Former junior lightweight world titlist Francisco Vargas will have a chance to regain the belt from the man who took it from him, Miguel Berchelt.
Mexican countrymen Berchelt and Vargas will meet in a rematch on March 23 at The Forum in Inglewood, California, in the main event of a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card, Top Rank president Todd duBoef told ESPN on Sunday after finalizing the deal with Vargas promoter Golden Boy Promotions.
In January 2017, Berchelt stopped Vargas on cuts in the 11th round of a brutal fight to claim the 130-pound belt and has gone on to make four successful defenses. Their meeting produced tremendous action, as Berchelt and Vargas combined to land 760 of 1,979 punches, according to CompuBox punch statistics.
"It's great to work with Golden Boy again putting together what should be a continuation a terrific first fight, and being at The Forum is a natural home for this match," duBoef said.
Vargas (25-1-2, 18 KOs), 34, won the title from Takashi Miura by comeback ninth-round knockout in the epic 2015 ESPN fight of the year and made one successful defense, a draw with Orlando Salido in the similarly action-packed 2016 ESPN fight of the year. Severe facial cuts took their toll on Vargas in both of those bouts and again when he lost the title to Berchelt. But Vargas has had surgery to remove scar tissue and given himself time to heal and has won two fights in a row since -- though he has not fought since a sixth-round knockout of Rod Salka in April.
In his last fight, Berchelt (35-1, 31 KOs), 27, stopped Miguel "Mickey" Roman in the ninth round of a wild action battle on Nov. 3 in El Paso in an ESPN+ main event.
"Their first fight was a good one, but it was stopped because of the cuts. Berchelt has gotten better, and so now we will see where Vargas is," Golden Boy Promotions president Eric Gomez told ESPN. "Vargas is tough, and he is always game. He wanted this fight. and we'll see if he can overthrow Berchelt and regain the title."
The deal comes as a small surprise because when HBO announced it was ending its involvement in boxing in late September after 45 years of putting on most of the sport's biggest fights, Golden Boy, which had been one the network's main fight suppliers, made a deal with new sports streaming service DAZN to move its events there.
But Gomez said that Juan Carlos Torres of Berchelt co-promoter Zanfer Promotions reached out to him to see what their interest was in the rematch. Golden Boy and Zanfer co-promote junior middleweight titlist Jaime Munguia, and Gomez said he and Torres were able to work it out.
"Juan Carlos asked me if we were still interested in the rematch, which we had talked about a few times before," Gomez said. "Vargas wanted it, so we did the deal. I spoke to [Top Rank vice president] Carl Moretti a little bit, and we made it happen. It will be another good fight."
A win by Berchelt would move him a step closer to a likely move up to lightweight to challenge unified world champion and pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko later in 2019, duBoef said.
Lomachenko (12-1, 9 KOs) is due to face an opponent to be determined on April 12 (ESPN+) at Staples Center -- probably the winner of the fight between Richard Commey (27-2, 24 KO) and Isa Chaniev (13-1, 6 KOs). They are scheduled to meet on Feb. 2 (ESPN/ESPN Deportes) for a vacant world title.
"Berchelt has shown interest in fighting Loma, and I think the winner of this fight is in contention to fight him later in the year," duBoef said.