At the start of this decade, Juan Manuel Lopez was one of the hottest fighters in the sport, an undefeated, two-division world champion with a string of impressive knockouts. But he's suffered three stoppage losses since 2011 and at this point is fighting to stay relevant and position himself to win a world title in a third weight class.
Lopez looked very much like his old self earlier this year when he stopped experienced veteran and former world champion Daniel Ponce De Leon inside of two rounds. It was exactly the type of performance he needed coming off from a four-round destruction at the hands of Mikey Garcia in June 2013.
But Ponce De Leon is a faded star and was always a good matchup for Lopez, who also knocked him out in Round 1 in 2008. It was a step in the right direction for "JuanMa" but didn't necessarily prompt a lot of fans to buy back in on him as a world-champion-caliber fighter.
Francisco Vargas should be a more serious test. He's an undefeated contender with solid skills and a rugged, pressure style.
At 29, Vargas is a bit old for a rising contender, but he didn't turn professional until his early 20s, following an amateur career that saw him represent Mexico in the Olympics. His progress as a professional has been steady. His last three fights have all been against fellow highly rated prospects.
This is the type of win over a name veteran that could propel Vargas to the next level. Lopez is a dangerous fighter to view as a stepping stone, but to reach a world title, Vargas will have to treat him like one.