LAS VEGAS — On June 4, junior lightweight titlist Francisco Vargas and former titleholder Orlando Salido battled to a draw in an epic action fight that is easily the leading contender for fight-of-the-year honors.
It was exactly what most expected as Vargas was coming off a dramatic comeback knockout of Takashi Miura to win the 130-pound belt in November in the 2015 fight of the year, and Salido is almost always in an exciting fight.
In fact, the fight with Vargas was Salido’s fourth consecutive ridiculous action fight, all of which were fight-of-the-year contenders. There were also two sick fights last year against Rocky Martinez (a loss and a draw, both debatable results) and an 11th-round knockout of Terdsak Kokietgym in a knockdown-filled slugfest.
The fight before Kokietgym, Salido scored a split-decision win against Vasyl Lomachenko (6-1, 4 KOs), the brilliant two-time Ukrainian Olympic gold medalist fighting for a featherweight title in only his second pro fight. Salido got the better of him, although not by much, in their March 2014 fight.
Now it’s time for Salido (43-13-4, 30 KOs), a fan favorite from Mexico, to figure out his next move. At 35 and with a ton of wars on his resume, he wants (and deserves) the biggest possible fight for the most amount of money.
A rematch with Vargas was the obvious move. However, Vargas was badly busted up in the fight and his team is not interested in an immediate rematch, and who can blame them? He will heal up and then look for a fight that won’t be nearly as demanding, with the potential for a rematch against Salido in the second half of 2017.
That makes the obvious match for Salido a rematch with Lomachenko, who moved up in weight and knocked out Martinez to win a junior lightweight title in June. He would love nothing more than to exact revenge on Salido. It is a fight that is certainly makeable with no promotional or television network entanglements.
Salido promoter Zanfer Promotions wants to make it. Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, Lomachenko’s promoter, has designs on putting it together this fall, perhaps at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, site of Vargas-Salido. HBO, which aired the first fight, should have interest as it is in the Lomachenko business.
“Lomachenko is the fight that Orlando wants as long as he’s paid,” Sean Gibbons, Salido’s manager, told ESPN.com last week in the Terence Crawford-Viktor Postol media center at the MGM Grand. “At StubHub, the people will be there for him. At this point it’s strictly business. He’ll be 36 in November. At this point you want to make him the best fight for the most money.
“If he can’t get Lomachenko and get paid like he feels he should he will go to Mexico and have a stay-busy fight waiting for Vargas. That’s the fight people want to see. He’s finally in position to get paid. He has fought four fights in the last three years that were either fight of the year or candidates for fight of the year. The guy does not make a bad fight.”
Salido has taken short money plenty of times, but Gibbons said he would not do so again for rematches with either Vargas or Lomachenko. But he also said their side would not be unreasonable.
“We’re not Nicholas Walters,” Gibbons said, referring to the former featherweight titlist who turned down career-high money twice to avoid Lomachenko. “We’re here to make the fight, not kill the fight. Tell Bob to get creative. He’s a Hall of Fame promoter. He knows how to come up with the funds.”
Gibbons said whatever direction Salido goes in it should be figured out in the next week or so. Salido says he wants to fight Lomachenko again, especially with Vargas unavailable.
“You did not see the best Orlando Salido in the first fight [with Lomachenko]. I had issues with my weight and I want to put all doubts aside by beating Lomachenko again,” Salido told ESPN.com, referring to the fact that he missed weight and was stripped of his featherweight belt. “I am tired of hearing all the excuses why I beat him the first time.
“The media says it was his second fight. He chose to fight me too soon. Then they say it was the referee. Then they say it was the weight. Enough with all the excuses. Let’s do it again and I will show everyone how a real Mexican fights! I am not a Frankenstein boxer like Rocky Martinez. I have real skills and, at the end of the day, Lomachenko can make a million excuses for what happened the first time but he will see I have his number when we fight again. I have told my manager, Sean Gibbons, and my promoter Fernando Beltran of Zanfer Promotions, go and get me the biggest and best fights that are out there.”
Salido also took a swipe at Vargas for the disinterest in an immediate rematch.
“I realize that Francisco Vargas does not have the heart of a real champion and give me the rematch I deserve so I turn to a fighter that wants to fight a real champion, Vasyl Lomachenko,” Salido said. “I have never ducked a challenge in my 20 years of boxing and I will not start now. This is how all the great ones have done it — Julio Caesar Chavez, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Israel Vasquez, Juan Manuel Marquez. Real Mexicans do not make excuses. They fight the fights the fans want to see.”