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Vargas excited for hometown defense

Unbeaten Jessie Vargas defends his junior welterweight title against Anton Novikov on Saturday. Chris Farina/Top Rank

When Jessie Vargas won his junior welterweight belt in April, he did so by debatable decision against then-undefeated Russian southpaw Khabib Allakhverdiev, a technical boxer, who gave him fits.

Many thought that Allakhverdiev won the fight, but Vargas got the nod at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, his hometown.

For his first defense, nobody did Vargas (24-0, 9 KOs) any favors as he is stuck facing another undefeated Russian southpaw, "The Pick Hammer" Anton Novikov (29-0, 10 KOs), who is also a technical boxer.

They meet on Saturday night (HBO, 9:45 ET/PT) at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas in the opening bout of a split-site tripleheader.

"Styles make fights and this fight against Novikov is going to be a rough one," Vargas said. "He's an extremely well-conditioned, undefeated fighter, who is left-handed. My trainer, Ismael Salas, has given me a game plan to deal with Novikov and the direction he moves. I won the world title against a left-hander and here we are again."

Part of Vargas' confidence going into the fight is that he is again fighting at home and also because he has experience against lefties, including in his last fight.

"The big thing is that we are fighting in our hometown," Vargas, 25, said. "I am very excited about that. I am used to fighting against great fighters. As an amateur, I boxed for the Mexican national boxing team and took on the best American fighters. So I've been in the ring with big punchers and with left-handers.

"They now call me 'The Pride of Las Vegas.' It means a lot to me."

Novikov, 26, a pro since 2006, has fought several times in the United States and said he has no fear of fighting in Vargas' hometown.

"I am not worried about hometown scoring," Novikov said. "I plan to win every round."

In the main event, Brandon Rios (31-2-1, 23 KOs) faces Diego Chaves (23-1, 19 KOs) in a 10-round welterweight bout while HBO will also televise light heavyweight titlist Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev (24-0-1, 22 KOs) in a title defense against Blake Caparello (19-0-1, 6 KOs) from the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey.