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Liam Smith vs. Jessie Vargas to be added for Joshua-Ruiz 2 undercard

Alexander Povetkin Anthony Joshua Jessie Vargas

By Tim Royner: Matchroom head Eddie Hearn is looking to add Liam Smith vs. Jessie Vargas to the undercard of the December 7th rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. in Saudi Arabia. Hearn had hoped to match former two division world champion Vargas (29-2-2, 11 KOs) against WBO junior middleweight champion Jaime Munguia, but the fight has never come off.

Liam will likely be a big favorite to defeat Vargas, who can’t punch even at 147. Vargas has no experience fighting at 154, and he looked dreadful in his last fight against Humberto Soto in April.

Munguia is poised to vacate his WBO title after his next defense this month against Patrick Allotey on September 14. That makes the Smith vs. Vargas fight more important, because the winner will be in position to challenge for the vacant WBO 154-lb title.

Alexander Povetkin needs a good opponent this time

Additionally, former WBA heavyweight champion Alexander Povetkin could be included on the card as well. It’s unclear who Povetkin will be matched against, but it’s likely that it’ll be one of Hearn’s own Matchroom fighters. Joe Joyce is an option for Povetkin, but he’s not with Matchroom. That makes him an unlikely option. Povetkin needs a much better opponent than his last one Hughie Fury. That was a real downer for the boxing fans last Saturday night in watching Hughie running and clinching Povetkin all night long in their co-feature fight on the Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Luke Campbell card at the O2.

Liam Smith looking to recapture his WBO 154-lb title

Smith (28-2-1, 16 KOs) lost his World Boxing Organization junior middleweight title three years ago to Saul Canelo Alvarez by a 9th round knockout in 2016.  Last year, Smith challenged the 21-year-old Munguia (33-0, 26 KO) for the WBO title, and lost a 12 round unanimous decision. Smith fought well in the first six rounds, but was unable to keep up with Munguia when he stepped up the pace in the second half of the contest. Munguia dropped Liam in the 6t, and cruised to victory in the later rounds.

The judges scored the fight 116-111, 119-108 and 117-110. Smith pushed for a rematch with Munguia, but he didn’t have the rankings or the solid wins over talented opposition to get the fight. Smith’s wins since his loss to Munguia have come against journeymen fighters Mario Alberto Lozano and Sam Eggington. Those guys aren’t anywhere near talented enough for Smith have been a move up the rankings with the WBO. Smith didn’t look all that good in beating Lozano (33-10, 24 KOs) in his last fight on August 24.

Smith isn’t a world championship level fighter. While he did hold the WBO 154-lb belt from 2015 to 2016, he didn’t beat a good fighter to capture the vacant belt. Smith defeated John Thompson, a fighter that is no longer relevant three years later. In Smith’s two successful title defenses of his WBO belt, he defeated ‘Jimmy’ Kilrain Kelly andPredrag Radosevic. In other words, Smith was milking his WBO title until he lost it against Canelo Alvarez.

Jessie Vargas looking for first real win at 154

Technically this will be former two division world champion Vargas’ second fight at 154, but in truth it’ll be his first. In Vargas’ last fight, he defeated 39-year-old Humberto Soto by a 6th round knockout on April 26 in a catchweight fight at 150 pounds. That wasn’t even a fair fight, as Soto was well past his prime. Soto won world titles at 130 and 135, but he had no business fighting at 150 against the then 29-year-old Vargas. Given the age and size disparity between the two fighter, you can’t count that as a true fight for Vargas at 154. It was mismatch/showcase fight to give Vargas a confidence booster, as he hadn’t won a fight since 2017.

In Vargas’ two previous contests, he’d been held to a draw against Adrien Broner and Thomas Dulorme at welterweight. What those fights showed is Vargas lacks the power and talent to be a dominating force at 147. He won the vacant WBO 147-lb title in March 2016 in stopping Sadam Ali in the 9th round. In Vargas’ first defense of his WBO title, he lost the belt to Manny Pacquiao.

That was when Vargas and Pacquiao were still signed with Top Rank. If they weren’t with that promotional company, that fight likely would have never happened. Vargas was inactive for 13 months before coming back to defeat journeyman Aaron Herrera. Vargas beat him by a 10 round unanimous decision in December 2017.

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