Francisco Vargas won a junior lightweight world title in the dramatic and action-packed 2015 fight of the year. Former titleholder Orlando Salido, his Mexican countryman, was in two of the top contenders for 2015 fight of the year, not to mention several other memorable battles in recent years.
Making a fight between them was as obvious as it gets, and their camps on Thursday night finalized a deal for a match that has 2016 fight of the year written all over it.
Vargas will defend his 130-pound world title for the first time when he meets Salido on June 4 in an HBO-televised main event at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.
The camps told ESPN.com that they wrapped up their smooth talks when promoters for both fighters -- Eric Gomez for Vargas' promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, and Zanfer Promotions boss Fernando Beltran for Salido --agreed to the final point: language for a possible rematch if Salido wins.
It's a match that immediately goes onto the schedule as a can't-miss fight.
Golden Boy CEO Oscar De La Hoya said the paperwork has been signed.
"The fight is signed, sealed and delivered," De La Hoya told ESPN.com. "This is going to be the fight of the year. I didn't like it at first because Salido is a dangerous guy for anybody, but Vargas proved that he can take on anybody. We all discussed it and we all gave it the thumbs-up. It's an amazing fight, especially at the StubHub Center, which is known for all of the great fights that have been there. We're trying to do the best fights we can from the highest level to the lowest level, and this is one of them."
Salido (43-13-3, 30 KOs) fought a pair of classic junior lightweight title bouts with Puerto Rico's Roman "Rocky" Martinez last year. He lost his belt to Martinez by decision in April in Puerto Rico, and then they fought to a draw in September in Las Vegas that was so impressive that it stole the show from the one-sided Floyd Mayweather-Andre Berto main event.
Salido, 35, and Martinez agreed to terms for a third fight that was supposed to take place March 12, but the deal eventually fell apart, due mainly to a disagreement over the site. While Martinez moved on and finalized a deal to face mandatory challenger Miguel Berchelt on March 12 in Mexico, Salido was left without a meaningful fight until Vargas emerged as a possibility.
Vargas (23-0-1, 17 KOs), who had been knocked down in the fourth round and was unable to see because of a cut and badly swollen right eye, rallied for an unforgettable comeback in a ninth-round knockout victory against Japan's Takashi Miura to win a junior lightweight world title on Nov. 21 on the Miguel Cotto-Canelo Alvarez undercard in Las Vegas. It was named fight of the year by ESPN, the Boxing Writers Association of America and other media outlets.
Vargas, 31, a 2008 Olympian, suffered terrible cuts against Miura and would not be available until at least mid-April, but June worked well for HBO and that was fine with both camps.
"Just when you think you're at your darkest moment, when we lost the deal for Salido-Martinez III, and you question your faith in boxing for a moment, life works in strange ways and we got a better fight," Sean Gibbons, Salido's manager, told ESPN.
"It's been Salido's lifelong dream, the dream of every Mexican fighter, to win the green [WBC] belt. It's been held by the greatest fighters -- [Julio Cesar] Chavez, Erik Morales, Salvador Sanchez and so many others. At the end of the day, it was a fight that came together relatively easy. When fights are meant to happen, all the stars align. It was a fight that when we started to talk about it, everybody I spoke to lit up immediately. Every single person said, 'Wow, let's do it.'"
When the possibility of the fight was raised in the media, fans responded and HBO took notice, Gibbons said.
"The beautiful thing is the vision of [HBO Sports executive vice president] Peter Nelson. After the drum was beaten loud enough, he saw that, and to his credit, he said, 'I'm going to make this fight. Bring it to me for the right deal and HBO will step up,'" Gibbons said. "That's a guy looking at it and hearing the people, hearing the fans and hearing the media who wanted this fight. So I give all credit to Peter Nelson for making this fight possible and bringing Orlando Salido back to HBO for what we think is going to be the fight of the year."
"Salido has the experience and he is also vulnerable, but he keeps coming forward like there's nothing that can stop him", De La Hoya said. "The fact that Vargas also gets hit and keeps coming forward just means a terrific fight. They're both warriors."
Salido, also a former featherweight titleholder, is excited to get another title shot, but blasted Martinez for the third fight between them falling through.
"If [Martinez] wants to see a real fight between real warriors, I invite him to go the StubHub Center on June 4 and enjoy a fight between a real champion, Francisco Vargas, and myself, and he will see what a fight of the year looks and sounds like," Salido said.
If anyone knows what a fight of the year candidate looks like, it is Salido. He won two tremendous featherweight world title bouts by knockout against Juan Manuel Lopez in Puerto Rico and had an incredible seven-knockdown war in 2014 with Terdsak Kokietgym in the fight of the year runner-up, which Salido won by 11th-round knockout.
"I believe that Salido-Vargas will give the Morales-[Marco Antonio] Barrera and [Rafael] Marquez-[Israel] Vazquez fights a run for their money," Gibbons said. "It should be a great action fight that might also rival the great [Diego] Corrales-[Jose Luis] Castillo first fight that is considered by many the best fight in the last 15 years."
De La Hoya said that welterweight Frankie Gomez would appear in the HBO co-feature against an opponent to be determined, saying "He'll be on in a real fight." Gomez (20-0, 13, KOs), 24, of East Los Angeles, was supposed to make his HBO debut last May on the Canelo Alvarez-James Kirkland card against former two-division titleholder Humberto Soto. However, the fight was canceled at the weigh-in when Gomez weighed in at 147½ pounds, 6½ more than the contract weight of 141. Gomez has had a history of missing weight and being ill-prepared, but De La Hoya said "he's back on track."