Notebook: Vargas, Foster have big dreams as they clash for 130 title
Azim in headliner; Braekhus to challenge Harper; Joseph Diaz Jr.'s return in works; BetUS show; Quick hits; Show and tell
A note to Fight Freaks Unite readers: I created Fight Freaks Unite in January 2021 and eight months later it also became available for paid subscriptions for additional content — and as a way to help keep this newsletter going and for readers to support independent journalism. If you haven’t upgraded to a paid subscription please consider it. If you have already, I truly appreciate it! Also, consider a gift subscription for the Fight Freak in your life.
Rey Vargas hopes to join an elite club of Mexican fighters to win world titles in three divisions while O’Shaquie Foster is looking for a title for the first time.
Both have big aspirations when they meet for the vacant WBC junior lightweight world title in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions tripleheader on Saturday (9 p.m. ET) at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
They will vie for one of the 130-pound belts stripped from Shakur Stevenson for missing weight before a defense versus Robson Conceicao in September.
Vargas, a former WBC junior featherweight titlist and the reigning WBC featherweight titleholder, is returning to a venue that has been good to him as he moves up in weight. In his last bout, in July, Vargas survived a ninth-round knockdown and won a split decision against Mark Magsayo to take his WBC featherweight title.
“The Alamodome has seen me crowned champion before and they’re going to see it again on Saturday night,” Vargas said this week through an interpreter. “It’s a big goal of mine to become part of the club of three-division champions. I want to be one of the best that there’s ever been in Mexican boxing.”
Vargas (36-0, 22 KOs), 32, held the junior featherweight title from 2017 to 2019 and made five defenses before a 28-month layoff caused by a combination of the pandemic, injury and promotional issues. He returned in November 2021 as a featherweight to win a fight and then got the shot at Magsayo.
Now he faces Foster (19-2, 11 KOs), 29, of Orange, Texas, who is a sound boxer but taking on by far his most notable opponent in his biggest fight.
“O’Shaquie is a quality fighter with a strong Olympic style, but I’ve fought opponents with all different styles,” Vargas said. “What I’ve noticed from watching O’Shaquie is that he’s kind of veered from his path and started to do some things differently ahead of this fight. It makes me think he’s feeling the pressure of this fight.
“He knows that I’m not just anybody and I know he’s lost sleep from the anxiety of getting ready to face me. I know that he likes to fight from either stance, but I’ve got a plan to counter anything he brings.”
The two had to be separated at Friday’s weigh-in after a chippy build up to a fight that Vargas claims to be locked in for.
“I’m focused on this fight and I’m not thinking about anything else before handling what’s in front of me,” Vargas said. “There are great opponents out there for me to face at 130 pounds, but I’m putting everything into this fight first. I have no problem with Foster saying he wants to send me back to 126, because I know that I would beat him at 126, 130 or 135 pounds. I can guarantee that.”
Soon after the fight, Vargas will have to notify the WBC of his intentions regarding the featherweight title. If he wins he surely will remain at junior lightweight and vacate at featherweight.
Foster has won nine fights in a row since an eight-round split decision loss in 2016 to Rolando Chinea on Showtime’s prospect-oriented series “ShoBox: The New Generation,” where he also lost his only other bout, a eight-rounder to Samuel Teah in 2015.
Foster also won two fights on “ShoBox,” including bumping off highly regarded unbeaten Spanish prospect Jon Fernandez in a 2018 upset that put him on the path to the title shot. Last March won a lopsided decision over Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov in Dubai in a WBC title eliminator that set him up for the fight with Vargas.
Foster has come a long way since serving time in prison for aggravated assault, for which he remains on probation.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Foster said. “I had a couple setbacks and had to get focused and weed out the bad energy in my life. Now I’m ready. I have history at the Alamodome myself. I qualified for the Olympic trials there, so it’s going to be a fun night.”
He said he is taking nothing for granted when it comes to this potentially life-altering world title opportunity.
“This means the world to me,” Foster said. “Being in my home state, I can’t even explain the feeling. I’m just ready to go. I’m coming to spoil the show. I know he’s going to have the fans on his side, but by the end of the night the world is going to see what I’m really made of.
“My confidence never left after I lost a fight. All I needed to do was focus and dedicate myself to my craft. I always felt like I was one of the most talented fighters, I just needed to put in the work. And that’s what we did.
“He can talk that talk, but he better know that I’m not Mark Magsayo or any of those guys he’s fought. The strength and the speed is different. He’s going to feel me. Whether it’s the first round or whatever round I stop him in, or if it goes all 12 rounds, he’s going to take a beating the whole time.”
Also on the main card:
In the co-feature, former secondary junior welterweight titlist and San Antonio native Mario Barrios (26-2, 17 KOs), 27, and Puerto Rico’s Jovanie Santiago (14-2-1, 10 KOs), 31, will meet in a 10-round welterweight fight with both men seeking to end two-fight losing streaks.
Heavyweight Lenier Pero (8-0, 5 KOs), 30, a 2016 Cuban Olympian fighting out of Miami, and Viktor Faust (11-0, 7 KOs), 30, of Ukraine, meet in the 10-round opener.
Adam Azim in main event
Junior welterweight Adam Azim (7-0, 6 KOs), who is just 20 and one of boxing’s elite prospects, will star in his second main event but in his first in a significant arena when he faces Santos Reyes in a 10-rounder on the Boxxer card on Saturday (FITE in the U.S. for $9.99, Sky Sports in the U.K., 3 p.m. ET) at the famed OVO Wembley Arena in London.
The highest profile fight yet of his career seems to have Azim unfazed.
“The pressure doesn’t get to me because I’ve been training really hard. I’m very focused and very determined to put on a great performance,” said Azim, who has knocked out all of his opponents since going the six-round distance in his December 2020 professional debut. “I’m very heavy-handed in both hands. I've got speed as well. If I put the combination together I can put on a devastating performance.”
He is taking a step up in competition against Reyes (12-0, 3 KOs), who will be fighting outside of his native Nicaragua for the first time.
“He’s 12-0 so he’s no joke,” Azim said. “He's a very durable fighter. He’s a good fighter and it’s going to be a good one.”
Former longtime undisputed women’s welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus will challenge Terri Harper for WBA junior middleweight title on DAZN on a date to be determined in April in Sheffield, England, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn announced.
“Really happy to get this one over the line,” Hearn wrote on social media. “Done deal as part of a big show in April in Sheffield. Fight card announcement soon!”
Braekhus (37-2, 9 KOs), 41, of Norway, who was the longtime women’s pound-for-pound No. 1, won her junior middleweight debut in December. It was her first fight since a second straight decision loss to Jessica McCaskill in March 2021 in an effort to regain the undisputed welterweight crown she lost to McCaskill in August 2020.
After Harper (13-1-1, 6 KOs), 26, of England, lost the WBC junior lightweight belt by fourth-round knockout to Alycia Baumgardner in November 2021, she won a comeback fight at lightweight and then jumped to three more divisions to junior middleweight and outpointed Hannah Rankin to take her title in September.
BetUS Boxing Show
If you missed the BetUS Boxing Show live at 1 p.m. ET on Friday on YouTube, please check out the replay (and also subscribe to the YouTube channel). We previewed and picked three Saturday fights: Rey Vargas vs. O’Shaquie Foster for the vacant WBC junior lightweight title in the PBC main event on Showtime, Mario Barrios vs. Jovanie Santiago in the welterweight co-feature, and blue-chip junior welterweight prospect Adam Azim vs. Santos Reyes in the Boxxer main on Sky Sports in the United Kingdom and FITE in the United States. We also took viewer questions and comments! Please check out the show here:
‘JoJo’ Diaz return
Golden Boy is in the process of finalizing a lightweight fight between former junior lightweight titlist Joseph “JoJo” Diaz Jr. and former two-time lightweight title challenger Mercito Gesta, a source with knowledge of the talks told Fight Freaks Unite.
If finalized, the bout would serve as the co-feature to the light heavyweight fight between contender Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez and Gabriel Rosado that was announced this week and will headline a Golden Boy card on DAZN on March 18 (8 p.m. ET) at a Southern California site to be determined.
Diaz (32-3-1, 15 KOs), 30, of Downey, California, is looking to rebound from back-to-back one-sided decision losses, a challenge to Devin Haney for the WBC lightweight title in December 2021 and to unbeaten contender William Zepeda in October.
Gesta (33-3-3, 17 KOs), 35, a Filipino southpaw based in San Diego, is 2-2-1 in his last five fights, including a lopsided decision loss challenging then-WBA lightweight titlist Jorge Linares in 2018.
Weights from San Antonio for Saturday’s PBC card on Showtime: Rey Vargas 129.4 pounds, O’Shaquie Foster 129.4 (for vacant WBC junior lightweight title); Mario Barrios 146.8, Jovanie Santiago 145.8; Lenier Pero 242.8, Viktor Faust 234; Claudio Marrero 135, Gonzalo Fuenzalida 134.4; Eumir Marcial 161.4, Ricardo Villalba 162; Dainier Pero 244.2, Daniel Zavala 237.4; David Whitmire 148.8. Keith Foreman 149.
The day after Emanuel Navarrete (37-1, 31 KOs), 28, of Mexico, vacated the WBO featherweight title in order to keep the WBO junior lightweight belt he won by ninth-round knockout of Australia’s Liam Wilson in a terrific action battle last Friday in Glendale, Arizona, Navarrete explained his decision. “After closely analyzing the situation with my team, we have decided to keep the WBO junior lightweight title,” said Navarrete, who is now a three-division titleholder, having also previously held the WBO junior featherweight title. “I feel very happy with the three title defenses that I made at featherweight, but I am also convinced that my future is now at junior lightweight. We are going after the big fights at 130.” Navarrete likely will return this summer to defend against former titlist Oscar Valdez.
Former junior bantamweight titlist Carlos Cuadras (40-5-1, 27 KOs), 34, ended a one-year layoff and won a lopsided decision against fellow Mexican Lamberto Macias (16-8-1, 12 KOs) on Friday night in La Huerta, Mexico. Cuadras nearly stopped Macias, 28, in the fourth round and won 99-91, 99-91 and 97-93 to end a two-fight skid. Both loss were in WBC junior bantamweight title bouts to Juan Francisco Estrada by 11th-round knockout in October 2020 and unanimous decision to Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez for the vacant belt last February.
Middleweight Denzel Bentley (17-2-1, 14 KOs), 28, of England, will be back in action for the first time since a decision loss challenging WBO titlist Janibek Alimkhanuly in November in Las Vegas. Bentley will defend the British title against Kieran Smith (18-1, 7 KOs), 29, a southpaw from Scotland, on the undercard of WBO interim heavyweight titlist Joe Joyce’s defense against Zhang Zhilei on April 15 at the Copper Box Arena in London, promoter Frank Warren announced. “Denzel Bentley proved himself as a world level performer over in Las Vegas against Janibek, a man who the other middleweights wouldn’t go near,” Warren said. “He can return to the top table and an upside for him, and us, is that he can maintain his momentum in meaningful British title fights, but Kieran Smith fully intends to knock him off course.”
Japanese kickboxing star Tenshin Nasukawa, 24, plans to box professionally and signed with Teiken Boxing this week. He is expected to make his pro boxing debut in April and Teiken has designs on having him fight in Japan as well as the United States. Nasukawa, who was 42-0 in kickboxing, is famously known to American combat fans for being knocked down three times and brutally destroyed as a 20-year-old by then 41-year-old and much bigger Floyd Mayweather in the first round of a boxing exhibition match on Dec. 31, 2018 in Saitama, Japan.
Former junior lightweight titlist Andrew Cancio (21-5-2, 16 KOs), 34, of Blythe, California, will fight for the first time in nearly 3½ years when he faces Jonathan de Pina (11-1, 4 KOs), 28, of Boston, in an eight-round lightweight bout on March 16 (UFC Fight Pass) at Agganis Arena in Boston. The fight will serve as the co-feature for the Callum Walsh-Leonardo Di Stefano Ruiz junior middleweight bout. Cancio has not boxed since a losing the WBA title by seventh-round knockout to Rene Alvarado in November 2019.
Show and tell
Those who saw it won’t ever forget it. It was the kind of event you remember where you were and exactly what you were doing when you saw or heard that 42-to-1 underdog James “Buster” Douglas, who wasn’t expected to get out of the first or second round, had done the impossible. He survived an eighth-round knockdown and knocked out the supposedly indestructible Mike Tyson in the 10th round of a rather dominating performance to win the undisputed heavyweight championship in a terrific fight held in the morning at the Tokyo Dome in Japan to accommodate the live prime time HBO broadcast in the United States.
It stands alone as the biggest upset in boxing history and is one of the greatest upsets in sports history. The fight was on Feb. 11, 1990 — 33 years ago on Saturday. Here are the three different site posters sold at the fight in my collection, having found them one by one over the years. They are somewhat difficult to find (especially in nice condition like the ones I have) and they are pricey.
Vargas-Foster photo: Amanda Westcott/Showtime; Azim photo: Lawrence Lustig/Boxxer; Diaz photo: Tom Hogan/Golden Boy
Please upgrade your subscription here: https://danrafael.substack.com/subscribe
Thank you so much for your support of Fight Freaks Unite!
Follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danrafael1/
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanRafael1
Follow me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DanRafaelBoxing
Vargas foster should be a great fight over here Dan I am getting it on fite
Foster is a lucky lucky fighter. He’s KO’d ~60% of 19 wins. Like you said in podcast, Vargas NEVER KO’d in ~36 wins.
Foster to win by KO--if it goes distance then Vargas