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Berchelt eyes Lomachenko, but aims to take care of Vargas first

WBC junior lightweight champion Miguel Berchelt of Mexico faces countryman Francisco Vargas Saturday night at the Convention Center in Tucson, Arizona, on ESPN (10 p.m. ET), in a rematch of their 2017 title bout.

The first time around, Berchelt (35-1, 31 KOs) won the title from Vargas (25-1-2, 18 KOs) with a 11th-round TKO victory, slowly wearing down his older opponent until Berchelt took control of the fight and the referee ultimately stepped in and stopped it. That’s the image that still comes to mind when Berchelt thinks back on one of the defining moments of his career.

“I just remember all the blood that kept coming from his face, his eyes, his nose,” Berchelt told ESPN, through an interpreter. “I just remember a lot of blood.”

The first fight remained on relatively even terms for the first six rounds, as both men landed their share of clean punches, but it was ultimately defined when Berchelt opened up cuts on Vargas’ face. Berchelt opened Vargas up on the bridge of his nose in Round 3 and over the right eye in Round 4 with punches; a third cut, over the left eye, was caused by an unintentional headbutt, also in Round 4. Later in the fight the bigger, stronger and, most importantly, fresher Berchelt took over.

While Vargas’ heart was still willing, the combination of the damage that he’d suffered in this fight, after coming off of two physically grueling bouts against Orlando Salido and Takashi Miura — both ESPN fights of the year — was too much to overcome against Berchelt. Vargas wilted from the unrelenting pressure until he’d sustained too much damage, and the referee had to step in.

That story hasn’t changed much heading into the rematch. Vargas isn’t just 34 at this point, but an old 34 — showing the signs of how the hard road he traveled added extra miles to his odometer. While Vargas has racked up victories against Stephen Smith (TKO9) and Rod Salka (TKO6) since his loss to Berchelt, Vargas looks to be a boxer on the descent, while Berchelt, 27, is at his physical apex.

After four successful title defenses, Berchelt has every right to look ahead to the possibility of a unification fight or, most lucratively, a step up in weight to face Vasyl Lomachenko. But even as he looks ahead to the vast potential of his future, the defending champion isn’t taking anything for granted.

“All fights are different, I don’t assume anything,” Berchelt said. “But I think at the end of the day, it will be the same result.”

Berchelt is one of four major belt-holders at 130, with the possibility of future fights against fellow titleholders Gervonta Davis, Tevin Farmer and Masayuki Ito. But it’s the matchup with Lomachenko, the WBA/WBO lightweight unified king, that he yearns for the most.

“Absolutely,” Berchelt said. “Because he’s considered a pound-for-pound fighter and so well known, I think it would be an interesting fight for me.”

With Berchelt’s 5-foot-7 frame and lengthy wingspan, he certainly seems to fit the part of a future lightweight. With his active, swarming style, he believes he has many of the same attributes as Orlando Salido, who outpointed Lomachenko back in 2014 in Loma’s second professional outing — his only loss to date.

“Without a doubt, I know a Mexican can beat him, he already lost to one, and I think I’ll be the next Mexican,” asserted Berchelt.

“That’s a fight that is obviously there because that’s the big fight that Berchelt wants, but we’ve got to talk with Top Rank, talk to [CEO Bob Arum] and [president Todd duBoef] about it. But Miguel is all over that fight — that’s the fight he wants,” said Juan Carlos Torres of Zanfer Promotions, which handles Berchelt.

Lomachenko is considered one of the premiere prizefighters in the world, but it has been a struggle, at times, to find him meaningful fights on a consistent basis with the fractured nature of the boxing business. Even in talking with Arum, the complexity of fight-making in this era was clear. When asked about the possibility of a Lomachenko-Berchelt matchup, Arum made it clear that while it’s a possibility, it wouldn’t be in the near future.

Lomachenko already has his next fight penciled in for late in the summer as, on Tuesday, the WBC ordered him to face Luke Campbell for their vacant lightweight title once held by Mikey Garcia.

“But [Berchelt] would certainly be in the mix,” for a future fight with Lomachenko, said Arum, who made it clear that, for the time being, anyone facing the two-time gold medalist would be doing so in the lightweight division.

For the time being, there’s still the matter of taking care of business Saturday against Vargas. No matter how the first fight played out, or the perception of where Vargas’ career stands, Berchelt still needs to show up in this fight.

Then he can look forward, toward talks of Davis, Farmer and Ito — but Lomachenko looms large in the distance.

“The unification fights are great. We would love to fight those guys,” Torres said. “But the reality is that everyone wants the big fights. Berchelt is not the exception, he wants the big fights — the big fight is Lomachenko.”

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