LAS VEGAS -- Francisco Vargas, with his right eye an absolute mess and being badly beaten, rallied for an electrifying comeback to knock out Takashi Miura in the ninth round to win a junior lightweight world title on the Miguel Cotto-Canelo Alvarez undercard Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
It was a dramatic ending to what had been a hard-hitting fight but one Miura was in control of until the final moments.
"I'm the champ, I'm the champ," a joyous Vargas said. "This is a dream come true for me, something I have been fighting for my whole life. I knew Takashi was going to be a tough opponent -- that's why he is the champion -- so I had to make sure I was prepared to face a fighter like him. I feel that my preparation paid off for this fight."
Late in the eighth round, Miura landed a straight left hand that buckled Vargas' legs as the round was ending. After the round, the ringside doctor visited Vargas' corner and gave him a long look but allowed the fight to continue.
Vargas, down on two scorecards, knew the fight was close to being stopped and went right after Miura and connected with a right-left combination to stunningly drop in the opening seconds of the round.
Miura scrambled to his feet, but he was in trouble, and Vargas was all over him. He connected with repeated blows, and when he snapped Miura's head back with a left hand, referee Tony Weeks stepped in at 1 minute, 31 seconds.
Vargas, 30, who was a 2008 Mexican Olympian, had a huge first round as he badly hurt Miura when he landed a clean right hand in the center of his face. Miura was able to stay on his feet, but he was badly shaken and took several more clean shots through the round, including a right uppercut that shook him again late in the round.
Vargas (23-0-1, 17 KOs) continued to land hard right hands on Miura (29-3-2, 22 KOs), 31, of Japan, who walked forward and tried to land his own power shots. Something connected because Vargas had a welt and small cut under his right eye by the end of the third round.
Miura, fighting outside Japan for the second time and for the first time in the United States, scored a knockdown in the fourth round, when he creamed Vargas with a clean left hand to the face with a few seconds left in the round. He had Vargas in trouble again in the fifth round, as his swollen and bleeding right eye -- now with cuts above and below -- looked terrible.
Miura kept the pressure on as he continually landed shots on or near Vargas' messed up eye.
"I knew I had to be very aggressive, and I showed that in the first round, so he knew that I would not be bullied," Vargas said. "When I was knocked down in the fourth round, I felt even more motivated to win this fight. I made sure to fight the way I wanted, how I wanted and my style, and now I'm the champion of the world! I hope all the fans enjoyed themselves tonight with my performance."
Rigondeaux cruises to win against Francisco
Guillermo Rigondeaux, recently stripped of both of his junior featherweight world titles because of inactivity, returned from an 11-month layoff after having signed a promotional contract with Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports and rolled to a one-sided decision against Drian Francisco in a fight devoid of action or entertainment value.
All three judges scored the fight for Rigondeaux. Two had it a 100-90 shutout, and one had it 97-93 for Francisco, which was surprising. ESPN.com also had it 100-90 for Rigondeaux.
One of the reasons for Rigondeaux's lack of activity was HBO and Showtime had no interest in putting him on because of his highly technical style that is rarely crowd-pleasing. Although he handled Francisco with ease, the crowd grew restless early, was booing by the second round and booed lustily throughout the fight. Francisco was trying to go to Rigondeaux, but Rigondeaux moved the whole fight. He landed only 72 punches in the entire fight, according to CompuBox punch statistics. Francisco landed 42.
Despite the layoff, Rigondeaux, who most recently fought Dec. 31 in Japan, a fight in which he got knocked down twice in the seventh round but won a decisive decision, looked sharp with his fast hands that he landed when he wanted, which was not all that much because he simply refused to go forward, even against an overmatched opponent.
"I feel terrific after the fight," Rigondeaux said. "He threw heavy, but his style has nothing on mine. My style outmatched his. It's been 11 months since I've been in the ring, and I definitely felt some cobwebs, but I'd like to see some other fighters be out 11 months and come back with a win. I definitely wanted to give the fans a better fight, so I need to get back in to the gym [and] get more active to give a better performance."
Rigondeaux (16-0, 10 KOs), 35, a two-time Cuban Olympic gold medalist (2000 and 2004) who defected and lives in Miami, boxed as he always does, countering, backing up and spinning away while making Francisco (28-4-1, 22 KOs), 33, of the Philippines, look silly. It is an effective style but will not help Rigondeaux, a southpaw, win any popularity contests.
Francisco was disgusted with Rigondeaux's style.
"Rigondeaux is not a fighter -- he is a runner," he said. "He is afraid of getting hurt and doesn't want to fight. I felt pressured into being the aggressor during this fight because he wasn't fighting. He was running away. He is not a power-puncher and won by points. I trained really hard for this fight, and I feel like it was a waste of time because I didn't encounter a fighter tonight."
• Featherweight Ronny Rios (25-1, 10 KOs) overcame a point deduction and rough start to win a unanimous decision against Jayson Velez (23-1-1, 16 KOs).
Rios won 97-92, 96-93 and 95-94. ESPN.com also had the fight Rios 96-93.
"I felt like I dictated the pace of the fight, and I felt like I was landing more power punches than him," Rios said. "He did throw a few body shots at me that hurt, but they weren't significant enough for me to stop pressuring him and doing what I needed to do to secure this victory. He actually surprised me. I thought he was going to use the jab all night, but he was definitely getting in the inside. This is a really big victory for me."
Referee Jay Nady warned Rios multiple times for borderline blows through the first four rounds, and when Rios strayed slightly low again in the fifth round, Nady rocked him a point, which Rios was very unhappy about. But he focused on going to the head thereafter and had a lot of success in an entertaining scrap.
Rios, 25, of Santa Ana, California, continued to take it to Velez, 27, of Puerto Rico, in an excellent sixth round in which he attacked him upstairs and down as he dropped Velez to 1-1-1 in his past three fights. The draw came against then-featherweight titleholder Evgeny Gradovich in November 2014.
"I was expecting that to be a tough fight, but I did my job," Velez said. "He had some good rounds. I had some good rounds. I did my job tonight but he was better at his job tonight."
Rios has won two fights in a row since his only defeat in October 2014, when he was knocked out in the fifth round of an upset by Robinson Castellanos.
• Junior lightweight prospect Alberto Machado (12-0, 10 KOs), of Puerto Rico, dropped Tyrone Luckey (8-5-2, 6 KOs), of Long Branch, New Jersey, three times in the first round en route to a first round knockout. When Luckey went down for the third time, referee Vic Drakulich waved off the fight without a count at 2 minutes, 44 seconds.
"This was a great opportunity for me on the biggest stage," Machado said. "We did great. This is what we worked for in the gym. This was only a 6.5-out-of-10 performance. I have to keep working and learning, and I am working toward a world championship."
• Puerto Rican junior bantamweight Jose Martinez (16-0, 11 KOs) took an eight-round unanimous decision against Oscar Mojica (8-1, 1 KO), born in Mexico and living in Dallas, in a fight between unbeaten prospects. They slugged it out in an entertaining inside battle. In the end, all three judges scored the bout 78-74.
"I'm proud of my team and myself," Martinez said. "This was a very tough fight, but I am just going to keep working to achieve more wins."
• Six-foot-6, 264.5-pound Chinese heavyweight Zhang Zhilei (6-0, 3 KOs), who claimed a 2008 Olympic silver medal in his front of the home crowd in Beijing, suffered a fourth-round knockdown but won a unanimous, four-round decision against Juan Goode (6-3, 5 KOs), of Taylor, Michigan. Zhang, a southpaw, had dished out a beating through the first three rounds, but Goode landed a sharp right hand that caught Zhang on the chin and dropped him early in the final round. He was hurt and wobbly but made it through the round and won 38-37 on all three scorecards.
"I feel very good that I am still undefeated," Zhang said. "I was careless during that knockdown. I am going to keep fighting until I am a world champion."
• San Antonio junior lightweight prospect Hector Tanajara Jr. (4-0, 3 KOs), who idolizes Hall of Famer Ricardo Lopez and uses his nickname of "Finito," blew away Mexico's Jose Fabian Naranjo (3-2-1, 1 KO) in a first-round knockout win. Tanajara, an eight-time national champion as an amateur, who signed with Golden Boy in August, dropped Naranjo for the count with a right hand to the body at 2 minutes, 10 seconds of the first round.
"I am happy that I got to fight on the undercard of Cotto-Canelo, one of the biggest fights of the year," Tanajara said. "Because of this, I knew I had to train for this fight and make sure I looked good in ring, and I accomplished it. This is a win for Mexico, and I hope I started the trend tonight -- victories for Mexico. Go Canelo."