Alex Saucedo continues progress, Josue Vargas succeeds despite ‘Bubble’ complications


In soundly defeating Sonny Fredrickson over 10 rounds, Alex Saucedo showed that he has made progress under the direction of trainer Pedro Neme, but he’s still a work in progress.

Under previous trainer Abel Sanchez, Saucedo had the well-earned reputation of being a fan-friendly, hard-hitting slugger. The problem was that Saucedo paid the price for the type of damage he took against Lenny Zappavigna (in an all-action bout, selected as one of the best fights of 2018). It showed in a disappointing title effort against Maurice Hooker in Saucedo’s hometown of Oklahoma City back in November 2018.

After that night, changes were made.

The bottom line is that Saucedo will always get touched up in the ring, as his come-forward style usually comes at a certain price. But with Sanchez, Saucedo’s progress had stalled. In the fight with Hooker, he showed all the head movement of a statue. Neme was not brought in to change Saucedo, whose natural ring identity is to be a pressure fighter that breaks his opponents down, but rather to be a fighter that is more defensively responsible in the process.

Saucedo will never be mistaken for Willie Pep or Pernell Whitaker, but against Fredrickson you saw more head movement, a chin that was tucked in more consistently, usage of the jab as a pathfinder to his opponent and changing angles while punching from in-close. The goal is to make sure he gets hit less often in the future.

Saucedo looked better in the early going, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The 6-foot-1 Fredrickson started to get more comfortable in letting his hands go as the fight went on, and he was able to find the mark with numerous uppercuts. That right there is about faulty head placement and not fully understanding spacing, which Saucedo will have to continue to improve.

At times the last line of defense for Saucedo will be his chin, and he’ll always be a tad leaky on the defensive end. His best defense will always be his offense. Breaking down the wall of Rod Salka in a first-round KO victory in November proved nothing, but the Fredrickson fight gave a good indication of positive development with Neme.

No trainer, no problem

Junior welterweight Josue Vargas got some quality work in on Tuesday night, the type of hard rounds that every prospect needs on their way up. These types of experiences are much more valuable than early-round KOs against over-matched foes.

This was perhaps one of the tougher fights of Vargas’ career so far, given that his father and trainer, Elario Vargas, was barred from the corner after he was caught leaving and trying to re-enter the controlled environment of “The Bubble” (more on that below). It was startling to see Vargas so emotional as he spoke to ESPN reporter Bernardo Osuna about this issue just as he was preparing to step in the ring.

This couldn’t have been an easy situation for anyone involved, especially the younger Vargas, as it’s tough enough to lose the services of your lead trainer at the 11th hour — even more so considering it was his father, whom he has a close relationship with. His reaction to this unfortunate situation shows you that boxing is every bit as mental as it is physical.

Kudos are in order for trainer Raul Rivas, who took over the reins and did a masterful job in jockeying Vargas to the finish line. He gave strong commands throughout the night and provided an assuring presence that helped mitigate the lack of a familiar voice. Rivas is the head trainer of John Bauza, who also fought on the card.

While not a great puncher, Vargas is a solid boxer-puncher from his left-handed stance, and he stings just hard enough that he’ll get your attention. Vargas showed that he has a good understanding of how to move around the ring, adeptly changing distances and angles on the inside.

It was a fight that Vargas will never forget, but under tough and unusual circumstances, he took another important step forward in his development.

Bauza needs time

The best things junior welterweight John Bauza has going for him are that he’s a southpaw, and that he’s only 22 years old. In defeating the rugged Larry Fryers on Tuesday, Bauza showed that he has boxing skills and can throw sharp counter-punches, but when he was on the inside, Bauza was muscled around by the 29-year-old Fryers. Bauza will have to find his way as a volume puncher as his career evolves, given the fact he doesn’t have heavy hands.

I wonder if he’ll actually be slick and elusive enough to fend off the harder-hitting 140-pounders he’s bound to face. It’s one thing to outbox hand-picked opponents, but can Saucedo do it at the higher levels of the sport, with guys who are good enough to consistently touch him? It will be interesting to see how he reacts as he faces tougher competition at the 10-round level.

There are some skills there, but it’s evident that there has to be some physical strength developed for Bauza to make a successful jump.

No warnings in “The Bubble”

Before the opening bell sounded on Tuesday night’s broadcast, ESPN reporter Bernardo Osuna broke the news that Josue Vargas’ father/trainer, Elario, was expelled from “The Bubble” and couldn’t work Josue’s corner because he was walking around the MGM Grand hotel without a mask on Monday. It was a clear violation of one of the many protocols put into place so that fights can go off as safely as possible at the MGM Grand Conference Center.

Top Rank and the Nevada State Athletic Commission put strict protocols into place for a reason, but it appears that the message still hasn’t completely gotten through to all the participants of these fights in Las Vegas — just because someone tested negative upon entering “The Bubble,” even after the weigh-ins take place, everyone is far from being in the clear.

Thus far, it seems as though the protections are working. One fight scheduled for Tuesday’s card was called off before it could even happen. On Monday, the six-round junior middleweight contest between Rance Ward and Fred Wilson Jr. was cancelled after Ward tested positive for COVID-19.

The sanctity of the bubble is of the utmost importance when it comes to doing as much as possible to protect the fighters, their teams and everyone on hand to produce the show.

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