The "El Feroz" of old only made brief appearances Saturday night at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., but a more mature Fernando Vargas was effective in unanimously outboxing Spain's Javier Castillejo over 10 rounds in their junior middleweight bout.
Scores were 97-92 twice and 98-91 for Vargas, who sets the stage for a possible 2006 rematch against Oscar De La Hoya with the victory, even though he was displeased with the win.
"[I give myself] an F," said Vargas, whose jaw immediately swelled up after the bout."I didn't feel good from round one. I felt slow."
There was little if any punching in the first round, but with seconds remaining in the frame, Vargas appeared to hurt Castillejo with a thudding right hand, effectively stealing the round with a single blow.
The dreary dance continued in the second round, and by the time the bell rang, scattered boos were heard around the arena.
A short jab to the body knocked Castillejo off-balance early in the third, and Vargas kept up his body attack throughout the round. It was another hard right hand to the head with under 20 seconds remaining though that stunned the Madrid native, with two follow-up lefts putting him on the canvas for an eight count.
Vargas, energized by his third-round success, came out bombing to the body and head as the fourth commenced, but Castillejo weathered the storm and fired back with enthusiasm for the first time in the fight, even though it was clearly Vargas' round.
The pace dipped again in the fifth, but Vargas continued to add to his lead with a mixture of solid defense and ring generalship as Castillejo followed him around the ring.
The right hand of Vargas continued to land almost at will in the sixth, and while Castillejo, a former two-time world titlist, was game, he was not pressing the action enough to take Vargas out of his comfort zone, though he did finish the sixth strongly.
Castillejo got closer in the seventh and eighth as he outworked the backwards-moving Vargas throughout, but the pride of Oxnard, Calif., did finish strong in the eighth frame and the two battled it out on fairly even terms in the ninth, while Vargas boxed away the 10th, much to the dismay of the crowd.
With the win, Vargas, like Castillejo a former two-time junior middleweight champion, lifts his record to 26-2 with 22 KOs. Castillejo drops to 58-6 with 40 KOs.
Soto upsets Juarez
Despite two point deductions for fouls, unheralded late replacement Humberto Soto upset previously unbeaten Rocky Juarez in the co-feature, scoring a hard-fought unanimous decision over the former U.S. Olympian to win the interim WBC featherweight title.
Scores were 114-113 twice and 114-112.
Champion In-Jin Chi, who was supposed to have faced Juarez on Saturday night, was injured almost three weeks ago, prompting the call for the 25-year-old Soto to step in.
Soto came out jabbing as Juarez stalked calmly. Soto was the busier of the two early, even though Juarez got his share of licks in, especially late in the round.
The Los Mochis native continued to score accurately in the second round, outworking his foe to the body and head, and in the final 30 seconds Soto landed a crisp combination to the face that briefly jarred Juarez.
Buoyed by his strong second round, Soto led the action in the third as he moved forward behind a stiff jab and sharp crosses and hooks, while Juarez was again stuck in the unfamiliar position of being on the defensive.
Little changed in the fourth, with the exception of Juarez getting through with a couple heavy power shots, none of which had any effect on the active and accurate Soto.
Juarez increased his workrate in the fifth, having his best round of the bout thus far, even though the margin between the two was negligible.
The trademark hooks of Juarez became more plentiful in the early stages of round six, but Soto answered every shot with at least two of his own. In the final minute Juarez continued to get peppered to the face and subsequently had a cut under his left eye to contend with.
Some of the best exchanges of the fight highlighted the seventh round, with Soto again holding an edge, but with under 30 seconds left in the round Juarez had Soto hurt and holding on until the bell after a huge right and left to the head.
Juarez opened the eighth with another left hook, but Soto answered back well with punches to the body and outworked the 2000 U.S. Olympic silver medalist until a strong rally by Juarez at the end of the frame.
In the ninth, Soto was docked one point from referee Tim Adams for hitting behind the head, yet the Mexican came back fast, doing everything in his power to make the point deduction a moot point.
Again in the 10th, Soto lost a point for hitting behind the head, bringing Juarez even closer on the scorecards, and again Soto came back furiously as Juarez tried to match him blow for blow.
Juarez worked his left hook to the head and body more actively in the 11th, and he simply willed himself to win the round from Soto, who had to have the spectre of disqualification hanging over his head after the previous two rounds.
But it was Soto who took the final round behind clean shots to the head as Juarez didn't seem to have enough left in the tank to mount a sustained offensive.
With the victory, Soto improves to 37-5-2 with 21 KOs and 1 no decision. Juarez falls to 23-1 with 16 KOs.