In a battle of undefeated featherweights on Saturday night, Rey Vargas was able to rip the WBC title from Mark Magsayo's grasp by way of a split decision. The Showtime Championship Boxing main event from the Alamodome in San Antonio showcased intriguing back and forth action that saw Vargas overcome a late knockdown to hold on for a narrow victory to win a world title in a second weight class in his career.
The question for Magsayo (24-1, 16 KO) entering the fight was whether he could deal with Vargas' reach. Any effective offense from the Filipino champion would have to come from getting inside where he could use his short power punches to do damage.
Magsayo was able to close distance more than many anticipated, though that was a product of Vargas (36-0, 22 KO) often willing to engage in battles of lead hooks rather than consistently working off his rangy jab. With distance not as big of an obstacle, Magsayo was able to land some heavy overhand rights but never without Vargas being willing to meet him with return fire in the form of his own hooks and overhand rights.
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In the middle rounds, Vargas started to wing heavy left hooks to the body in between fits of finally establishing his jab. The body work appeared to begin to sap some of Magsayo's endurance, though Vargas did suffer a cut over his left eye around the seventh round of the fight. With the blood flowing, Vargas started to utilize his movement a bit more, slipping shots and landing counters as Magsayo tried to chase down the challenger.
Magsayo, the more brute-force attacker of the pair, remained dangerous as he landed the occasional hard right hand even as he was often running into the sharper work of Vargas. The clean rights Vargas absorbed were a good sign in his campaign at featherweight after having been a champion at super bantamweight until just two fights prior.
Then, things took a dramatic turn in Round 9. Magsayo landed a heavy right hand as the fighters came together, sending Vargas to the canvas. Vargas got to his feet and did not appear badly hurt, but it was a moment that showed Magsayo was still a very dangerous fighter and Vargas was vulnerable to Magsayo's power attack.
Magsayo appeared to score another knockdown in Round 10 after a pair of heavy shots, though the referee questionably called it a push by the champion.
With the fight potentially slipping away from him, Vargas regained his composure in the championship rounds, using slicker boxing skills to pull away late, setting up a split decision victory by scores of 115-112, 113-114 and 115-112.
"It wasn't that effective but it counts," Vargas said of the ninth-round knockdown after the fight. "He did get me with that one ... Of course, I'd been in control of the whole fight but in the ninth, he got me a little. That's where I lost a little control."
Vargas remains undefeated as a professional, with the win marking the first time in his career that he'd done so by split decision. He now joins Leo Santa Cruz, Josh Warrington and Emanuel Navarette as world champions at featherweight, one of just five weight classes in boxing without at least one unified champion.
Despite the loss, Magsayo gave a solid account of his skills after entering with a championship many felt he'd earned in a fluke victory over Gary Russell Jr. in a fight where Russell fought basically one-handed after entering the fight with a shoulder injury. While he didn't leave still holding a world title, Magsayo seems to be a legitimate player at featherweight and one who could easily receive another shot at world title glory in the near future.