Crown him: Orlando Salido is THE boxing action hero of his time. From 2011 to 2016, he’s waged war in a whopping six Fight of the Year candidates. The workmanlike Mexican — he moonlights as an Uber driver — secretes grit. And no one alive gives a damn that his record is 43-14-4. When he gets in the ring, you must watch.
So when HBO decided to broadcast Salido vs fellow Mexican Francisco Vargas, the new jack to the Fight of the Year scene with the consensus best battle of 2015, against Takashi Miura, it was a pretty big “no duh” moment. It wasn’t a match-up that needed the supposedly mythical StubHub Center to serve as a kind of druid circle to magically transform it into World War III. It didn’t need the inspiration of Muhammad Ali dying 24 hours before, although it did serve as a fitting tribute.
And it didn’t take long that June night for the junior lightweight scrap to burn rubber. Before the 1st round ended, fans were on their feet cheering. Not even a flubbed call by referee Raul Caiz, Jr., who thought the opening stanza had completed when there were 10 seconds left, could slow this one’s momentum. “The orientation period is over,” HBO’s Jim Lampley announced.
Halfway through, a pure slugfest, the purest kind, delivered one of the most electrifying rounds of 2016. In the 6th, Vargas wobbled Salido, who’s prone to getting dropped — 16 times in his career. This time, Salido stayed on his feet, and Vargas wore himself out trying to rectify that. Salido came firing back, and by the end of the 6th frame, Vargas was back in control. But Salido would slowly start taking over, with the 8th round particularly good for him. Vargas found another gear, then lost it, then found another one in the 12th and final round.
By fight’s end, both men were completely bathed in smears of blood and sweat. Vargas, largely due to two long and deep gashes aided by Salido head butts, looked as though he was prematurely awakened from a back alley facelift operation. The draw was acceptable enough, and almost irrelevant, given the majesty of the combat that had just ended.
Hardcore boxing fans sometimes resemble the survivors of some post-apocalypse dystopia, wandering from location to location, just barely hanging on as they forage for scraps. Then, sometimes, a fight like Vargas vs Salido comes along, and it fills our bellies and reminds us what we live for.
Before: Knockout of the Year candidates, Knockout of the Year winner, Round of the Year candidates, Round of the Year winner, Fight of the Year candidates, Fighter of the Year candidates. On deck: Fighter of the Year winner.
(CARSON, Calif. — Francisco Vargas (L) throws a right at Orlando Salido during their junior lightweight bout at StubHub Center on June 4; Photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)