What’s next for Mikey Garcia, Jessie Vargas and ‘Chocolatito’?

Boxing

FRISCO, TX — It was an entertaining night of fights at the Ford Center on Saturday night. Mikey Garcia got back to his winning ways by defeating Jessie Vargas, but didn’t make quite the emphatic statement that he had hoped. In fact, he left as many questions about himself as a welterweight as he answered.

Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, already a surefire Boxing Hall of Famer, turned back the clock on this night and stole the show. And a fast-rising prospect in Israil Madrimov kept his wave of momentum rolling. So what’s next for the key players on Saturday night’s card? Dan Rafael and Steve Kim check in from Texas to give their instant reactions.

Did Garcia show he can compete with the best welterweights in the division?

Kim: While he defeated Jessie Vargas, you get the sense that Garcia is a guy who should be at 140. While he is still one of the most fundamentally sound fighters in the sport, he lacks that ability to truly punch through bona fide welterweights. Vargas is a solid guy, probably someone most would consider a top-10 welterweight. Only the likes of Tim Bradley and Manny Pacquiao have beaten him, so he’s a boxer with solid credentials.

But there was something lacking in Garcia — perhaps it’s that next gear, or the finishing kick. But on a night where you wanted for Garcia to make a statement and really mark his arrival as a welterweight, instead, you came away a bit underwhelmed. You didn’t see a guy that could really compete with the likes of Errol Spence Jr. (who blanked him last year), Terence Crawford or Manny Pacquiao.

Make no doubt about it: Garcia is one of the best fighters in the world. But weight classes matter. At welterweight he’s good, but far from elite.

Rafael: Vargas is a quality fighter and a good welterweight, but I don’t view him as an elite fighter in the division. So while Garcia dropped and outpointed Vargas without too many problems, it remains to be seen how he would do against the best of the best such as Terence Crawford or Manny Pacquiao. Remember, when he fought an elite welterweight last March, he got shut out by titleholder Errol Spence Jr., who is a level above Vargas.


Who would you like Garcia to face next?

Rafael: Garcia has wanted to face Manny Pacquiao for quite some time, and that would be a fun, interesting fight. I don’t think it’s out of the question that it could be next for Garcia and happen this summer. It’s a fight Pacquiao has said he would consider, and now that Garcia has scored a solid victory in the division, why not? Pacquiao facing Garcia is a very reasonable title defense for the Pacman. That said, I would make Garcia the underdog against Pacquiao, as well as titleholder Crawford and other top 147-pounders such as former titleholders Shawn Porter, Danny Garcia or Keith Thurman.

Kim: OK, out of that group, I say Pacquiao for one very simple reason: Pacquiao, despite his long and storied history at welterweight, is a guy that for years has fought above his most natural weight. Just looking at his frame, he is for all intents and purposes a junior welterweight who doesn’t hassle himself with cutting weight like many other boxers do.

That is probably the best — and most lucrative — option for Garcia, whose calculating counter-punching style, which is very reminiscent of the great Juan Manuel Marquez, would trouble Pacquiao. And unlike the other names mentioned, he wouldn’t be physically overwhelmed by the legendary Filipino pugilist.

Garcia’s skills would absolutely keep him in the fight versus the likes of Thurman and Porter, but you wonder if he would get worn down by their size and physicality in the second half of these fights. Crawford is just a bad style match-up for him, period, and we already saw what took place with Spence in 2019.


Is there any chance there’s still a future for Garcia in lower divisions?

Rafael: Garcia’s time at 135 pounds is almost certainly done. He has not boxed at lightweight since he unified world titles against Robert Easter Jr. in July 2018. But Garcia can certainly still make 140 pounds and he has said he would return to junior welterweight for the right fight, win or lose against Vargas. Since Garcia is not tied to a promoter — other than Matchroom Boxing’s matching right on his next fight — he could go wherever the best fight is for him.


Where does Vargas goes from here?

Kim: Vargas, who got the moral victory by going the distance on Saturday night, is still a very serviceable guy between 147 and 154. He has only lost to the very elite of the sport, and he generally puts up pretty good efforts.

At this juncture he may no longer be a top 10 welterweight, but rather someone that is just on the fringes of that list while still carrying a very recognizable name. He’s been on TV for years and captured a couple of world title belts at junior welterweight and welterweight, so there will still be some sort of demand for Vargas as a B-side to some of the marquee names in the sport.

Also, given the fact that he has dipped his toe in the water as a junior middleweight, Vargas has some flexibility in terms of what opportunities come his way.

Just off the top of my head, a guy like Vergil Ortiz, who is a very highly regarded prospect handled by Golden Boy Promotions, would be an opponent a lot of fans would like to see Vargas against. Just how ready is Ortiz for the big time? Or how about a guy like “The Mean Machine” Egidijus Kavaliauskas, in what would be a very entertaining crossroads battle where the winner would get right back in the mix in the division.

If Vargas decides to move up, a fight that was discussed a few years ago while both were welterweights that would be intriguing is a hookup with Kell Brook, who is now campaigning at junior middleweight. That fight could actually provide a lot of fireworks, given these two styles.

Rafael: Before Vargas accepted the fight with Garcia, he was on his way to the junior middleweight division. His previous fight was at 150 pounds for his knockout win over Humberto Soto. Now that he has lost to Garcia, I can see him making the move up in weight to pursue his goal of eventually winning titles in four divisions. At junior middleweight, perhaps he could find himself in an eventual fight with any of the name 154-pounders promoted by Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, such as Brook or Liam Smith, though they may fight each other next.


Can Roman Gonzalez be the force he once was? What’s next for him?

Rafael: He’s 32 and had not won a significant fight in a few years, but Gonzalez looked awesome against a good titleholder in Kal Yafai. He broke him down, battered him and knocked out in spectacular fashion in the ninth round. It could not have been a better performance. It was vintage Chocolatito. He can definitely complete with any of the top guys in the division. Will he be the pound-for-pound king again though? I doubt it — but he’s an all-time great smaller fighter and going to the International Boxing Hall of Fame when he retires. First ballot.

Gonzalez said he wants to unify titles and the obvious fight is a very doable rematch with Juan Francisco Estrada, whom Gonzalez outpointed to retain his strawweight title several years ago in a terrific fight.

Kim: Did he ever really go anywhere? Yeah, many pundits wrote Gonzalez off after back-to-back losses to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai back in 2017. But it turns out that like Mark Twain, the rumors of Chocolatito’s demise were greatly exaggerated. After taking over a year off between September 2018 and December 2019, he showed that he still has something left in the tank.

No, he isn’t the guy he once was, but he showed Saturday night that he is still a formidable fighter — one that isn’t ready to ride off into the sunset just yet. The protracted layoff didn’t just heal him physically, but it seemed to mentally cleanse him. As you saw him train in Palm Springs under the direction of Marcos Caballero, you saw a fighter who was still very much committed to his craft — and beyond that, physically fit. The days of Chocolatito struggling to make weight the week of a fight seem to be over. He now realizes that to hold off Father Time, boxing has to be more of a yearound commitment.

And this new found discipline helped him turn back the clock tonight for this future first ballot Hall-of-Famer. So what’s next?

Chocolatito already has a trophy case full of championship belts from strawweight to junior bantamweight, and he’s made it clear that for the last chapter of his career that he wants to unify belts at 115 against the other titleholder. Fights against Kazuto Ioka, Jerwin Ancajas and, perhaps most intriguing of all, a rematch with Juan Francisco Estrada are at the top of his wish list. He’s even stated his desire to gain revenge on Sor Rungvisai. I’d have no complaints about any of those matchups.


Who impressed you most on the undercard?

Kim: No question about it, it was Israil Madrimov, who stopped a game Charlie Navarro in six rounds. While the result in itself wasn’t surprising in the least — the 25-year-old Madrimov was expected to dispatch the 40 year old Navarro, who came into the contest with nine losses on his record — but once again “The Dream” passed the eye test.

Trainer Joel Diaz has said to anyone that would listen to him that this native of Uzbekistan is the greatest all-around natural talent he has ever worked with, labeling him a blend of Gennadiy Golovkin and Vasiliy Lomachenko. Yeah, he’s that high on Madrimov. While he may not have outright power of “GGG” he can hurt you with both hands (from both the orthodox and southpaw stance) and he has a certain fluidity and movement in the ring that is Lomachenko-esque.

With this victory, he now puts himself in line to fight for the WBA title that is held by Jeison Rosario, who holds both that belt and the IBF strap. Madrimov’s co-manager, Alik Frolov, made it clear in the immediate aftermath of this latest victory that Madrimov will face either Rosario or Erislandy Lara, who has the “regular” version of the WBA title at 154, if offered either of those fights next. That’s the reason why Madrimov and his team pushed for this fight to be a WBA elimination bout.

Madrimov’s goal is to become a unified belt-holder in less fights than it took his stablemate Murodjon Akhmadaliev, who recently beat Danny Roman to become the WBA and IBF titlist at 122.

Rafael: It was hard not be impressed by Madrimov, the 25-year-old junior middleweight who looked sensational to move to 5-0 with 5 KOs. He is very advanced despite so few pro fights. He battered Navarro, the veteran former welterweight world title challenger, scoring two knockdowns en route to a sixth-round knockout in a world title eliminator. He can box, he can punch with both hands, goes to the head and body and he has good speed and footwork.

I think that right now he would be competitive and could even defeat many of the top 154-pounders in the world right now. He will win a world title. Write it down.

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