Rey Vargas to defend junior featherweight belt against Azat Hovhannisyan

Junior featherweight world titleholder Rey Vargas will defend his 122-pound belt against Azat Hovhannisyan on May 12 at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York, Golden Boy Promotions announced Thursday.

The fight will serve as the co-feature to the previously announced fight between junior middleweight world titlist Sadam Ali and mandatory challenger and former titleholder Liam Smith. Both fights will air on HBO's "World Championship Boxing" beginning at 10 p.m. ET.

Vargas (31-0, 22 KOs), 27, of Mexico, will make his third defense of the vacant title he won in February 2017 by outpointing Gavin McDonnell in Hull, England.

"I'm ready to make the third defense of my world title in what will be the next step of a historic career," Vargas said. "I've faced the best contenders since becoming world champion, and May 12 will not be the exception. Hovhannisyan is explosive and fast, but I will be prepared to win in exciting fashion to show that I'm the best [junior featherweight] in the world."

Vargas is perhaps overstating Hovhannisyan's credentials, though he has won eight fights in a row since a six-round decision loss in 2014, including a sixth-round knockout of fringe contender Ronny Rios in on March 9.

Hovhannisyan (14-2, 11 KOs), 29, a native of Armenia fighting out of Los Angeles, defeated Rios far easier than Vargas did. Vargas won a unanimous decision against Rios in an August title defense.

"This is the most important fight of my career," Hovhannisyan said. "I've prepared for this fight my entire life. Vargas is a great champion and this will be a hard fight, but I will do anything it takes to win this title."

Golden Boy Promotions CEO said he anticipated two action fights on the night.

"Both of these world championship fights on May 12 will provide action from the opening bell," De La Hoya said. "Rey Vargas is the man to beat in the 122-pound division, and Azat Hovhannisyan has put in the work to potentially dethrone him."

Ali (26-1, 14 KOs), 29, a 2008 U.S. Olympian from Brooklyn, New York, is making his first defense since winning a 154-pound title from Miguel Cotto in a major upset in December.

Smith (26-1-1, 14 KOs), 29, of England, will try to reclaim the belt he won in 2015 and lost in his third defense to Canelo Alvarez in 2016.