It took several months but Jessie Vargas finally has his fight against Sadam Ali.
The 26-year-old Las Vegas welterweight, who last appeared in the ring June 27, 2015 when he lost to Timothy Bradley Jr. and is 26-1 with nine knockouts, will travel to Washington, D.C. on March 5 to face Ali (22-0, 13 KOs).
The scheduled 12-round bout, which will be for the vacant World Boxing Organization welterweight title, will be televised on HBO. It is the same belt Vargas fought for in losing a 12-round unanimous decision to Bradley at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.
“I’m so excited about getting another chance to win the title,” Vargas said Monday after receiving the contract Sunday. “I was so close against Bradley and I’m still angry about the way that fight ended. I’m going to pick up where I left off in the 12th round against Bradley when I fight Sadam Ali. He has no idea what he’s in for.”
The Vargas-Bradley fight ended prematurely after referee Pat Russell lost track of the time and stopped the fight with eight seconds left after Vargas had rocked and hurt Bradley with a big overhand right.
“That loss will always bother me,” Vargas said of the lone defeat of his professional career. “But I’m using it as motivation to come back stronger and better. I’m coming back with a vengeance.”
According to Vargas’ manager Cameron Dunkin, it took a lot of negotiating to make the fight with Ali happen. Vargas refused to fight Ali in his hometown of New York and Ali would not fight Vargas in Las Vegas or in California. There had been discussions about fighting in Texas and California was revisited when it was suggested the fight be held at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, which, ironically, is in Bradley’s backyard.
But Washington was suggested as a compromise location and Vargas agreed to travel east for the fight which will be held at the D.C. Armory. The fact he gets a second chance at the WBO welterweight belt and a chance to win a title in a second weight division were obvious incentives for Vargas, a former WBA junior welterweight champ.
“It’s a hard, tough fight,” Dunkin said. “But if Jessie was going on he road, I wanted him to go where he had a fair chance.”
Vargas said Dewey Cooper will train him for his March 5 fight with Ali. Former world champion Erik Morales, who worked Vargas’ corner for the first time when he fought Bradley after replacing Roy Jones Jr., will be an adviser for the Ali fight.
“Because the fight was made so late, it didn’t work out for Erik’s schedule,” Vargas said. “Dewey has known me since I was a kid and we’ve been in the gym together since November working on things. He knows me inside and out and he’ll do a great job getting me ready for this fight.
Both fighters have been inactive for a while. Ali has been on the shelf even longer than Vargas, having last fought April 25, 2015 when he outpointed Francisco Santana at Madison Square Garden to win a 10-round unanimous decision.
Vargas said despite having only five-plus weeks to prepare, he’ll be ready come March 5. He’ll train at the Top Rank Gym this time after preparing for Bradley by holding his camp at Mount Charleston.
“I think staying in Vegas makes more sense,” Vargas said. “It’s not hot right now so getting away isn’t as important and it’s not as expensive to stay home and train. I’ve got everything at the Top Rank gym to get properly prepared so I’m fine with it.
“This is a great opportunity and it’s up to me to take advantage of it. I want this title, not just for myself, but for all my fans who’ve been so supportive of me and believed in me, even after I lost to Bradley.”