In the final fight of HBO’s Super Featherweight tilt Saturday night, challenger Miguel Berchelt (30-1, 27 KO’s) defeated champion Francisco Vargas (23-0-2, 17 KO’s) with an 11th round TKO inside the last minute of the round.
Coming off his draw against Orlando Salido in last year’s Ring Magazine Fight of the Year, Vargas was the clear favorite. However, the belt holder was worn down over time by Berchelt’s stiffer, more accurate blows in California.
Berchelt controlled the fight with his left jab, and won the fight with his terrific left hook.
Berchelt had won nine consecutive fights before tonight, all inside the distance against a lesser level of opposition than what Vargas had competed against. You would have never known it by watching the fight, as he was the sharper, quicker, and fitter of the two Mexican warriors.
Round 1: Both guys look sharp with quick hands. Berchelt using the jab. Vargas timing Berchelt well with counters, but both guys are landing. This was no feel out round. Each man was busy. Vargas seems to have more steam on his punches. This is a serious step up for Berchelt, and he is giving a good account of himself.
Round 2: Lots of trading of jabs early. My god, they are boxing! Berchelt lands a good body shot. Vargas responds well. Berchelt lands a left hook that briefly knocks Vargas off balance. He’s not hurt though. Vargas pressing the action. Berchelt lands a left hook to both the head and the body that hurts Vargas. Vargas responds with a vicious overhand right that has Berchelt hurt. Berchelt recovers and closes with a killer left hook of his own. They are no longer boxing.
Round 3: Berchelt’s hands seem faster. Vargas a little more thudding. Berchelt’s confidence is growing. Constant trading between the two men. Berchelt busier. His jab is a nice weapon. Vargas isn’t exactly napping either. Constant power punches being tossed around the ring. Berchelt steals the round with multiple hooks at the close.
Round 4: Berchelt getting more aggressive. Leaning in a little, exposing his chin. Vargas unable to take advantage. Berchelt regularly getting off first. Straight right by Berchlet lands flush and a left hook sends Vargas into the ropes. Berchelt has control. Vargas still coming, but Berchelt can’t miss. Vargas begins to work the left hook to the body. Briefly slowing Berchelt down. Vargas may have found something even if he didn’t win the round.
Round 5: Berchelt boxing a little more. Keeping some range. The left eye of Vargas looks bad. Cut and swollen. Vargas works the body and Berchelt backs off. Makes you wonder if he’s feeling the effects of Vargas’ belly shots. Berchelt lands hard to the body himself. Vargas starting to land more freely. Toe to toe exchanges. Better round for Vargas. He’s not winning the fight, but he is winning the battle of whose face looks worse. Berchelt’s mug is relatively clean.
Round 6: The cut over Vargas’ left eye is going to be a problem. Both men pressing the action. Berchelt looking smoother. Berchelt having a better time with combinations, but Vargas lands a one-two pretty well himself. Again, Berchelt swipes the round with shots upstairs and down. Pushing Vargas around the ring. Vargas’ face getting messy.
Round 7: Berchelt has never been past 7, but he looks fresh. Accidental head butt stops the action briefly. Vargas landing some stiff rights, but Berchelt busier and getting Vargas to move backwards more than you would expect. Berchelt twice has Vargas against the ropes, landing combos. Vargas is getting to the point where he may need to land something big if he wants to win the fight.
Round 8: Berchelt up 255-237 on the punch stats. Feels like more because his punches are cleaner and flashier. Berchelt’s jab is the difference in the fight. He can’t miss with it. Short rally by Vargas. Berchelt weathers well. Vargas lands some thudding body blows. Berchelt untroubled. Keeps throwing his combos with a high degree accuracy. Another flurry to close by Berchelt. Vargas’ face looks awful.
Round 9: Referee Raul Caiz takes a close look at Vargas in the corner. Both eyes are now a problem. Berchelt looks fresher, and simply better, moving Vargas around the ring. Vargas is still very much in this fight, but it’s hard not to think he needs a knockout now. The left eye is gushing. Head snapping straight left by Berchelt. He’s really pulling away. Blood everywhere. Caiz halts the action to have the doctor look at Vargas’ eye. Fight continues. Berchelt still landing. Making a mess of Vargas. They are going to need a lot of towels in Vargas’ corner. Maybe a mop.
Round 10: Caiz again has the doctor look at Vargas. Doctor approves the fight to continue. Berchelt using his legs well. Not only to avoid Vargas, but to land. Stamina is no issue. Right by Berchelt breaks open the right eye again. Brutal left to the body by Berchelt. Berchelt landing lefts and rights and everything in the toolbox against Vargas now. Vargas still in there and landing some himself, but nowhere near enough. Vargas’ corner may want to stop this.
Round 11: Berchelt doing anything he wants. Not missing at all. Vargas’ legs still look relatively strong. Which is miraculous. Another big left hook by Berchelt. Vargas bleeding again. Or is it still? Caiz looking closely. Mercifully, Caiz stops the fight with 42 seconds left in the round as Vargas finally began to buckle and blow around like a kite in the breeze. Honestly, they could have stopped it two rounds ago based on the cut alone.
Orlando Salido was in attendance tonight. No doubt hoping for a Vargas win and a chance to face off with him again later this year. Miguel Berchelt was not in on that plan. This is the kind of beating that not only may scuttle a rematch, but could follow Vargas around for the rest of his career.
As for Berchelt, he just became a player in the division with a true bravura performance. The kingpin of the division, Vasyl Lomachenko, may await. In no way would I favor Berchelt in that match up and I would not be surprised if his handlers wanted to get in some additional fights before taking on the pound for pound contender from the Ukraine.
Even so, this was one hell of a coming out party for Berchelt. He earned his way to stardom tonight.