Former two-division world titleholder Jessie Vargas returned from a 13-month layoff and picked apart Aaron Herrera for a shutout decision in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card on Friday night at the Pioneer Event Center in Lancaster, California.
Vargas did as he pleased, knocked Herrera down in the sixth round and cruised to 100-89 decision on all three judges' scorecards.
"I'm very happy to be back after a long layoff," Vargas said. "It was a long time off, and I felt the ring rust to be honest. I didn't think it would affect me but it did, but no excuses. Aaron Herrera came to fight, put up a good fight, and he always kept pushing forward even though I would basically just set him up with jabs and right hands and I'd wait for him to try and punch, and I'd time him then."
Vargas, a former junior welterweight titlist, was boxing for the first time since losing his welterweight world title by lopsided decision to Manny Pacquiao in November 2016 and then parting ways with longtime promoter Top Rank to go with adviser (and PBC creator) Al Haymon. Vargas (28-2, 10 KOs), 28, of Las Vegas, also changed trainers from Dewey Cooper to Mike McCallum, the former three-division champion and International Boxing Hall of Famer.
Although Vargas did not get the knockout he wanted, he toyed with Herrera. He dominated him with crisp jabs and mixed in solid right hands and left hooks without taking much in return.
The biggest moment of the fight came during the sixth round when Vargas nailed Herrera (33-8-1, 22 KOs), 28, of Mexico, with a right-left combination for a knockdown.
"I expect more in my next performance, and I'm disappointed I didn't finish him, but a win is a win," Vargas said. "We'll get back to the drawing board. I showed I have the power with the knockdown. I just have to finish it off next time. I felt relaxed in the ring. I was trying to finish him with the hook. His head movement threw me off and kept him in the fight. We have to keep improving and look better in the next fight."
Vargas said he hopes to be back in March and wants a big name. He might get a shot at unified world titleholder Keith Thurman, who is due back around that time for his first fight since right elbow surgery.
"I'm ready for anyone," Vargas said. "I'm going to start preparing tomorrow for anyone. I'm looking forward to facing Keith Thurman, the [Jan. 20] Errol Spence Jr.-Lamont Peterson winner, or Danny Garcia. I'm back and I'm ready to stay busy and get back in the ring as soon as possible to reach my goals."
Molina KOs Redkach in wild slugfest
In a wild fight of the year contender, former two-time world title challenger John Molina Jr. (30-7, 24 KOs), 34, of Covina, California, survived a knockdown and rallied to knock out Ukrainian southpaw Ivan Redkach (20-4-1, 16 KOs), 31, who fights out of Los Angeles, in the fourth round.
"It was a great fight," Molina said. "I was a little rusty, but it's not an excuse. Redkach was a really tough guy. We got the job done and never gave up. A fight is a fight. It's not over until it's over."
Molina was fighting for the first time in one year, since taking a bad eight-round beatdown by Terence Crawford in a junior welterweight world title fight last December. It did not look good for Molina early on. Redkach was battering him in the second round and knocked him down hard with a left hand. But Molina bounced back in the third round -- a toe-to-toe round of the year contender -- to land a huge right hand and knock Redkach down.
In the fourth round, they continued to trade fierce punches, but when Molina nailed Redkach with a clean right hand to the head, he was visibly hurt. Moments later, Molina unloaded a series of punches and caught Redkach with some of them, sending him to the canvas face first as referee Eddie Hernandez waved off the fight without a count at 1 minute, 27 seconds.
"You always dig deep with your family watching," Molina said. "You never want to lose in front of your family. I'm always going to fight until the very end. I had a tough opponent in front of me, but I did what I had to to get the victory."
Redkach lost his second fight in a row, having also lost an upset loss by split decision to former junior lightweight titlist Argenis Mendez on May 2.
Also on the card:
Junior middleweight Jamal James (22-1, 10 KOs), 29, of Minneapolis, knocked out Diego Chaves (26-3-1, 22 KOs), 31, of Argentina, with a body shot in the third round.
James, who won his second fight in a row following a decision loss to Yordenis Ugas in August 2016, had Chaves on the ropes in the third round when he landed a series of right hands to the head that rattled him. Then he went to the body and landed a perfect left hook to the liver area and Chaves collapsed to the mat in agony as referee Tom Taylor counted him out at 2 minute, 12 seconds.
Chaves, a former interim welterweight titleholder, had previously lost only to top opponents Keith Thurman and Brandon Rios. He also had fought to a draw with Timothy Bradley Jr.
In the opener, Nigeria's Wale Omotoso (27-3, 21 KOs), 32, who fights out of Oxnard, California, made his junior middleweight debut and won a unanimous decision over former welterweight world title challenger Freddy Hernandez (34-9, 22 KOs), 38, of Mexico. It was an action-packed fight. Hernandez started fast, but Omotoso stormed back in the second half of the bout, including in the eighth round when he rocked Hernandez and nearly dropped him with a right hand. In the end, the judges saw it for Omotoso by scores of 100-90, 97-93 and 96-94.