Boxer bounces back in big bout

FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Eleven months and 40 miles separated from the darkest day of his professional boxing career, Mikey Garcia now feels comfortable with the weight class he considers home.

Garcia rebounded from his only pro loss to win a 12-round unanimous decision over Jessie Vargas on Saturday night in a welterweight bout.

Garcia (40-1, 30 KOs) took control in the fifth round, when he knocked down Vargas (29-3-2, 11 KOs) with a hard right to the left side of the face.

“He definitely lost his power after that,” Garcia said. “I really started to get into a rhythm of things, and I just kept going.”

In the seventh, Garcia pummeled Vargas against the ropes in the closing 10 seconds.

Judges Catherine Leonard and Steve Morrow scored the bout 116-111 while David Sutherland had it 114-113.

Through four rounds, Vargas led 3-1 on two of the three judges’ cards.

“I thought I hurt him in the fourth, but I seemed to lighten up,” Vargas said. “Mikey’s a great fighter. His timing was pretty good. I fought my heart out. I thought it was closer than what the judges thought.”

Last March in Arlington, Texas, Garcia moved up two weight classes as lightweight champion to challenge Errol Spence Jr. for the IBF 147-pound championship in an attempt to claim a title in his fifth weight class. Spence won a unanimous decision, taking every round.

With the win in his second fight at welterweight, Garcia said the weight class is “a good option” and will now aim for a matchup against Manny Pacquiao.

“I think it’s very likely that we are considered a likely opponent,” Garcia said.

Garcia, from Oxnard, California, has held titles at junior welterweight, lightweight, junior lightweight and featherweight. He has gone the distance in five straight fights and six of his last eight.

Vargas is 2-2-2 in his last six fights, his two previous losses coming in unanimous decisions against Timothy Bradley in 2015 and Pacquiao in 2016.

The 5-foot-11 Vargas had a three-inch edge in reach (71 inches to 68) over the 5-6 Garcia, who is 30.

Vargas, from Las Vegas, is a former welterweight champion and a former super lightweight titleholder.

On the undercard at The Ford Center, former four-division world champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez of Nicaragua stopped the previously unbeaten Khalid Yafai of England with a ninth-round TKO to claim the WBA super flyweight title. Gonzalez is a long-reigning flyweight and light flyweight champ who briefly held a super flyweight belt before losing back-to-back fights to Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in 2017.

Gonzalez (49-2, 41 KOs) knocked down Yafai (26-1, 15 KOs) in the closing seconds of the eighth round. Less than 30 seconds into the ninth, Gonzalez landed a left jab to Yafai’s face and followed with a powerful right to the face that floored Yafai, who was making his sixth title defense, to end the bout.

Gonzalez said he dedicated the fight to his children, who were hurt by his recent defeats.

“I promised my kids I was going to become a world champion again,” he said.

Mexico City’s Julio Cesar Martinez (16-1, 12 KOs) retained his WBC flyweight title in his first defense with a 12-round unanimous decision that handed Wales’ Jay Harris (17-1, 9 KOs) his first professional loss. Martinez bloodied Harris’ nose in the first round, opened a cut over his left eye in the fourth and knocked him to his right knee in the 10th.