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Rey Vargas moves to featherweight, named mandatory challenger for Gary Russell Jr.

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Vargas was named super bantamweight champion in recess after breaking his leg

WBC Super Bantamweight Championship - Vargas v Kameda Photo By Tom Hogan/Golden Boy/Getty Images

WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr.’s annual title defense looks to feature an unexpected challenger. Mauricio Sulaiman tells Behind the Gloves that he’s ordered Russell to face former super bantamweight champion Rey Vargas, who’s moved up in weight and exercised his right to be named mandatory challenger.

Sulaiman claims “negotiation has begun.”

Vargas (34-0, 22 KO) enjoyed a lengthy reign at 122 pounds, claiming the belt with a majority decision over Gavin McDonnell in 2017 and defending it five times against the likes of Ronny Rios, Oscar Negrete, and Azat Hovhannisyan. More than a year after his most recent victory, a July 2019 decision over Tomoki Kameda, he was named champion in recess due to a broken leg, leaving Luis Nery to face Aaron Alameda for the vacant belt.

Rather than challenge “Pantera” upon his return to the ring, he’s instead elected to vacate and pursuit Russell’s (31-1, 18 KO) 126-pound title. Russell is coming up on a year since his successful mandatory defense against Tugstsogt Nyambayar, the <9-month turnaround for which was his shortest since 2015. He’s beefed with both Terence Crawford and Devin Haney in the interim, claiming he’s “not at all satisfied” with fighting once a year and that fighters are avoiding him.

Whatever the case, it looks like Vargas is next. Despite his long run at 122, he’s the taller man by more than half a foot and will have nearly as much reach on Russell. Could be interesting.