Winning a title is one thing, defending it is another.
Reigning WBA light welterweight champion Jessie Vargas (24-0, 9 KO) accomplished the first goal in his last fight against Khabib Allakhverdiev. His next test is a stiff one.
Vargas' first title defense will come against Anton Novikov (29-0, 10 KO), a skilled Russian boxer who is also undefeated.
The bout will take place at Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas on the undercard of the scheduled Brandon Rios-Diego Chaves bout, which is now subject to change due to the latter's visa issues, per Lem Satterfield of The Ring.
With Chaves' name potentially removed from the bill, Novikov vs. Vargas could become the most compelling bout on the card.
Novikov fought exclusively in Russia for the first four years of his career, but he has taken his skills abroad since 2010 to find a bigger audience and stiffer competition.
Without question, the 25-year-old Vargas will be his toughest test to date.
Fans will be heavily in Vargas' corner. He is originally from Los Angeles but now resides in Sin City. Vargas has a strong thirst for greatness. This bout is the next step in the process for him. Here's how you can watch.
When: Saturday, August 2 at 9:45 p.m. ET
Where: Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas in Las Vegas
Live Stream: Box Nation (subscription required)
Much to Prove
This quote from Scott Christ of Bad Left Hook sums up the perception of Novikov amongst those who have seen him fight: "Don't sleep on Novikov here -- he's been outclassing his foes and can really box."
Novikov is far from a household name, so he obviously has to prove to boxing fans that he's worthy of their attention. He also has to prove that he can perform without banned substances.
The 26-year-old had his unanimous-decision win over Karlo Tabaghua in 2012 changed to a no-contest after he failed a post-fight drug test.
That was two years ago, but it takes awhile before fighters shake off the negative perception associated with such events.
Novikov has barely lost a round since that fight. He looks strong and determined to prove he has what it takes to be a world champion.
In the video below, Novikov and his promoter Steve Bash speak at the pre-fight press conference.
Yearning for Elite Status
As a world champion in his mid-20s, the best should be yet to come for Vargas. After seeing his career stagnate while he was in Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s camp, Vargas bolted for Top Rank and has flourished since.
It was Top Rank promoter Bob Arum who got Vargas his title shot.
Now that he has attained a world championship, the next step is to get and win fights against the elite fighters of his weight region. Perhaps a win over Novikov would set up a battle against stablemate Manny Pacquiao—provided he beats Chris Algieri in November.
Even with potentially huge fights on the horizon, Vargas can't afford to overlook Novikov.
In the interview below with Sherdog.com, Vargas talks about Novikov, the title and the issue of performance-enhancing drugs.
Should Vargas beat Novikov, he may not get a ton of credit for the win from casual fans. But anyone who has ever seen Novikov fight knows that this will not be an easy bout for the champion.
Because Vargas only has modest power, it is very difficult for him to separate himself from opponents on the scorecards. As a matter of fact, several members of the media didn't believe he deserved the decision over Allakhverdiev.
While Vargas is a good boxer with a tremendous heart, he won't overwhelm Novikov.
The Russian is slicker and better at adjusting over the course of a fight. If you watch him in his bout against Manuel Perez in Dec. 2013, Novikov outboxed a veteran who has faced the likes of Rios, Diego Magdaleno, Mercito Gesta and others.
The fight took place in Puerto Rico, but Novikov showed no issues performing away from home. That experience should help him against Vargas.
Neither fighter has the power to take the decision out of the judges' hands, so this one is likely to go the distance.
All signs point to a very close bout, but because the fight is in Vegas, and Vargas is the better known of the two, expect to see him get the benefit of the doubt on the scorecards. He'll win a split decision and retain his title.
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