THE World Boxing Council (WBC) have been good to Rey Vargas over the years and on Saturday night inside San Antonio’s Alamodome in Texas, the Mexican attempts to win his third divisional belt with the sanctioning body. Also contesting the vacant WBC super-featherweight strap (relinquished by Shakur Stevenson) will be Houston’s O’Shaquie Foster, a boxer in good form who is ranked No.5 in the 130lbs weight class.
Vargas makes the step up from featherweight, where he is the WBC’s belt-holder and world No.3. The 32-year-old has also held the super-bantamweight trophy, a title won when beating Gavin McDonnell in Hull, six years ago.
Though Vargas’ 36-0 (22) record is impressive, he’s always carried the air of a beatable fighter, albeit one who always does just enough to avoid losing. Most recently, in July 2022, he was a little too seasoned and clever for Mark Magsayo when winning his 126lbs silverware with a deserved split verdict over 12 rounds. Vargas – who in 2019 tested positive for clenbuterol only for the WBC to rule it via accidental ingestion – can be outboxed and appear slightly crude when faced with slippery opposition but, crucially, always seems to get the job done. Thus far, despite the belts he’s been collecting, he’s yet to fight anyone regarded as the best in his weight class.
Foster, 19-2 (11), doesn’t break that habit but he is nonetheless a worthwhile opponent. He started boxing as an eight-year-old but his hopes of boxing in the 2012 Olympics were foiled by Joseph Diaz, who twice beat him in the US trials. As a pro, his two losses came in eight rounders (in 2015 to Samuel Teah and 2016 to Ronald Chinea) that could have gone either way. Today, Foster insists he was not dedicated to boxing back then. More worthwhile bouts to study would be his 2020 knockout of the gnarled Miguel Roman and, most impressively, his wide points win over Tajikistan’s solid Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov last March.
Foster, 29, is the archetypal bad boy turned good. He struggled for focus after losing his mother as a 12-year-old and in 2017 – a year after the death of his cousin – he was arrested for assault. A spell in Orange County jail would provide him with the rock bottom from which to build. He moved away from Orange and now lives in Houston. These days, he only returns to his roots for occasional visits to see his family.
“For me to be a better person, I had to separate myself from the crowd,” Foster explained. “I moved away from my hometown five years ago and I only go back to see my family. I’m just focused on what I have to do in the future.”
The American is a versatile boxer, one who can box at range and box aggressively. But he will have his work cut out against the steady but unrelenting pressure that Vargas brings. But to call the Mexican a ‘puncher’ is perhaps not quite true; he’s not won inside schedule since 2016 and much of his effectiveness comes from his ever reliable engine. The hope for Vargas, who insists he’s been working hard to hit with greater power, is that victory leads to a bout with countryman Leo Santa Cruz.
“My power is definitely going to translate to 130 pounds,” Vargas said. “I have everything to gain and nothing to lose. The work that I’ve put into my power during training will definitely work in my favour.
“The Leo Santa Cruz fight is definitely something we’ve had our eyes on for years. There were some obstacles coming up, and that’s when this opportunity came up. I’m always up for new and exciting challenges and this was definitely one of them. I think this will be just as good of a fight as the Santa Cruz fight will be.”
This will be Vargas’ second successive appearance in the Alamodome, a venue where he outpointed Magsayo last year.
“We’re coming back to a place where I have really good memories and I’m ready to do it again,” he said. “I know that it’s a new weight class, but I don’t’ feel uncomfortable at all. I want to make history and do something that I’ll remember for the rest of my career.
“I’ve fought all kinds of styles, so nothing really surprised me. I have a hunch that Foster is going to come forward and be aggressive. If he fights me tactically, then I’ll be ready for that too.”
Foster, armed with long 72-inch levers, might be all wrong for Vargas but whether that’s enough to beat a boxer who, at this level, always finds a way to win makes this one worthy of your attention. Purely because he’s operated at a higher level for longer, Vargas is the pick to grind out a points win over 12 rounds but Foster is every inch a live underdog in this one.