On Saturday night, WBC featherweight champion Mark Magsayo will look to prove his title reign is no fluke when he battles Rey Vargas. The action goes down from the Alamodome in San Antonio (9 p.m. ET, Showtime).
Magsayo (24-0, 16 KO) won his title in January, taking a majority decision against Gary Russell Jr. Russell entered the fight stating he was dealing with a right shoulder injury. That was very much on display throughout the fight as Russell fought basically one-handed. Still, the fight was close throughout as Magsayo repeatedly moved to Russell's left, allowing Russell to use the one hand he truly had available as a weapon throughout.
In the end, Magsayo was able to do enough to edge out the decision, remain undefeated and end Russell's near seven-year title reign, a reign that was extended by Russell defending his title just six times over that stretch.
"This is very special for me. I watched Manny Pacquiao fight Marco Antonio Barrera in San Antonio at the Alamodome and that was the day that I decided to start training in the gym. I'm so thankful to have this fight -- which is a dream come true -- happen here in San Antonio," Magsayo said at the final press conference.
"This is a very important fight for me. I already beat Russell, but I just want to keep proving myself. We're both going to go in there very confident in ourselves and that's going to make it a great fight."
Can't get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including a complete preview of what to expect in the ring this weekend below.
Vargas (35-0, 22 KO) is the former WBC super bantamweight champion, having won the title against Gavin McDonnell in February 2017. He would successfully defend the belt five times before a two-year layoff due to various issues with his promotional team and a broken leg.
This past November, Vargas returned to action, making his debut at featherweight and taking a dominant decision over Leonardo Baez. He was then slotted in as Magsayo's mandatory challenger.
"If you want to exchange blows, I'm more than happy to do that. I see it as a compliment that he's added a lot of people to his team. He's taking me seriously, but I think it's an advantage for me, because I feel like he's worried," Vargas said.
"We certainly have great trainers in each corner. Freddie is a great trainer and I've had the pleasure of sharing the ring against him before. In the end, it's going to be just Mark and I inside the ring. We're ready to put on a show."
The undercard features the return of former super bantamweight champion Brandon Figueroa when he takes on Carlos Castro. Figueroa, 25, has not fought since losing a majority decision to Stephen Fulton in November to unify the WBC and WBO titles. It was the first loss of his blossoming career. He gets a tough test Castro, who is coming off the first loss of his career as well when he lost a split decision to Luis Nery in February.
"My last loss taught me a lot and I'm coming back with everything I have. I've had an excellent training camp and I'm so excited to come back and prove, just like I did at 122 pounds, that I belong in this division and that I'm among the best," Figueroa said. "I learned to be a little more patient from my last fight. I learned that I have to use my height and my technical skill to my advantage."
Magsayo vs. Vargas card, odds
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
Rey Vargas -125
Mark Magsayo (c) +105
WBC featherweight title
Brandon Figueroa -700
Carlos Castro +500
Frank Martin -1200
Jackson Marinez +750
Magsayo is not a difficult fighter to figure out. He comes forward and tries to get inside to brawl. He has solid power, as was on display when he brutally knocked out Julio Ceja to set up his title shot, but getting in range to land consistently is going to be an issue against a rangy fighter like Vargas. The Mexican is the better fighter on a technical level and his ability to utilize his reach while picking apart plenty of decent opponents has been impressive.
The odds heading into the fight are much closer than you'd expect giving the stylistic matchup and some of the troubles Magsayo has had in his career, including his title win over one-armed Russell. This seems like the kind of fight where Vargas is able to dictate range and pace and work his way to a decision victory and a title in a second weight class. Pick: Rey Vargas via UD