Just moments ago we saw a new WBC Featherweight champion being crowned as Filipino Mark Magsayo (24-1, 16) lost the title in his first defense, losing a split decision to unbeaten Mexican Rey Vargas (36-0, 22), who becomes a 2-weight champion.
On paper the bout had the potential to be something really ugly, given that Vargas has a reputation for making stinking bouts and Magsayo being very hot and cold. Thankfully however we ended up with a genuinely solid, exciting, entertaining bout that had a bit of everything, including drama late on, a high tempo early on, and some really good back and forth action.
The first two rounds were really close as both men started well, and fought each other tit for tat whilst finding their groove. We felt Magsayo did the better work in round 1, but that Vargas seemed to find his groove in round 2, as he started to establish control of range, and land clean, hard shots to Magsayo.
Through the middle portion of the bout Vargas took control of the action, seeming dominating from round 3, as he made Magsayo look very flawed. Vargas regularly stood his ground, landing clean, heavy shots, he was busier than Magsayo, he was more accurate and whilst it seemed his shots didn't have nasty power on them they certainly appeared to take a toll on Magsayo who was clearly slowing down in rounds 5 and 6, a result of the sweeping body shots of Vargas. Magsayo wasn't just taking shot, he was also being made to miss with his own, looking really raw and crude at times.
The one thing Magsayo had going for him was his power, and he certainly showed that in round 8. He was out landed again, but did manage to land a really good right hand late in the round. The shot was essentially a warning of what was to come in round 9, when a huge right late in the round dropped Vargas. It was a huge moment in the fight, the biggest in fact. He beat the count but looked buzzed for the rest of the round. He appeared appeared to be hurt in round 10, though Magsayo foolishly didn't press the issue, instead giving Vargas the space and time he needed to clear his head and get his feet underneath himself.
Magsayo's failure to jump on Vargas was a huge mistake and by round 11 Vargas had recovered his legs, which proved vital as he re-established control in the final 2 rounds. Those were key for him in the eyes of the judges, as they decided that he had done enough to edge the decision, with scores of 115-112, twice, in his favour against a dissenting card of 114-113, in favour of Magsayo.
The first world title fight to feature an Asian fighter in 2022 saw a notable upset in what was a bout that left us scratching our heads rather than being really impressed by either man. That was despite the fact the bout featured one of the best natural talented from the USA taking on one of the best natural talents of the Philippines.
The bout in question saw unbeaten Filipino Mark Magsayo (24-0, 16) score a major upset over long reigning WBC Featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr (31-2, 18) , in a bout that was confusing, confounding and one that really, hopefully, isn't a sign of what 2022 will bring.
Early on Magsayo started really, really well. He used his speed, size, and youth really effectively to out boxing, out fight and out-speed the lightning quick Russell Jr. It was the perfect start for the Filipino who looked the boss, and looked like he was going to put on a career defining performance. Sadly though he is Mark Magsayo, a sensationally talented fighter who seems to be his own worse enemy at times. After making Russell Jr look second best through the first 3 rounds, he then seemed confused when Russell Jr changed tactics.
In round 4 Magsayo started well, and even seemed to hurt Russell Jr early in the round, before allowing Russell Jr to create space and distance, which Magsayo happy walked into. It was a round that Magsayo won, but set the stage for what was going to happen through the middle of the fight.
The middle rounds saw the Filipino trudge forward, not throwing nearly enough, being made to miss, and then being pot-shotted by Russell Jr who's jab completely vanished in round 5, and instead he become a totally 1-handed fighter, landing little more then straight left hands. Those straight left hands were limited in number, but landed at a high accuracy level, whilst Magsayo came forward with limit success.
The limited effective pressure work from Magsayo, and clean accuracy from Russell Jr allowed Russell to fight his way back in to the bout, despite fighting with 1 hand, and despite not doing a lot himself. He was just defensive smart and offensively opportunistic against a challenger who has often lost himself in the middle of fights, something he did again here.
Thankfully for Magsayo it seemed somebody, likely trainer Freddie Roach, managed to light a rocket under his ass as we went into the final rounds, and Magsayo was a lot more offensively minded, with an increased output in rounds 10 and 11. Something he needed big time to re-establish his lead. Surprisingly however he failed to keep up the same intensity in the 12th round, allowing, once again, for Russell Jr to do what he could to essentially steal a round and make the cards very close.
After 12 rounds it seemed almost impossible to make a case that Russell could have won, but it seemed like a legitimate argument could have been made, on the basis of round by round scoring, for the bout to have been very close. Magsayo had won his rounds clearly. He had won them dominantly, especially early on, but Russell Jr had fiddled his way through enough rounds to make things tight.
That tightness showed on the cards, which were 114-114, 115-113 and 115-113, giving Magsayo a majority decision.
Given the Gary Russell Jr that Magsayo fought the result was performance was horribly under-whelming, but will be covered up by the result. It was another poor performance from Magsayo, where he has just managed to get over the line, and we do worry this reign is not going to be a long one for the Filipino unless he sorts out the mental side of things.
As for Russell Jr, it's hard to have sympathy for someone with his talented, but no real drive to be a star. His was his first bout in almost 2 years, and now at the age of 33 he could well find himself in the "who needs him club?" especially after this performance the fact he seemed to come in to the bout with an injury.
The bout promised a lot, delivered a surprise, but will not be well remembered at the end of the year.
World Title Results
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