Jessie Vargas will face Khabib Allakhverdiev at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday. The Russian southpaw, who is THE RING’s No. 7-rated junior welterweight, represents a big step up for Vargas (23-0, 9 knockouts), who had been fighting at 147 pounds in recent fights but decided to drop back down to 140.
“The first thing I said to my manager was I’ve been making the weight (147) relatively easy for my last two fights. Let’s go back down to 140,” Vargas told RingTV.com over the phone. “I also noticed I’m also always so much smaller than the guys I was fighting at welterweight.”
Now the 24 year old Las Vegas resident has to make the most of his opportunity, which is part of the pay-per-view undercard of the Tim Bradley-Manny Pacquiao rematch.
The undercard also features lightweight contender Ray Beltran and a junior lightweight contest between Bryan Vazquez and Jose Felix Jr. The broadcast begins at 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT.
Anson Wainwright – On Saturday you meet Khabib Allakhverdiev for the regular WBA junior welterweight title. What are your thoughts on fighting for the title? [Editor’s note: THE RING does not recognize the WBA’s “regular” titles.]
Jessie Vargas – I’m very happy. I’m excited to be fighting for the title. I’ve always dreamed of being world champion since I was eight years old. Thank you to my manager Cameron Dunkin, my promoter Top Rank for getting me the opportunity. I’m not going to let it slip out of my hands. April 12, I’m doing everything possible for me to become world champion.
AW – What do you think of Allakhverdiev as a fighter?
JV – He’s a good fighter. In order to be a world champion you have to have talent, I give him that respect. I wouldn’t say he was a knockout puncher but he looks like he has a respectable punch. It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve been in there with middleweights. The last two guys I’ve fought, they were pretty big, both came in at 160 pounds or more (on fight night) and the punches didn’t do anything to me. They had knockout records, one of them (Wale Omotoso) had 23 wins, undefeated, and 19 knockouts so he was a big puncher and his power didn’t do anything do me. So I’m not worried about the power. His skills, I think I have better skills, I think I’m a better fighter overall. I have to show that April 12.
AW – You’ll be dropping back to junior welterweight having fought at 147 recently, why did you decide to drop in weight and how has that been for you getting back down to 140?
JV – The first thing I told my manager was I’ve been making the weight (147) relatively easy for my last two fights. Let’s go back down to 140. I also noticed I’m also always so much smaller than the guys I was fighting at welterweight.
I think it was just inexperience at the beginning. I didn’t know how to lose the weight properly. Now, as I’m growing as a man and boxer, you learn things. Diet is one thing. You have to take care of yourself even when you’re not in training camp. That was another big factor.
Now, I have the knowledge and now I know how to lose the weight properly. I’m not worried about the weight, the weight’s perfectly fine. We had to actually eat breakfast the morning of the weigh-in of my last two fights. Now I have the knowledge, the experience, and the maturity to know how to drop weight properly.
AW – Tell us about your preparation for this fight?
JV – I’ve had the best preparation of my career. I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m waiting for April 12. I’m very happy with this opportunity. I’ve worked very hard for it and now I just I have to give a great performance.
We do a lot of intensive work outs, not only that but now that I have a new physical trainer, we’ve been training since October, we’ve gone back to basics just to make sure everything was correct top to bottom. We wanted to work on having more explosiveness, having more power with each punch. I’m a very strong fighter. I knocked guys out at the beginning of my career; the last few fights haven’t been getting the knockouts. That’s why for this fight we’ll come in much stronger just as we used to.
The whole body, it has to click at the same time when you throw a punch, from footwork, leg work, your hips, your shoulders, your waist, everything has to twist at the same time. We went back to basics. You’re going to see a new improved Jessie Vargas. I was very happy with how I was before but I think there’s always room for improvement. I’m a non-conformist so I always try to be better and that’s what I’m doing.
AW – You trained out of the Top Rank gym for this fight, so has Allakhverdiev. That strikes me as quite an unusual situation with it being a world title fight. Have you crossed paths at all?
JV – No we haven’t seen him. His manager did try to come into my training camp but Top Rank didn’t allow it.
AW – Your fight takes place on the Pacquiao-Bradley rematch pay-per-view card. What are your thoughts about appearing on such a big card?
JV – It’s a great opportunity, I’m very thankful for this opportunity that has been presented to me, I’m excited. Everyone, all the boxing fans, are going to be tuning in to this fight because of the guys that are fighting in the main event. They bring a lot of people. I’m getting world wide exposure, not only that but I will become world champion. It’s really a blessing, everything is playing out the way it should be.
AW – Your last seven fights have gone the distance. This will have given you plenty of time to learn your craft and be prepared for Allakhverdiev. Would that be fair to say?
JV – Yes, of course, I feel that way. I’ve been in with good guys. All the guys that I have been in with, they have more experience than I have now. I’m going to be more experienced than Khabib, so it’s going to be much different, it’s going to play a roll. Also, I was fighting at a weight that was a little heavier than I should be but I was able to drop or hurt several of the guys fighting at welterweight. Coming back down to 140, I have no doubt I’m going to hurt Khabib as well.
My last knock out was at 140. My last knock out was with a leftie. I don’t have any problem with lefties. 140 is my weight class and I’m going to shine come April 12. I’ve trained very, very hard. All the experience I’ve learned throughout my career, it’s all been for this time, this moment, which is the most important moment of my life because it’s for the WBA title and to become a world champion and be considered one of the best.
AW – In your most recent fight last November you won a wide decision over Ray Narh. Looking back how do you assess that fight?
JV – I think there was a lot of mistakes committed by me. We went back to the gym and corrected them. Before the fight started I think we were looking beyond Narh. Right now that’s not the case. We’re dedicated and working on every small detail. This fight we have to be 100 percent ready, no mistakes.
I still won basically all 10 rounds. I even dropped him in the last round. That shows me I could knock someone out even in the late rounds. If I work harder I’ll be in great shape and be able to throw punches from the beginning to the end.
AW – Prior to that bout you had an interesting battle with Wale Omotoso. You were both unbeaten coming in you won a decision but he gave you some problems with his size?
JV – I think it was a great fight, it was a great experience. I think I had full control of the fight in the beginning I was feeling him out, I had to kind of read his style, see his moves and after that it was all mine.
When I hurt him, his glove was maybe an inch from the floor. He was out, in the sixth round but I let him go, that was inexperience. I just wish at that moment I had done something different, instead of throwing a flurry, connected with a solid shot, but hey like you said we learn from these experiences and for them to come into play in a world title fight.
AW – When you look at the junior welterweight division rankings we have at THE RING, what are your thoughts?
C – Danny Garcia – He’s a great champion. We’re in the same division. I remember he used to call me out when we were coming up and it’s a possible fight that could get done in the future.
AW – You were once a part of Floyd Mayweather’s team. You elected to go your own way a couple of years back. Presumably you learned a lot from just being around Floyd and being in the gym. It gave you an idea of what it was like to be at the top of the sport?
JV – You learn several things. You learn how he works. He works very, very hard and he’s dedicated to what he does. Every sparring I would see him, he’s just studying and reading every move his opponent makes, which is very smart and I try to do the same. His defensive movement is perfection. You watch and learn from what you see.
The one thing, he works like he’s hungry, like his family is hungry and he needs to feed them. His work ethic is to admire, anyone who sees how he works it’s definitely something to admire. That’s why he’s on top of his game and of course his talent.
AW – Lastly do you have a message for Allakhverdiev?
JV – Not at all. I’m going to fight him April 12. I’m ready. I don’t care what he’s doing, just show up to fight and let’s make it happen.