There was little question Saturday night's scheduled 10-round welterweight bout between all-action Brandon Rios and Diego Chaves had undeniable potential for fireworks.
Unfortunately for fight fans, they were the wrong kind.
After an exceptional opening round of two-way action at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the fight slowly devolved into a foul-filled mess. Numerous warnings and a combined three point deductions later (with two for Chaves), referee Vic Drakulich officially called a halt to the bout at 1:26 of Round 9 in favor of Rios (32-2-1, 23 KOs) by disqualification.
"It is what it is, but not the way I wanted to win," Rios said. "I wanted to show everybody that I was still here. I don't even know if I was winning or not. Chaves had tremendous skills but, come on man. If you want to fight, let's fight, just don't fight dirty."
Chaves (23-2-1, 19 KOs), a native of Argentina who made the 15-hour flight to Las Vegas on Thursday after visa issues nearly called off the fight, was ahead by one point on two of three scorecards at the time of the stoppage.
Drakulich took a point away from Chaves for holding in Round 3 before evening matters in Round 5 by docking Rios -- who led with his head at close range throughout -- for tackling Chaves to the canvas. In Round 6, Drakulich vehemently warned both for head-butting and threatened disqualification, saying, "I've had enough of both of you."
The focus continued to turn away from the actual fighting in Round 8 when Chaves lost a second point for blatantly pushing his glove into Rios' face. By Round 9, Drakulich had seen enough following a takedown, which appeared to be initiated by Chaves, that sent both fighters down hard to the canvas.
After briefly allowing the fight to continue, the two fighters continued the roughhousing at close range, leading to a frustrated Drakulich waving off the fight.
"He kept f---ing grabbing my head," Rios said. "He would give me a headlock and go like that with his thumb (put his glove to Rios' face and attempt to thumb him in the eye). What could I do?"
Both fighters claimed after the bout that Drakulich didn't properly communicate to them why points were being deducted. In fact, Chaves, 28, a former interim welterweight titlist who lost his title by 10th-round knockout to Keith Thurman last July, did not understand why the fight was stopped.
"No, truly I don't know. Because for nine of the 10 rounds, or whatever we fought, I was taking head-butts and rabbit punches," Chaves said through an interpreter. "I don't know what I did."
The fight was Rios' first since losing a wide decision to Manny Pacquiao last November in his welterweight debut, and a critical one for "Bam Bam," 28, who entered the bout on a two-fight losing streak.
Despite wielding his iron chin throughout, Rios was routinely beaten to the punch by Chaves, who mixed in right uppercuts and left hooks at close range. Rios, however, appeared to be turning the tide on the scorecards just a bit thanks to his vaunted pressure style before the fight was stopped.
"I'm happy with the way I performed, but I wasn't happy with the way it went," Rios said. "I wanted to do more. He was just an awkward fighter and a dirty fighter. What can I say? But I did have some ring rust. I could say that. That's what happens when you take a year off."
Rios' trainer, Robert Garcia, wasn't worried about the punishment his fighter was absorbing.
"It's part of the fight," Garcia said. "[Chaves] is a real fight. Brandon gets hit -- it's something that everybody knows. He was giving back some real good shots, also. That's just Brandon's style."
Considering Chaves' difficult journey just to arrive on American soil in time for the fight, the outcome was a disappointing one. He was quick to reference the multiple head-butts and rabbit punches he endured before Drakulich's decision to stop the fight, and voiced his preference for a rematch.
"It was a dirty fight and [Rios] made it dirty," Chaves said. "They think he's a big shot and that he's a big guy. But truthfully, I was teaching him. And I think it's unjust the way that I was disqualified. I was hitting him comfortably whenever I wanted to.
"I want to fight again with Brandon Rios. But truthfully, they need to change the referee because this was a disgrace what happened to me."
Vargas outpoints Novikov
Unbeaten Jesse Vargas defended his secondary junior welterweight title with a unanimous decision over Russia's Anton Novikov.
Fighting in his native Las Vegas for the eighth time in his past nine fights, Vargas, who's no stranger to coming up on the winning side of close decisions, had another fight go his way.
Despite being outlanded 148 to 135 according to CompuBox, Vargas (25-0, 9 KOs) took home the victory by judges' scores of 118-111 (twice) and 117-111. ESPN.com scored the bout 115-113 in favor of Novikov.
"I can be even better," Vargas said. "It was a rough fight. I landed the cleaner punches."
Vargas, 25, jumped out to an early lead on the scorecards by landing a series of flush, hard shots over the first three rounds. But Novikov (29-1, 10 KOs), 26, never stopped coming forward.
Despite squaring up as he came forward, leaving him open to counter fire, the native of Russia used volume punching and combinations in close to continually apply pressure as Vargas appeared to fade in the second half of the fight.