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Why You Want to Pay Attention to the Rey Vargas-O’Shaquie Foster Card

Tomorrow night we have a Showtime Championship Boxing tripleheader that has flown under the radar, but if you are a hardcore boxing fan, you know it will certainly deliver.

The broadcast will open with an intriguing ten-round heavyweight scrap between unbeaten prospects Lenier Pero (8-0, 5 KOs) and Viktor Faust (11-0, 7 KOs). We all enjoy heavyweight boxing, and in an era where most heavyweight prospects are brought up fighting against vastly inferior opposition, it is refreshing to see two undefeated fighters on the rise risking their “0” against each other. Both guys have a wealth of experience from their amateur careers. Faust won gold medals at the 2017 and 2019 European Games, while the southpaw Pero took home gold in the 2011 and 2015 Pan American Games.

(Photo via Boxing Scene)

Faust was last on a PBC show when he was on the undercard of the Luis Ortiz vs Charles Martin PPV on New Year’s Day 2022. He came out on top in an all-action affair, that saw him and his opponent Iago Kiladze (27-6-1, 19 KOs) both get off the canvas multiple times. The opening round was awarded as our 2022 Round of the Year, and it began with Kiladze hitting the deck thirty seconds into the fight. Kiladze came back to drop Faust a minute later, but was knocked down himself for a second time shortly after. Faust was dropped again at the beginning of round two, but weathered the storm to put Kiladze down for good later in the round. He kept active in between his TV opportunities, picking up two decision victories in Germany to round out 2022.

Pero was also on that 2022 New Year’s Day card, winning an eight round unanimous decision over fellow Cuban Geovany Bruzon (7-2, 6 KOs). Like his opposition, he kept active fighting two more times to round out the year. He has linked up with our 2022 Trainer of the Year, Bob Santos, and is hoping a win Saturday night can catapult him into bigger and better things. He represented Cuba in the 2016 Olympics, beating current Top Rank prospect Guido Vianello (10-1, 9 KOs) in the opening round before losing to eventual bronze medalist and current IBF heavyweight #1 contender Filip Hrgovic (15-0, 12 KOs) in the round of 32. The most impressive feat of Pero’s is that he holds four victories in the amateurs over Cuban heavyweight contender Frank Sanchez (21-0, 14 KOs), whom many believe has a chance at becoming the first ever Cuban heavyweight champion of the world.

This should be an entertaining affair, and though Faust is the slight favorite according to the bookies, I personally give the edge to Pero. He is more creative with his offensive attack, and is the more defensively responsible of the two which could end up being the deciding factor. Both guys have been hurt in the past, and with heavyweight boxing, we know anything can happen at any given moment. If you are going to go the bathroom or get a snack, make sure you do it before the opening bell because you will not want to miss whatever is going to transpire tomorrow night in the opener.

The co-main features the return of former WBA “regular” 140lb champion Mario Barrios (26-2, 17 KOs) in a ten-round welterweight battle against Jovanie Santiago (14-2-1, 6 KOs). Barrios is back after dropping back to back fights to Gervonta Davis (28-0, 26 KOs) and Keith Thurman (30-1, 22 KOs). Though he came up short both times, he tested himself against top guys, and he had a lot of success in the early rounds against Davis and had Thurman hurt to the body late in their fight as well. Barrios should be commended for testing himself against the upper echelon of the sport, and I firmly believe that he is a better fighter now because of those experiences.

He parted ways with his former trainer Vergil Hunter after the Thurman fight looking for a fresh start. He is now training with ITR Boxing’s 2022 Trainer of the Year Bob Santos also, and is looking to get back in the win column after two consecutive defeats. If he is able to be victorious against Santiago, then there are a number of fellow 147lb contenders that compete under the PBC banner who I would like to see him in with. Santiago has proven to be game and will not come to lie down, but I view Barrios as the superior talent and expect him to be victorious Saturday night. With a win, I see a world title eliminator in Barrios’s future potentially this summer.

(Photos via Boxing Scene)

Jovanie Santiago is also coming off of two straight defeats, and is aware that this is a major opportunity to get himself back in the conversation at 140 or 147lbs. He headlined a Showtime event in February of 2021 when he lost a controversial decision to Adrien Broner (34-4-1, 24 KOs). Broner was awarded the unanimous decision victory, but a lot of people believe that Santiago was robbed and should have been awarded the victory that night. Matchmakers agreed and gave Santiago another Showtime TV slot, as a result, three months later.

He then was put in against one of hottest rising stars of the 140lb division, Gary Antuanne Russell (16-0, 16 KOs). Russell did to Santiago what he’s done to all of his opponents as a professional, stopping them before the scheduled duration of the bout. Santiago was floored in the fourth round and was pulled out of the fight by his corner at the end of the sixth. Like Barrios, he hopes to use the experience he gained in his losses to his advantage and to avoid a three fight skid.

The main event is a twelve-rounder for the vacant WBC Super Featherweight Title between two division champion Rey Vargas (36-0, 22 KOs) and top rated contender O’Shaquie Foster (19-2, 11 KOs). The WBC strap was vacated last year by Shakur Stevenson (19-0, 9 KOs) when he missed weight for his title defense against Robson Conceicao (17-2, 8 KO) in September. Rey Vargas is the current WBC Featherweight Champion and won the belt when he defeated Mark Magsayo (24-1, 16 KOs) by split decision in July of last year. Foster is on a nine fight win streak since suffering his second defeat in 2016. Many fighters in the division haven’t been eager to jump in the ring with him, therefore, he has been waiting for a championship moment like this to become available to him.

Vargas does not embody the typical “Mexican style”; he is rangy and uses his length to box efficiently from the outside. Though he is certainly crafty and hard to beat, he has been criticized for his fights not being the most entertaining at times. He was dropped by Magsayo in his last outing, but outside of that, boxed sharply and should have been awarded a unanimous decision. Even though he is the one moving up in weight, he will still posses the height advantage, as he does nearly every time out. An interesting factor to be aware of in this one is – the reach. Foster is a few inches shorter than Vargas but holds a two inch reach advantage. As far as I am aware, this is the first time Rey Vargas has been at a reach disadvantage in his professional career.

(Photo via Boxing Scene)

O’Shaquie Foster has been on a roll since his two defeats years ago. He attributed those performances to a lack of focus, and has let it be known that he is more motivated than ever ahead of his first title shot. He is listed as an orthodox fighter, but can smoothly transition to the southpaw stance, something the Vargas camp is aware of and has made a focal point of their preparation. Foster was last in action in a WBC eliminator against then undefeated Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov (19-1, 10 KOs). He was able to utilize his counterpunching ability to make Yaqubov pay, something he will look to employ tomorrow night as well. Yaqubov competed to the final bell and had a few moments of success, but the overall skillset and gameplan of Foster proved to be too much in the end. He scored a knockdown in the final round en route to a wide unanimous decision win.

Rey Vargas opened up the favorite, but the odds have tightened up in the leadup to the fight with it now virtually being a 50-50 fight. The 130lb division is wide open at the moment. It is littered with world-level contenders, but now that Shakur Stevenson has moved up to lightweight, we are waiting for someone to make a claim as the “king” of the division. The winner of this fight is in a great spot to make his claim as the top guy in the division. Vargas has seemed more vulnerable to me the more he moves up in weight, and if he comes out aggressive looking to control the action, then I can see Foster landing counters in between his combination work. When the fight was announced I originally liked Vargas to edge it out, but the more I dissect the fight and stylistic matchup the more I like Foster to get the job done.

Will Vargas, like Emanuel Navarrete (37-1, 31 KOs) did last weekend, join the illustrious list of Mexican three division champions which includes guys like Julio Cesar Chavez, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Leo Santa Cruz and Canelo Alvarez? Or, is this one step too far and the perfect opportunity for O’Shaquie Foster to capitalize on the title shot that he’s been waiting for? Tune in to Showtime tomorrow night to find out. The Showtime Championship Boxing tripleheader begins at 9:00pmEST/6:00pmPST with the main event scheduled roughly for 11:00/11:30pmEST, 8:00/8:30pmPST.

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