Francisco Vargas was a 2008 Mexican Olympian, but he didn't turn pro until 2010 and then came up in relative anonymity. But after his epic comeback victory to win a junior lightweight world title from Takashi Miura by a stirring ninth-round comeback, he is unknown no longer.
The 2015 ESPN.com fight of the year took place in the co-feature of the Miguel Cotto-Canelo Alvarez pay-per-view card on Nov. 21 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and has been replayed numerous times on HBO since.
It was a breakout performance for the 31-year-old Vargas, who has enjoyed the numerous accolades the fight has received from the boxing media.
"I'm very happy that people think so highly of the event and, if anything, it motivates me more as a fighter to perform for the fans," Vargas told ESPN.com as he reflected on the epic fight. "Up to this point it, has been the toughest fight I've ever been in. Takashi Miura is a solid champion and great fighter and I have a lot of respect for him."
Vargas nearly scored a first-round knockout and dominated the fight early, but Miura, with a great chin, a huge heart and relentless style, came back strong to take over the fight in the middle rounds as he badly damaged Vargas' right eye and knocked him down in the fourth round.
Miura (29-3-2, 22 KOs) nearly stopped Vargas (23-0-1, 17 KOs) in the eighth round and his eye was in such bad condition that the ringside doctor gave it a long look and the fight was almost stopped in the corner.
Then Vargas, down on 77-74 and 76-75 on two scorecards and even at 75-75 on the third, made his dramatic rally in the ninth round, knocking Miura down and stopping him moments later in an all-time great comeback.
"I didn't know I was down on the cards. If anything all I knew is the fight could be stopped at any moment because of the cut. That was my biggest motivation," Vargas said. "After the eighth round my corner told me [referee Tony Weeks was] going to stop the fight at any moment and that it was my last opportunity to do something, so go out there and give it my all in the ninth round. They told me I needed to make a statement in the ninth round."
That is exactly what he did with a comeback that has been compared to the late Diego Corrales' great rally from two knockdowns in the 10th round to stop Jose Luis Castillo later in the round and unify lightweight titles in their legendary 2005 battle.
"I do remember that fight," Vargas said. "It was very dramatic and exciting. I'm honored to be compared to great champions and a great fight in the history of boxing."
After a rest and time to allow his eye, which had multiple cuts and was terribly swollen, to heal, Vargas said he looks forward to defending his 130-pound crown.
"I want to make a couple of defenses of my title [in 2016] and I'd really like to unify the titles," Vargas said. "I'd like to fight [titleholder] Rocky Martinez. That would be a great Mexico-Puerto Rico fight. I want to unify the titles and then possibly move up to lightweight."
Before he thinks too much about his next fight, however, he said he has enjoyed looking back at his greatest triumph, one that will be remembered for as long as people talk about great fights.
"I have watched the video with my family and we have seen it over and over again," he said. "It was a very exciting fight for the fans, but I look at it in a different way. I look at it as a boxer and notice what I did right and wrong and I analyze it. The last round though, it is very exciting for me."
For all of us.