Jose Zepeda is an established contender at 140 lbs, while Josue Vargas is looking to get over the hump by taking a big step up in competition in Saturday’s Top Rank main event on ESPN+.
Zepeda (34-2, 26 KO) has been one of boxing’s more oddly fascinating fighters for the last couple years and change, starting when he stepped up to challenge Jose Ramirez for the WBC title in Feb. 2019. He gave Ramirez a hell of a tough fight, losing a majority decision, then after a no-contest in Mexico City, returned in Sept. 2019 to clearly beat Jose Pedraza, a win that keeps looking better as Pedraza has gone on a win streak at 140 since then.
But since then, Zepeda has been weirdly inconsistent in three fights. He definitely deserved wins over Kendo Castaneda and Hank Lundy, but didn’t do it in the fashion you might expect of a legitimate top contender in the division. He gave up ground against both guys, and Castaneda is fringe guy who’s lost four straight after starting his career 17-0 on small shows, while Lundy is an aging veteran, still crafty but not considered near a real contender anymore.
Between those fights, he had an absolutely epic war with Ivan Baranchyk, one of the most thrilling, knock-down, drag-out brawls you will ever witness. Zepeda viciously knocked Baranchyk out in the fifth round and at 32, he’s right in his prime, maybe getting toward the back end of it but also maybe not. He generally doesn’t take a lot of punishment, though he is hittable. On his best nights, Zepeda looks like a clear top class operator. On his iffier nights, you wonder how he’s so well-regarded. He’s just a guy who fights up and down to the level of competition, it seems.
Vargas, 23, is a Puerto Rican-born New Yorker, so this will be a Mexico vs Puerto Rico fight, which sometimes is fun and sometimes is just something for the broadcasters to repeat 18 times on TV. “The Prodigy” is 19-1 (9 KO), and it needs to be noted that his one loss was a 2016 disqualification in Las Vegas.
He more stylishly beat Kendo Castaneda than Zepeda did, but Castaneda is also probably his best opponent. We really don’t know what level of ability Vargas has yet; he’s not a big puncher, but he’s got good skills and a load of confidence in himself — it will be seen as arrogance if he loses, confidence if he keeps winning.
But this is a very, very big step up for Vargas, too. He’s going to sink or swim here, and you also have to at least give a thought, I think, to whether or not Jose Zepeda might feel a little disappointed to be in this fight instead of facing Terence Crawford for a welterweight title.
The co-feature will see 25-year-old Puerto Rican bantamweight Carlos Caraballo (14-0, 14 KO) look to keep his perfect record intact against former title challenger Jonas Sultan (17-5, 11 KO).
Sultan, a 29-year-old Filipino, is just 3-2 in his last five, losing an IBF title shot at Jerwin Ancajas in 2018 and then to Athenkosi Dumezweni in South Africa about a year later in 2019. His wins have been against middling competition in this stretch, but he did beat John Riel Casimero via decision as a junior bantamweight in 2017, and had beaten veteran Sonny Boy Jaro before that. He’s a tough fighter, never been stopped, and seems the right sort of choice for Caraballo, who has never been past the sixth round. This one is set for 10.
Notable junior featherweight Jonathan Guzman (24-1, 23 KO) will also be in action, facing Carlos Jackson (17-1, 11 KO) in a battle of once-beatens. Neither are prospects, but both need a win. Favor Guzman there, but then you never know.
Otherwise, it’s a prospect parade, with Jahi Tucker (4-0, 2 KO) and Kasir Goldston (3-0, 1 KO) maybe the most interesting of those in action. The two 18-year-olds turned pro on the same card last September, and also both fought on Top Rank’s June 12 show. Tucker’s already a full welterweight, Goldston probably will be by the time he’s ready to face real competition.
How to Watch
Zepeda-Vargas will stream live and exclusively on ESPN+ starting at 6:55 pm ET for the full card. Bad Left Hook will be here with live coverage.