Jose Zepeda wiped out Josue Vargas in the first round of their ESPN+ main event tonight in New York, and now hopes to move on to another world title shot in 2022.
Vargas (19-2, 9 KO) had talked a big game all week, and Friday’s weigh-in scuffle created a bit more buzz. But the real talking was done in the ring, and Zepeda (35-2, 27 KO) absolutely washed the young fighter, dropping him on a vicious left hand to the chin about halfway into the round, and finishing him off with a flurry of unanswered blows that sent Vargas slumping down in the corner before the referee was able to call it off.
The official time of the stoppage was 1:45 of the first round.
“I was ready. I was 100 percent ready. I told him at the press conference, there’s levels to this,” Zepeda said. “He was the one that wanted to fight me. I just accepted the fight. It showed today that boxing is not a game, and there’s levels to this.”
“I told him, and he probably knew that I hit hard. I don’t think he recovered after (the knockdown),” he added. “After the way he went down, I didn’t think (he’d recover). He was wobbly in his feet and that’s how I was able to finish him.”
Zepeda said his focus is the WBC title, which is currently held by undisputed champion Josh Taylor. Asked specifically if he’s ready for Taylor, Zepeda said he had no doubt that he is.
For Vargas, he’s 23 so he’s got time to come back, but we can’t pretend this isn’t going to be at least a little humiliating for him. He talked big all week for what was a major step-up fight, and he got run over here.
Jonas Sultan UD-10 Carlos Caraballo
There was a lot of Conversation Sparking with the commentary reaction to the judges scoring this 94-93 across the board for Sultan, who dropped Caraballo four times. But I think it’s important to remember it wasn’t a four-knockdown edge for Sultan, it was three, because Caraballo put Sultan down in the third round, too, a round where Caraballo had been down earlier.
I scored the fight 95-92 for Sultan. If I had edged the first to Caraballo (14-1, 14 KO) instead of Sultan (18-5, 11 KO), as that was not some terribly clear round, really, then my card would also be 94-93. It’s easy to get caught up in how a fight feels. Jake Paul carrying a replica WBC belt around the arena did this in the first Wilder-Fury fight back in 2018, wondering how Fury could get a draw when he was dropped twice. But that’s not really how scoring a fight works.
So I had this 5-5 in rounds overall; I shaded the third to Sultan, 10-9, as his knockdown was cleaner. But after the third round, Caraballo actually boxed quite well for the most part. He just also got dropped in the sixth and ninth rounds, turning those into 10-8 Sultan rounds, and also in the second, another 10-8 Sultan round. But I don’t think if you watch the rounds — listen, I scored every round between the fourth and 10th for Caraballo other than the sixth and ninth, the knockdown rounds in that stretch.
Caraballo, 25, had just signed with Top Rank, and if it’s not just that his chin is fragile, he can still recover from this. Sultan is a good fighter, a former world title challenger who looks like he’s tightened up his game notably at age 29 and could claw his way back to another shot at a belt. Top Rank could do worse than putting him in with Naoya Inoue next spring, and given their general lack of options, that might be exactly what happens.
They could also look to run this one back, but that might be a mistake, and would at the very least be a real risk. Caraballo might want to scale it back just a bit for a fight or two, polish up his game some, and then get back to it. He’s still young enough, and did fight well for much of this bout. It’s easy to see what promoters see in him, but this step up the ladder backfired. It happens, so now we’ll see where he goes.
- Carlos Jackson SD-8 Jonathan Guzman: A lousy decision, in my view, and I’m not alone on that. Guzman (24-2, 23 KO), a 32-year-old former IBF champ at 122 lbs, has now fought just three times since 2016, and he did hurt his right hand (his power hand) in this fight, but he still seemed to pretty handily out-box Jackson (18-1, 11 KO), who was “aggressive” in that he was coming forward, but you could call almost none of it “effective aggression.” But it’s not the first or 500th time we’ve seen this exact sort of decision in this exact style of fight.
- Mathew Gonzalez D-6 Dakota Linger: Scores were 57-57, 57-57, and 58-56 Gonzalez, the latter card a little hard to figure, but the result itself is a fair one. This was a great undercard gem; if you missed it, watch it later. Six rounds of action. Gonzalez started really fast and dominated the first round, arguably won the second, and I had him winning the fifth, too. But Linger (12-5-3, 8 KO), who is familiar to this role of testing a prospect, just poured on the pressure and brought heat all the way after the first round. Gonzalez (12-0-1, 8 KO) has a real setback here, and the 26-year-old got a real test of character, too. I think he passed it, for what it’s worth, because he could have crumbled under that pressure, and he definitely gassed, but he was throwing what he had with Linger until the end. When it was over, both of them could barely keep themselves up, and there was nothing but respect shown. An excellent battle. Won’t win any Fight of the Year votes anywhere, but those who watched this will remember it.
- Pablo Valdez MD-6 Alejandro Martinez: A debatable decision, with one card even at 57-57 and the other two going 59-55 for Valdez, a popular 38-year-old local fighter who is now 5-0 (4 KO). Martinez (2-2-1, 2 KO) should have had a knockdown scored in his favor in round four, but that turned into half a debacle, as Valdez clinched up aggressively on Martinez, who tried to throw Valdez off of him, leading both to tumble to the canvas and Martinez hurting his ankle. Martinez did continue — even though he was told it would have been ruled a no-contest — and he arguably got the shaft in the end. Valdez is no prospect and isn’t trying to be one, but he clearly sold some tickets for this show and brought in a good chunk of this crowd, so sticking him on the prelims was the right move for Top Rank. And it was a scrappy, entertaining fight, too.
- Jahi Tucker TKO-2 Jorge Rodrigo Sosa (2:18): Tucker (5-0, 3 KO) is another youngster, an 18-year-old welterweight who clearly had a small but enthusiastic rooting section in New York, and he went out to make a statement early in his career. He pieced up the 34-year-old Sosa (3-3, 3 KO) throughout the entire first round, and was doing so again in the second before the referee stopped it at 2:18. One of those fights that could have been allowed to continue, sure, but didn’t really need to be, and it’s a fair call by the ref. Tucker was taking Sosa apart and Sosa had zero answers. Nice showing for the kid.
- Ray Cuadrado UD-4 Michael Land: Cuadrado is 25, wasn’t some big amateur or anything, so a little older than you might think of a guy who was in just his second pro fight, now 2-0 (1 KO). And he had to earn this one, as Land (1-4-1, 1 KO) did a little work, landed some good shots, and was the quicker guy in there. I do think Cuadrado deserved the win, but I’ll be real, if I were a promoter and you asked me right now, do I want to put real training/money behind developing Cuadrado or the 22-year-old Michael Land, it’s not an easy call to me. Land may be 0-4-1 in his last five, but he had some moments where you could really see some talent there, too.
- Kasir Goldston UD-4 Marc Misiura: The most notable thing here might be that Misiura (2-2, 1 KO) may have blown his shot at getting more prelim paydays from Top Rank, as the former Muay Thai fighter was purposely dirty, throwing a blatant and intentional low blow, and later a blatant and intentional headbutt from underneath Goldston, driving his skull into the 18-year-old prospect’s chin. Goldston was OK and clearly won this fight, but it was purposely dirty and not the sort of thing you really want to book your young prospects to endure. Goldston is still trying to adjust his style from amateur to pro, but he’s got a lot of time to figure it out.