Rey Vargas confident he’ll become two-division titleholder on July 9

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Rey Vargas doesn’t like being called a former champion.

After all, no one took the unbeaten Mexican’s 122-pound title in the ring. He was out for two-plus years – in part because of a broken leg suffered on a training run – and then returned as a 126-pounder.

Vargas (35-0, 22 KOs) sees his challenge of featherweight titleholder Mark Magsayo (24-0, 16 KOs) on July 9 in San Antonio (Showtime) as a battle of champions.

“I have a right to fight for the world title,” he told Boxing Junkie through a translator. “I’m not a former champion. This is champion vs. champion, period. I definitely feel I’m where I’m supposed to be right now.”

Rey Vargas (left) gave a vintage performance against Leonardo Baez this past November.  Joe Camporeale / USA TODAY Sports

Vargas picked up where he left off at 122 in his first fight at 126, using his long jab and sharp power shots – including many to the body – to easily outpoint Leonardo Baez in November.

The victory placed him first in line to face the winner of the January fight between then-WBC titleholder Gary Russell Jr. and Magsayo, which the latter won by a majority decision.

Vargas expected the long-reigning Russell to win that fight but gives Magsayo full credit for his victory even though the now-former champion fought with an injured shoulder. As Vargas said, Magsayo “did what he had to do.”

Now Vargas has to do what he has to do.

He said he will build upon his performance against Baez, his first fight since he outpointed Tomoki Kameda in July 2019. He expects to be even better after shedding rust and fighting for the second time at his new weight.

“I do think I’ve been able to work to improve based on my previous fight,” he said. “Magsayo is a tougher opponent than my previous one. At the same time … I’m tougher than him. I know what I’m capable of when I step into the ring.”

And Magsayo’s upset of Russell might’ve been a break for Vargas, who looks forward to facing an aggressive opponent who won’t be hard to find.

Indeed, things might be falling his way after his frustrating hiatus from the sport.

“Russell is a good fighter,” he said. “He’s sneaky, more technical in a way. Magsayo is more direct. He will stand there and exchange punches with you. That’s better for me than the alternative. And it’s why I think this will be an explosive, entertaining fight.

“We’re both powerful, both not afraid to stand in there and deliver punches. Be ready for fireworks.”

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Rey Vargas dominates, easily outpoints overmatched Leonardo Baez