pushing for it. Him saying that is just going to motivate me and make me better on July 9.

REY VARGAS

“I’ve been preparing well for this fight. I’m always looking to improve and step into the ring as the very best version of myself. The hard work is done, now I’m just focusing on what’s going to happen on fight night.

“My goal is to dominate this fight and bring the title back to Mexico. I fight for my Mexican people and my family, and I work hard every day to make them proud.

“’Nacho’ Beristain, along with my dad, have been with me ever since the start of my professional journey. I know Nacho just as well as he knows me. I like to say that he is an ‘old man of the sea’ with all of his life experience. He knows what type of fighter I am, and I know what type of trainer he is. He knows me to perfection after all of these years.

“I’m not overconfident, but I know how hard I worked and what I’m capable of. Magsayo will come out strong with lots of energy, but we will counter that. That’s when we’ll tear his head off.

“Mexico vs. Philippines has always been a great rivalry. It’s a guaranteed, can’t-miss show. This fight is not going to be the exception.

“The Mexican fans are spicy, hot-headed and passionate. They always come out and show their support for their fellow countrymen. They will do so once again and I’m very thankful to have their support every time I face a new challenge.”

Magsayo-Vargas, Figueroa-Castro, Martin-Nunez set for July 9 in San Antonio

WBC Featherweight World Champion Mark “Magnifico” Magsayo will take on former world champion Rey Vargas in a battle of unbeatens that headlines action live on SHOWTIME Saturday, July 9 from the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas in an event presented by Premier Boxing Champions.

The SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING® telecast begins at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT and will feature hard-hitting former world champion Brandon “The Heartbreaker” Figueroa taking on Carlos Castro in a WBC Featherweight Title Eliminator in the co-main event, plus the Derrick James-trained, unbeaten lightweight contender Frank Martin battles Panama’s power-punching Ricardo Núñez in the 10-round telecast opener.

Additional coverage will include a pair of bouts streamed live on the SHOWTIME SPORTS YouTube channel  beginning at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. The action will see unbeaten welterweight contender Rashidi Ellis facing Argentine Olympian Alberto Palmetta in a 10-round duel, plus San Antonio’s own Ramon Cardenas battling Venezuela’s Michell Banquez in a 10-round bantamweight attraction.

The Filipino sensation Magsayo (24-0, 16 KOs) fights out of Pasig City, Metro Manila by way of Los Angeles, Calif., and became the latest champion from the boxing-rich nation in January when he outpointed longtime champion Gary Russell Jr. to capture the 126-pound title on SHOWTIME. The 26-year-old earned the opportunity by knocking out former champion Julio Ceja in the 10th round of a fight he trailed on the scorecards in August 2021. Magsayo is trained by Freddie Roach in Southern California and owns 12-round decision victories over Shoto Hayashi and Ramiro Robles, in addition to a sixth-round stoppage of former title challenger Chris Avalos.

“I am very thankful to my team for giving me the opportunity to defend my title in San Antonio,” said Magsayo. “I’m excited to be fighting in the same venue where my idol Manny Pacquiao fought Marco Antonio Barrera. That was the first fight I ever saw and the reason I started boxing. We are preparing for a strong Mexican fighter in Rey Vargas. Everyone knows what the Philippines vs. Mexico boxing rivalry brings to the ring and I’m excited to display my talents for the boxing fans in Texas and watching around the world.”

The former WBC 122-pound world champion, Vargas (35-0, 22 KOs), returned from a layoff due to injury to score a near shutout decision victory over Leonardo Baez in his featherweight debut in November 2021 on the undercard of Canelo vs. Plant. The 31-year-old went on the road to the U.K. to capture his title in 2017, winning a decision over previously unbeaten Gavin McDonnell. A native of Mexico City, Vargas made five successful defenses of his title, defeating top contenders Oscar Negrete, Ronny Rios and Azat Hovhannisyan. His fifth successful title defense came via unanimous decision over former world champion Tomoki Kameda in July 2019.

“This fight on July 9 will be a great battle against the Filipino warrior Mark Magsayo,” said Vargas, who trains under the tutelage of Hall of Fame trainer Ignacio “Nacho” Beristáin. “This is going to be exciting combat from start to finish. We know that he has great power, but we’ll be ready to counter that, and anything else he brings to the ring. This is going to be a magnificent fight and I can’t wait to step in there and compete.”

The 25-year-old Figueroa (22-1-1, 17 KOs) will debut at 126 pounds after dropping a 2021 Fight of the Year contender against Stephen Fulton Jr. in November on SHOWTIME, in which the two champions traded blows for 12 grueling rounds, eventually leading to what some observers thought was a controversial majority decision loss. Figueroa used his youth and relentless pressure to become the first person to defeat Luis Nery in their championship clash on SHOWTIME prior to the Fulton fight. A native of Weslaco, Texas, who has previously fought in San Antonio six times, Figueroa added to his family’s legacy by capturing the world title, joining his brother Omar Figueroa, who previously held the lightweight world championship.

“I’ve been waiting to get back in the ring to do what I love,” said Figueroa. “Carlos Castro is a great fighter and we both have to prove why we belong at the top of the 126-pound division. I can’t wait to fight in San Antonio in front of my fans, it’s really one of my favorite places to compete and I’m planning on giving everyone who comes out a great show like always.”

Castro (27-1, 12 KOs) was born in Sonora, Mexico and came to the U.S. as a child. Now living in Phoenix, Ariz., Castro most recently dropped a narrow split-decision against two-division champion Luis Nery in February, with one point on the cards ultimately holding Castro back from keeping his unbeaten record intact. The 28-year-old made his name as a 122-pound contender, but has also competed at featherweight, including a 10th round TKO victory over veteran contender Oscar Escandon in August 2021.

“I’m thrilled to be back in the ring,” said Castro. “I have some real business to handle against Figueroa on July 9. There’s no better fight for me to show that I’m back. I’m ready to show that I’m capable of being in the mix at the top of the division and to earn a shot at the title.”

The 27-year-old Martin (15-0, 11 KOs) rose up the lightweight rankings in 2021 with a pair of impressive victories before most recently delivering a New Year’s Day KO over Romero Duno. In 2021, Martin knocked out the previously unbeaten Jerry Perez in a dominating performance in April, before earning a unanimous decision over Ryan Kielczweski in August. Originally from Indianapolis, Ind., Martin now trains in the Dallas-area under the guidance of top trainer James alongside unified welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr.

“I’ve been training hard in Dallas and I’m just excited and ready to go,” said Martin. “Núñez is a boxer-puncher, so I expect him to mix it up with some fast combinations and to try and throw my movement off, but I’ll be ready for all of that. Fight fans are going to enjoy an action fight with this one. We’ve got the speed, power and athleticism to put on an exciting show on July 9.”

Representing La Chorrera, Panama, Núñez (23-3, 21 KOs) enters this fight with knockout victories in his last two fights, including most recently stopping Richard Solano in the first round in October 2021. The 28-year-old moved back up to lightweight for those two victories after challenging three-division champion Gervonta Davis in July 2019 for a 130-pound title. Núñez has fought professionally since 2010 and has a brother also named Ricardo who is a veteran pro fighter in the featherweight division.

“I’m very happy to be back in a big fight on July 9,” said Núñez. “You’re going to see a whole new fighter against Martin. I’m coming to fight and impose my style on my opponent. Martin is a good boxer who’s made it to a high level, but he still has to show what he’s made of. I’m going to give one hundred percent to stop his rise and be the first person to beat him.”

The 29-year-old Ellis (23-0, 14 KOs) returns to the ring for the first time since October 2020, having earned a unanimous decision over the previously unbeaten Alexis Rocha in his last outing. Originally from Lynn, Mass., Ellis also owns a pair of victories over veteran contender Eddie Gomez, including a first-round knockout over Gomez in December 2016, before winning by unanimous decision in their 2019 rematch. He takes on the Buenos Aires, Argentina native Palmetta (17-1, 12 KOs), who represented his home country at the 2016 Olympics before turning pro in November 2016. The 32-year-old has won his last 11 fights, with 10 coming by stoppage, including most recently defeating Yeis Solano in October 2021.

“I’m excited to be back in the ring on July 9,” said Ellis. “I want to thank my whole team, and I can’t wait to deliver fireworks for everyone watching this fight. I’m looking to steal the show and I’m training hard to make sure I do just that. You definitely want to tune in and see what I’m going to do in this one.”

“This fight is very special because it is the same day as Argentinian Independence Day,” said Palmetta. “Four years ago, I made the decision to leave my home and travel to the United States to further my boxing career. I want to face the biggest opponents, so I can earn the opportunity to become a world champion. This fight against Ellis is the big step I’ve been looking for. On July 9, get ready, because I’m coming with hunger, hard work, and determination. It hasn’t been easy for me; I have fought through the pain and struggle, and because of it, I remain humble and more motivated than ever.”