Too many ring wars finally caught up to Francisco Vargas when Miguel "El Alacran" Berchelt stopped him in the 11th round of a blood-splattered junior lightweight title fight Saturday night at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California.
Vargas, who won and drew, respectively, in ESPN's fight of the year in 2015 (a TKO over Takashi Miura) and 2016 (a majority draw with Orlando Salido), fought valiantly but couldn't hold off the younger and stronger Berchelt.
Vargas and Berchelt tore into each other from the opening bell, trading punches at a rapid rate. The pace escalated from there, as first one and then the other hammered home hard shots to the head and body. The terrific action had the crowd roaring its approval throughout the fight.
Berchelt, 25, rocked Vargas with a left hook in the second, a punch he used to great effect throughout the fight. Vargas suffered a cut on the bridge of his nose in the third and a cut over both eyes in the fourth. The cut on his left eyebrow, caused by an accidental head butt, would grow progressively worse and hamper Vargas's vision.
Although both fighters connected repeatedly with flush punches, it soon became apparent that Berchelt's blows were significantly harder. The 32-year-old Vargas, however, bravely fought on, blood streaming down his face and onto his chest. The ringside physician examined the cuts numerous times but allowed the fight to continue.
By the seventh round, it became obvious that Vargas would need a knockout to win. Berchelt's attack was in full force by then, and he repeatedly snapped Vargas's head back and dug hurtful shots to the body.
"I wanted to fight the best of the best, and this fight happened because of that," said Berchelt. "Francisco is a great champion, he has fought the best and has been in two Fight of the Year contests. I knew what I was getting into; he has great heart. I left my heart and soul on the mat. I am young and hungry, and I want to fight the best because that is how champions are made. I want to thank Vargas for this incredible opportunity."
The fight probably should have been stopped in the ninth round, but Vargas, his face a mask of blood, kept fighting back and was permitted to continue.
The brutal beating continued until the 2:19 mark of the 11th round when referee Raul Caiz Jr. stopped the fight.
"I want to wish Berchelt all the best. It was a tough fight, and he's young with a lot of heart and passion and hunger,"Vargas said. "He cut me, and I just wasn't able to see because the blood kept coming into my eyes. I am not the type of fighter to give in, and I will always be fighting. I am a warrior, and I will be that to the very end. I probably would have kept going if they wouldn't have stopped the fight. I want a rematch."
New titleholder Berchelt, from Cancun, Mexico, raised his record to 31-1 (28 KOs), while Vargas, from Mexico City, suffered his first defeat and is now 23-1-1 (17 KOs). Judging by his performance against Vargas, Berchelt has become a dangerous force in the 130-pound division.
In the co-feature Takashi Miura knocked out Mickey Roman in the 12th round of a bruising junior lightweight eliminator bout in which both boxers absorbed considerable punishment.
Roman held his own for much of the match, working his way inside and winging left hook to the body and rights to the head. But he paid the price for his aggression, as Miura, the harder puncher of the two, countered with spearing punches as the Mexican slugger advanced.
Miura took control of the fight in the 10th round when he knocked down Roman with a left to the body. Miura put Roman down again in the 11th round with a flurry of punches to the head. And when Roman went down a third time in the final round, referee Thomas Taylor counted him out at the 0:53 mark.
"My hands feel great despite it being a war in there," said Miura. "These are the types of fights that I want."
Miura, of Toyko, improved his record to 24-3-2 (24 KOs), while Roman, of Juarez, Mexico, fell to 56-12 with 43 KOs.
"This was an amazing fight to be a part of, and I will be meeting with my promoter to be discussing future opportunities to continue fighting," said Roman. "I was caught off guard by some of his low punches, but all in all it was a great fight. I wish him the best."
The action-packed card was televised by HBO.