By David Robinett at ringside
Photos: Tom Hogan – Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions
In the main event from Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California, former WBC super featherweight champion Francisco Vargas (25-1-2, 18 KOs) continued on the comeback trail, winning his second consecutive fight since losing his belt last year with a knockout of Rod Salka (24-5, 4 KOs) after Salka did not continue after round six of a scheduled ten-round lightweight bout.
Vargas, who took nearly a year off after his loss to Miguel Berchelt in January 2017, started at a measured pace, stalking Salka and looking to land his left hook to the body while Salka peppered him with light-hitting combinations as Vargas was coming in.
Salka, whose Achilles heel has always been his lack of power, was able to hold Vargas at bay with his quick, accurate combinations for a few rounds but Vargas continued to walk through Salka’s punches, loading up on his punches more and more as the fight progressed.
In round five, a right uppercut by Vargas dropped Salka after a delayed reaction. After that, the outcome seemed inevitable, with Vargas hurting Salka with each punch and Salka unable to stop him. Between rounds six and seven either Salka or his corner indicated he could not continue, resulting in the knockout victory for Vargas.
“I wanted to put a great show,” said Vargas afterward. “I did what he worked on in the gym, fighting cautiously and moving my head. I feel great because we did a great job. I want the rematch against Miguel Berchelt. We’re ready for that fight.”
In the televised co-main event, Andrew Cancio (18-4-2, 14 KOs) returned from an 18-month layoff to capture the vacant WBA Intercontinental Super Featherweight title with a final round stoppage of formerly undefeated Aidar Sharibayev (7-1, 6 KOs) 43 seconds into round ten. Cancio, hailing from the California desert outpost of Blythe, had trouble with the fast hands of the undefeated Kazakh early. Sharibayev repeatedly countered Cancio with both hands coming in and landed quick combinations to the head when Cancio took too long to initiate his attack. Sharibayev also exhibited impressive upper body movement, making it very difficult for Cancio to land cleanly.
However in round three Cancio dropped Sharibayev with a sneaky quick left hook near the end of round three which completely changed the complexion of the fight. Although Sharibayev recovered well and outworked Cancio in round four, Cancio landed another damaging left hook that wobbled Sharibayev again just before the bell. Sharibayev was in control for most of round five, but again Cancio struck before the bell, dropping Cancio with a straight right hand. Sharibayev fought more cautiously after that, still winning portions of each round, but his punch resistance betrayed him, with Cancio landing damaging punches in each of the remaining rounds. By round ten, Sharibayev seemed spent, and a Cancio flurry that pinned Sharibayev along the ropes prompted referee Raul Caiz Sr. to jump in, perhaps a little prematurely, and wave the fight over. Nevertheless, an impressive victory by Cancio and some measure of redemption following his painful loss to JoJo Diaz in September 2016.
In the evening’s walkout bout, local teenager Rommel Caballero, the younger brother of former IBF bantamweight champion Randy Caballero, made an anticlimactic pro debut, earning a technical draw with Eric Rodriguez (1-2, 0 KOs) after Rodriguez suffered a nasty cut over his left eye from an accidental headbutt in round one of a scheduled four-round lightweight contest. The fight was halted after consultation with the ringside physician between rounds one and two.
In a rematch of a draw last August, Javier Padilla (6-0-1, 5 KOs) pulled away late to earn a unanimous decision over the gutty Ricardo Arias (1-3-1, 0 KOs) in a four-round super featherweight bout. Scores were 39-37 and a too-wide 40-36 twice. Padilla didn’t look like the undefeated fighter of the two in round one, fighting sluggishly and getting outlanded by a spirited Arias. The underdog continued to push the attack in round two, drawing Padilla into a slugfest for most of the round, although Padilla’s heavier hands started to turn the momentum in his favor. The two fighters traded leather for much of the remainder of the fight, particularly in the fourth round which featured non-stop action from bell to bell. The difference in the fight ultimately proved to be Padilla’s power, as Arias matched Padilla’s energy and pace but didn’t have the power to put Padilla in any real danger while Padilla visibly hurt Arias with both hands multiple times in the latter half of the fight.
In what was tabbed by some as a potentially tough fight, one of Golden Boy’s Irish prospects, 18-year old Aaron McKenna (3-0, 2 KO), easily disposed of Keasen Freeman (4-2, 2 KOs) at 2:06 of the first round of a scheduled four-round welterweight bout, the referee waving the fight over after McKenna knocked down Freeman for the second time in the round.
Highly touted Golden Boy prospect Genaro Gamez (8-0, 5 KOs) took a small step up in competition and gave a solid account of himself, earning a unanimous decision over Shoki Sakai (22-8-2, 12 KOs) in an eight-round welterweight bout by scores of 77-75, 79-73, 79-73. Gamez was simply too fast for the bigger Sakai, landing three and four punch combinations to every one landed by Sakai and showing impressive diversity in his attack, relying on an even balance of punches to the head and body. Sakai proved to be a game opponent, actually appearing to get better as the fight progressed, but never really threatened to change the momentum of the fight.
In the opening bout at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California, Jonathan Navarro (14-0, 7 KOs) pounded out a unanimous decision victory over faded contender Justin Savi (31-15-2, 21 KOs) in an eight-round welterweight bout. Navarro, the nephew of former contenders Jose and Carlos Navarro, relied on a steady jab and hard shots to the body, visibly hurting Savi several times with his two-handed body attack but unable to drop him. Savi showed some veteran mettle, surviving Navarro’s body punching and landing a few solid right hands but Navarro was in control throughout, winning by margins of 79-73, 80-72, and 80-72 on the final scorecards.