Early on it did look like the title was changing hands with out any questions. The first 2 or 3 rounds were all Vargas, he was too quick for the Russian and his shots were taking an effect almost from the off with Khabib's right eye beginning to swell from the second round. It seemed like a matter of time before Khabib's eye would shut and Vargas would get his first stoppage since 2011.
Strangely from Vargas he then began to slow down and Khabib started to time the American making things very competitive, especially at the end of round 3. The following round saw Khabib possibly winning his first round as he moved up a gear as if to suggest he knew he was trailing on the cards.
After the well fought action of rounds 3 and 4, which could easily have gone either way, it seemed that Khabib then became a little apprehensive. He continued to start though for the first minute of the round he was being out-manoeuvred and at the end of the round a flurry from Vargas stole him the round.
Having had round 5 stolen from him Khabib then kick started round 6 with an assault from the off. It was clear round 6 was one of Khabib's better rounds but it was tough and Vargas's persistent movement and jab was making life hard for the champion who was only managing to have success in spurts. Those spurts were rare in round 7 as he became overly apprehensive and struggled to connect with much of note.
If round 7 had been bad for Khabib then round 8 was a nightmare as a clash of heads left the Russian was a horrible cut over his left eye. This cut threatened to force an early conclusion to the bout though remarkably Khabib's corner managed to control it excellently. The cut, which could easily have ended the fight, seemed to fuel Khabib who tried to turn the fight in to a war and at the end of round 8 we had some of the most exciting of the fight.
Khabib began round 9 as he had ended round 8, cut and knowing the fight could be over at any point. Unfortunately the cut was a giant bullseye and Vargas targeted it with straight shots for the first 90 seconds of the round. This caused the doctor to take a look before allowing the fight to go on. The inspection seemed to fire up Khabib who tried to steal the round and turn it in to a fight but Vargas was equal to it.
Knowing he was behind Khabib really put his foot on the gas in the later rounds and he appeared to do all he could to try and over-turn the clear hole he was in. This saw Khabib out working Vargas in the championship rounds as Vargas appeared to cruise a little bit. It was a risky strategy from Vargas considering many of the rounds had been highly competitive but it was one he probably got away with as he was fighting at home.
Unfortunately for Khabib the judges seemed to agree with the view that Vargas had they awarded him the decision with cards of 115-113, twice and 117-111. It was a bout that had been competitive enough in a number of rounds to have gone 8-4 either way, with that in mind we can't complain about the winner as it seemed likely a close bout was going to go the local fighter. We do however have an issue with the 117-111 scorecard, a 9-3 card, from Jerry Roth. There had been competitive rounds but their had also been clear rounds each way, the final 3 for example were Khabib's with arguments out there for a further 5, to not Khabib a single one of those close rounds is harsh.
For Khabib this is probably the end of his run in the top 10. It's a loss that will cost him not just in future earnings but also in hospital fees as he'll need some major work on the cuts he suffered. As for Vargas he looks like a poor champion and although he's well schooled and fast he seems like the sort of fighter who could lose at any point.
(Photo, courtesy of the WBA, shows Khabib with the WBA title prior to his loss)