WASHINGTON -- When welterweights Sadam Ali and Jessie Vargas were matched for a vacant world title most viewed it as a toss-up fight with neither man holding any significant advantage. But when it was over it wasn't close.
Vargas won decisively, knocking Ali down twice and knocking him out in the ninth round to win a vacant welterweight world title Saturday night in the co-feature of the Luis Ortiz-Tony Thompson heavyweight fight at the DC Armory.
"I tore him apart piece by piece," said Vargas, who won his second world title after a stint with a junior welterweight belt. "I was patient. I looked for openings and when I had the openings I fired the shots. This is what I have been working for all my life since I was 8 years old. Now I'm a two-time world champion."
Vargas credited new trainer Dewey Cooper -- his sixth trainer in eight years as a pro -- for the game plan and conditioning.
"Adding Dewey Cooper to the team was huge," Vargas said. "He brought out the power, without a doubt. He got the best out of Jessie Vargas tonight. Jessie Vargas is here to stay."
It was the kind of explosive victory that will put Vargas into the conversation for a much bigger fight.
"I will put him with any welterweight in the world. Maybe the winner of the [April 9 Manny] Pacquiao-[Timothy] Bradley fight," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said.
Vargas came into the fight still steamed by how his last fight in June ended. That was when he challenged Bradley for a world title and nearly knocked him out in the final seconds of the bout. However, Vargas, who lost a clear unanimous decision, felt as though he was robbed of the chance to finish Bradley because referee Pat Russell mistook the clapper signaling 10 seconds left in the round as the final bell and stopped the fight with about seven seconds left. Now he wants a rematch.
"I want Bradley, win or lose [against Pacquiao]," Vargas said. "We have unfinished business."
Ali and Vargas both came out quickly looking to earn the respect of the other man, and both landed some heavy shots in the early rounds as they went back and forth. Ali looked a little quicker but Vargas' left hook was sharp.
The fourth round featured good back-and-forth action with Vargas in control early and Ali pouring it on late as they each landed heavy shots, although Ali's right eye began to swell in the round.
Ali fell into the ropes in the fifth round but not from a clean punch. He was off balance, but Vargas finished the round with a combination to Ali's head that seemed to buzz him.
Ali (22-1, 13 KOs), a 27-year-old 2008 U.S. Olympian from Brooklyn, New York, had been having a very good eighth round when just as the clapper signaling that there were 10 seconds left sounded Vargas nailed him with a clean overhand right that crumpled Ali along the ropes. He got to his feet just as the round ended.
"I take nothing away from Vargas," Ali said. "He caught me with a good shot. When I got up my right ankle was messed up. No excuses. He landed some good shots, some shots I didn't see. I was a little off. No excuses. He looked good. I have to go back to the drawing board."
Vargas (27-1, 10 KOs), 26, a former junior welterweight titlist from Las Vegas, was all over him in the ninth round. Ali looked unsteady and Vargas pounded him to the head and body. A right hand hurt Ali badly, and moments later Vargas landed another right hand that dropped him midway through the round. He beat the count and was very shaky.
Vargas went right to him and clubbed him with a right hand that rocked him again, and referee Kenny Chevalier jumped in and waved it off at 2 minutes, 9 seconds, disappointing the pro-Ali crowd, many of whom made their way from New York for the fight.
"We finally saw [the talent] tonight," Arum said. "We said to him you got to let your hands go and he had really good training. We always knew he had punching power, but he would never really let the hands go. Tonight he was great."
Escandon knocks out Castellanos for interim title
Oscar Escandon, whose wife gave birth to a daughter three weeks ago while he was entrenched in training camp, will be able to go home with something awfully shiny when he meets his little girl.
Escandon (25-2, 17 KOs), moving up in weight, knocked out Robinson Castellanos (21-11, 13 KOs) with one second left in the seventh round to win a vacant interim featherweight world title to punctuate a dominant performance.
"I feel very happy about this victory. It's been a long time coming and I'm very proud to take the title back to my country," Escandon said. "Robinson is a very tough guy he came to fight, but my training camp showed in this event. I've been trying very hard sacrificing a lot to be at this stage if my career, including spending time with my family."
Castellanos scored a knockdown in the second round when he tagged Escandon with a jab followed by a right hand that sent him to his rear end, although Escandon got up quickly and did not appear hurt. Escandon then took control of the fight.
"When I was dropped it was just a sting. I didn't get hurt and I realize that I needed to fight with more intelligence to make sure I secured this victory," Escandon said.
Escandon, 31, a 2004 Colombian Olympian, worked over the taller Castellanos to the body throughout the fight and broke him down. He had Castellanos in trouble early in the fifth round as he backed him into a corner and banged away at him. Castellanos suffered a bad cut over his left eye in the round and referee Frank Garza called timeout for the ringside doctor to examine the wound.
Castellanos (23-11, 13 KOs), 33, of Mexico, was clearly weakening and Escandon kept the pressure on him. In the seventh round, he hurt him with a right hand while he was trapped in a corner and then dropped him with a clean right uppercut. Castellanos went down to a knee and Garza counted him out.
"I'm very disappointed but I gave it my all," Castellanos said. "I felt like I fought with a lot of heart and that's really all you can do. Unfortunately, the outcome wasn't what I personally wanted, but I respect Oscar. He's a good fighter. He was very fast and caught me with some good shots. He has a big heart and I wish him the best."
Escandon, trained by Ruben Guerrero (father of former world titleholder Robert Guerrero) is next mandated to face the winner of the April 16 fight between full titleholder Gary Russell Jr. (26-1, 15 KOs) and Patrick Hyland (31-1, 15 KOs).
The loss ends Castellanos' run of back-to-back upset wins in which he knocked out then-undefeated Ronny Rios in the fifth round in October 2014, and followed with a lopsided decision victory against Rocky Juarez in January 2015 to earn the mandatory shot against Russell, who was sidelined because of a cut that forced him out of a voluntary defense against Escandon in November.
Washington, D.C. lightweight prospect Lamont Roach (10-0, 3 KOs) cruised to a unanimous decision against late substitute Jesus Lule (8-16-1, 1 KO), of Fort Myers, Florida. Lule gave a tremendous effort but was outclassed on scores of 80-72, 79-72 and 78-73.
Roach looked as if he were going to score a first-round knockout as he battered Lule throughout the round and knocked him down with a furious assault. But Lule was game and although he took a beating throughout the fight, he survived to go the distance.
Washington, D.C., super middleweight prospect D'Mitrius Ballard (12-0, 8 KOs) blew out Miami-based Cuban Leosvy Mayedo (8-3, 6 KOs) in the second round. Ballard dropped Mayedo -- who was seven pounds over the 168-pound weight limit -- three times in the second round, finishing him for good with a right hand to the body. Mayedo dropped to his knees and referee Marshall Cunningham called off the fight at 1 minute, 40 seconds.
Junior welterweight prospect Zachary Ochoa (14-0, 6 KOs), of Brooklyn, New York, easily outboxed Rosbel Montoya (16-7-1, 13 KOs), of Mexico, en route to a one-sided decision victory. The much-quicker Ochoa jabbed Montoya at will and mostly as he pleased, and was rewarded with winning scores of 60-54, 60-54 and 59-55.
Featherweight Kevin Rivers Jr. (13-1, 10 KOs), of Palmer Park, Maryland, scored a sixth-round knockout of Mexico's Angel Aispuro (6-4-2, 3 KOs) in a give-and-take scrap. Rivers was largely in control and got the stoppage victory when Aispuro began bleeding heavily from a cut on his ear in the sixth round. Referee Billy Johnson waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 17 seconds on advice of the ringside doctor.
"I was very strong and prepared for this fight," Rivers said. "I felt like I had a lot to prove tonight and my goal was to secure a victory in front of my hometown. Not only did I do that but I also put on a good show and made my hometown proud."
Lightweight prospect Damon Allen (9-0, 3 KOs), of Philadelphia, slugged his way to hard-fought shutout decision against Daniel Perales (6-4-1, 4 KOs), of McAllen, Texas. All three judges scored the fight 60-54 but it was action-packed and Perales was in it all the way.
Philadelphia light heavyweight prospect Todd Unthank-May (9-0, 3 KOs) scored two knockdowns against Washington D.C.'s Alexander Johnson (16-4, 7 KOs) in a unanimous decision victory on scores of 59-55, 59-53 and 58-55.