Foster hands two-division world champ Rey Vargas his first loss in a dominant performance to capture the vacant WBC 130-pound World Title Saturday night on SHOWTIME.
Sitting there in the depths six years ago, O’Shaquie Foster’s mind would wander to better places, taking himself from where he was and imagining where he would be after he got out. Once the metal prison doors clanged shut behind him after a four-month stay for aggravated assault in 2017, the man that walked out was a far different man than the one who walked in.
Foster vowed to himself that he would defy the odds set against him. That one day he would transform into the man he envisioned.
On Saturday night, that man arrived when the 29-year-old Orange, Texas, product beat two-division world champion Rey Vargas for the vacant WBC Super Featherweight World Championship in a PBC event on SHOWTIME from the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
Foster (20-2, 11 KOs) won by dominant unanimous decision, getting huge scores from judges Tim Cheatham (117-111) Alejandro Rochin (119-109) and a closer nod by judge David Sutherland (116-112).
Foster had a game plan and stayed with it. It was basically turning Vargas, never allowing him to use his jab, which set up his combinations.
“Dedication, hard work. I have a great team around me,” Foster said. “Getting away from the distractions and preparing myself mentally and physically. My preparation was very important. I saw a lot of tape. I threw combinations. I knew that he counter reacted to previous opponents. I tried to switch up my technique.”
The defeat was the first in the pro career of Vargas (36-1, 22 KOs), who was coming up from 126.
“I respect the judges,” Vargas said. “I think this decision was not fair. I don’t agree with it, but I have to respect it. I thought it was much closer than they saw.
“The weight difference may have affected me tonight. In boxing, you can use your legs to be technical or use them to run. Foster used them to run. He ran all night.”
“This is another step in my life. We might just go back to 126.”
Foster seized control early on, avoiding Vargas’ lengthy reach while he timed Vargas’ aggression with the jab. Foster’s movement, along with maintaining a safe distance, was working.
In the third, Foster opened a cut in the corner of Vargas’ left eye from a jab.
Vargas seemed hesitant to throw his right in the first three rounds, but opened up in the fourth. Foster stayed within his game plan, landing a counter right to the face with 1:05 left in the round and remaining in the pocket.
Foster caught Vargas with a couple of quick lefts that pushed Vargas up against the ropes with just over two minutes remaining in the fifth. Foster followed that with an active sixth, backing Vargas against the ropes on occasion.
Vargas’ best sequence came halfway through the eighth, when he put together a solid combination to the body and head. Foster, again, remained poised, inching forward, inching forward and staying secure in the pocket, pecking away at Vargas. A sharp right counter from Foster stunned Vargas and made him back up.
Vargas, however, was closing the earlier gaps and landing more in the ninth.
In the 10th, Foster landed a counter right, and followed that later in the round with a counter left hook.
With 2:04 left in the 11th, Foster landed a left hook off Vargas’ jaw, and it seemed to have hurt the lanky former world champ. Foster, meanwhile, looked in a good position to win his first major title.
So good, in fact, that Vargas’ corner told him before going out for the 12th that he would need to take risks. Foster’s corner, on the other hand, was completely confident their fighter was in control.
“My coaches kept telling me to pick it up, we are ready to go,” Foster said. “We can’t get them out, but I felt good in the later rounds. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t a close fight. I didn’t think it was close. My coaches kept telling me not to let off the gas. I wanted to close the show.”
In the final round, Foster landed a right, followed by a left hook with just over two minutes left in the fight, and finished strong, popping Vargas with a straight right in the last minute. Foster outlanded Vargas 20-5 in the 12th.
“I can’t put it into words,” Foster said. “I know my mom, my uncle, my grandpa, they are all looking down on me. I’d love to unify [the division]. I think I have two mandatories. Garcia, [Emanuel] Navarrete. I’ll face anybody.”
Mario Barrios delivers strong performance, stops Jovanie Santiago
A relentless Barrios looked rejuvenated, finishing the rugged Santiago at 1:42 of the eighth round.
Barrios reunited with his former trainer, Bob Santos, and the results were a positive one from a year ago, when he lost to Keith Thurman.
“It feels amazing. It took me a while to get that groove, to get that rhythm. I felt great,” Barrios said. “I wouldn’t say I was different [tonight], but definitely with a larger arsenal. I’m pretty thankful to have Bob [Santos] in my corner and my sister.”
The 27-year-old Mario Barrios (27-2, 18 KOs) won his first welterweight fight, while Santiago (14-2-1, 10 KOs) lost for the third-straight time.
Barrios dominated from start to finish.
By the third, he had bloodied Santiago’s nose. In the fourth, Barrios, the former WBC super lightweight world champion, slammed Santiago with a wonderful combination near the end of the round.
“I may have been a bit too conservative,” Santiago said. “I didn’t throw enough punches. That’s the bottom line. I waited around too much and I paid the price. Thank God that I’m OK. This is boxing, and now it’s time to regroup with my team to come up with a plan to redeem myself next time around.”
With 2:40 left in the fifth, referee Mark Calo-Oy called time for a Santiago low blow, though it did not deter Barrios. He kept coming forward, and Santiago seemed to be losing energy.
“I had to get just as physical,” Barrios said. “That’s another thing we have been working in the gym. I knew Santiago was coming with it. And he took the fight in my backyard. That says a lot about him. He’s a hell of a warrior, I tip my hat to him.”
After the sixth, Santiago’s face started to swell and his corner warned him that if he did not pick up the pace, that they would stop the fight. A cut opened above Santiago’s right eye, thanks to a textbook right hand to the face.
In the opening 30 seconds of the eighth, Barrios doubled Santiago over with a left hook to the body. Santiago managed to stay up, only to go down seconds later, with 2:12 left.
By then, it seemed a matter of time. Santiago could not defend himself, and the Barrios’ bludgeoning lefts and rights were taking a terrible toll before Santiago’s corner wisely ended it at 1:42 of the eighth.
“I felt [a stoppage] was close,” Barrios said. “I felt myself breaking him down little by little. I just had to be patient. I knew it was coming. My counter right hand is something that we’ve been working on at the gym in Vegas. Thankful to Bob, thankful to my sister Selina for guiding me in the right direction.
“I feel I’m definitely up there with the [welterweight] elite. I still have something to prove. I promised my city a world title, and I got it in 2019 and I will do it again.”
Lenier Pero pulls out a late stoppage over Viktor Faust
In the opening TV fight, heavyweight southpaw Lenier Pero stopped the previously undefeated Viktor Faust at 2:28 in a scheduled 10-round fight.
“It was a very difficult fight,” Pero said. “(Faust) is a great fighter, so we started to build up momentum and started to hit him and then we finally came ahead in the (eighth) round.”
The 29-year-old 2016 Cuban Olympian, Pero (9-0, 6 KOs) started very well, winning the first two rounds, struggled in the middle, after Faust (11-1, 7 KOs) turned the course of the fight with a left hook with two seconds left in the third. Pero was staggered at the bell and he appeared very fortunate that shot came late in the round.
With 43 seconds left in the eighth, a Pero straight left to the face hurt Faust, who then looked like he went into a slow-motion mode. Faust reached for his face and stopped fighting. Prior to the head shot, a Pero right hook to the body proved to do the damage.
“Since the first round, we were trying to find his liver, trying to go to his body,” Pero said. “His punches weren’t that powerful, so we kept working and then we found that final shot.
“I’m all about overcoming harder and harder challenges, and I came through after a hard fought fight. Now, I believe I deserve to go after the very best.”
At the time of the stoppage, Faust was up on the scorecards of Alejandro Rochin (67-66) and Ruben Carrion (68-65), while judge Tim Cheatham had Pero ahead, 68-65. Carrion only gave Pero two rounds and Cheatham gave Faust only two rounds.
For a closer look at Vargas vs Foster, check out our fight night page.