Jessie Vargas has been awarded some gift decisions in the past, and his softly paved path to a world title has left him slow to earn respect in boxing.
Among the skeptical was legendary Roy Jones Jr., who commented on an HBO broadcast this year that he could make the Las Vegas product a more complete fighter.
Vargas took Jones up on it, and in their first union as boxer-trainer Sunday morning in Macao, Vargas produced a game showing while defeating Mexico's Antonio DeMarco by unanimous decision to successfully defend his World Boxing Assn. super-lightweight belt for the second time.
Judges Levi Martinez, Stanley Christodoulou and Pinit Prayasab each awarded Vargas (26-0) a 116-112 score on the pay-per-view undercard of the
Vargas endured a cut under his left eye suffered in the second round, and withstood a knee-buckling left by DeMarco (31-4-1) in the ninth to otherwise subject DeMarco to bigger scoring blows.
"The variation I have … I get to scare him off with the hook. and then the right hand and the body shot comes in," Vargas said.
Vargas was especially sharp in the first half of the bout, barraging DeMarco with three consecutive rights in the fifth round, and later head-bumping Jones after the good flow continued in the 10th.
Promoter Bob Arum's mention of Vargas as a possible Pacquiao opponent is premature, but the description of Vargas as world champion now has credibility.
Another fighter who became a world champion this year, Ukraininan Vasyl Lomachenko (3-1), also shined in his first title defense by surviving a broken left hand suffered in the sixth round and winning a unanimous decision, 120-107 on all three cards.
Lomachenko, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, knocked down Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo in the fourth round with a flurry of blows closed by a wicked left to the head, the first time in 53 fights Piriyapinyo has been down.
The broken hand forced Lomachenko to jabs and right-handed uppercuts, peppering the challenger in the face repeatedly in the ninth, and then raising his right hand — fittingly, after the final bell when punch stats showed he outlanded the challenger, 368-86.
Lomachenko is being pointed toward a unification fight against unbeaten Nicholas Walters, and he said after the victory, "I want all champions."
Also, China's two-time Olympic champion Zou Shiming (6-0) clinched his scheduled flyweight title shot in February in Macao by knocking down Pacquiao look-alike Kwanpichit Onesongchaigym of Thailand four times in a unanimous-decision victory.
The local 8 a.m. Sunday start of the fight card altered the usual feel of a major show, although some fans in the casino adapted by extending the gathering into an all-nighter.
Between-fight entertainment was also different. As Macao's super-welterweight Kuok Kun Ng entered the ring, a Chinese group of singers and dancers performed in the ring.
Ng and another "local," Hong Kong super-flyweight Rex Tso, pleased the crowd with unanimous-decision victories.