Sharkie's Machine: Fernando 'Not So Ferocious' Vargas

29.03.05 - By Frank Gonzalez Jr.: After HBO replayed the highly entertaining war between Erik Morales and Manny Pacquaio, they shifted into a pre-fight interview with Fernando Vargas, who was the featured fighter of the evening. During that interview, Vargas talked about his back problem and how he decided against surgery in favor rebuilding himself with a new conditioning coach and regime. He talked about being a warrior and about how he wants his children to see him. He couldn't hold back his tears as he teetered on the recognition that if things didn't go well in the ring, that this could be the end of his boxing career.

Boxing is an emotional sport. Stamina, punching power, defense, ring generalship and athleticism are the ingredients but the thing that makes those elements work together is confidence. It's the invisible thing that raises or sinks a fighter's spirit in the ring.

Saturday night in Corpus Christi Texas, Fernando "El Feroz" Vargas (25-2-0-22 KO's) made his cautious return to the ring after a fifteen-month layoff. He entered the ring weighing 169 pounds to face the soft punching, Ray Joval (33-4-0-15 KO's). Joval's pressure and volume of punches kept it a fight but it wasn't much to look at. Especially after re-watching Pacman battle Morales for 12 action packed rounds..

Vargas has had an exciting career. He fought some great fighters and rose to stardom at an early age. Many criticize his handlers for 'rushing his career' but I think that's ridiculous because if you blossom early in life then you have to make the most of what you have while you have it. Vargas did just that.

I remember watching Vargas early on, with his crown of spiked rebellious-blonde dyed hair, giving him the look of a Rooster in a cockfight. He was a pretty good puncher, who had quality boxing skills, a major league scowl and a huge ego. Like him or not, he was always entertaining to watch. He walked through everyone before he earned his fight major title, the IBF Light Middleweight crown after facing Yory Boy Campas in 1998. Campas took a beating, quit the fight after the seventh round and a new Star was born.

As a fight fan, it's easy to appreciate what Vargas brought to the ring. His explosive, emotional personality may have been his biggest asset because it sold tickets. He was a tough guy who always had something brash to say. His hard rock personality brought plenty of drama to his fights-whether you rooted for him to win or couldn't wait to see him get knocked out.

In December of 2000, Vargas fought Felix Trinidad (38-0). Many thought he would be knocked out in the first round after Trinidad floored him in the first. But Vargas recovered himself and kept it competitive, even scoring a knockdown of Trinidad in the fourth. Late in the fight, both were penalized for low blows and Trinidad put a real beat down on Vargas, knocking him down three times before Jay Nady stopped it in the twelfth round.

Six months after that fight, he faced Wilfredo Rivera (32-4), who was not known for having much power. Rivera floored Vargas in the second round, raising questions about Fernando's chin. Vargas went on to beat Rivera by TKO in the sixth but the damage to his image was done. Four months after Rivera, Vargas took on Shibata Flores (42-8) and won by KO in the seventh.

With his confidence rising, he faced his self-imposed, archenemy, Oscar De La Hoya (34-2) in September of 2002. Vargas had been looking extremely fit during the promotion of that fight, and almost made the gushing Max Kellerman have an orgasm on Friday Night Fights when Vargas took off his shirt to reveal a sculpted physique.

In one of the most anticipated boxing events of the decade, DLH and Vargas battled it out until late in the fight when it became clear that DLH was too skillful a boxer for Vargas to handle. DLH pummeled Vargas against the ropes in the eleventh round until referee Joe Cortez mercifully stopped it.

It was later revealed that Vargas was on steroids for the DLH fight. Vargas denied any knowledge of being on steroids, saying that he trusted his conditioning people when they gave him certain supplements in pill form.

In a culture that cares only about winning, you can't be too quick to vilify Vargas for using steroids. He was just doing what so many professional athletes today do to win-because being good is just not good enough these days. You MUST win-the end justifies the means. Not. It was obvious that Vargas was not on steroids Saturday night.

After Trinidad and DLH beat Vargas so badly, it appeared that Vargas was damaged goods, ruined. It's possible that the steroid use exaggerated his problems.

Vargas did not fight again until almost a year later, when he fought and beat Fitz Vanderpool (24-4) by TKO 6 in July of 2003. Then he moved up to the 160-pound division, where he fought no-namer, Tony Marshall (36-11) that December, winning by TKO 7. After that, Vargas seemed to disappear. Vargas remained ranked high above guys he never fought in his new division all that time.

Having a big name can work miracles in the rankings-even when you're inactive.

Flash forward to the present, 2005, March, against Ray Joval, who fought like a sparring partner, careful not to land to the face too often and with the punching power of a common house Fly. Vargas eked out a decision win in a ten rounder that damn near put me to sleep.

At first, I was sure Joval was there to lose, but then I realized that it was just careful match making on the part of the Vargas camp. Joval couldn't punch himself out of a wet paper bag. His punching technique is so poor (pushing instead of popping), that he presented little threat to Vargas, even as half the fighter he once was. There was never a 'ferocious' moment in the Joval fight.

There were quite a few rounds where Joval simply outworked Vargas. But Vargas did knock Joval down in the seventh round with a body shot. The ref (Lawrence Cole) didn't call it a knockdown but I did and even still, I scored that fight 95-95, even. Of course Vargas would get the nod. After all, this fight was about Vargas, not Joval. The writing is on the wall. Interpret it as you wish.

The Judges scored a UD 10 victory for Vargas by scores of 98-92, 96-94 and 97-93. Vargas is now ranked #2 at Super Middleweight. It sounds a lot better than it is though. Only Vargas knows how much damage he's suffered in his career. Anyone who's ever had back problems knows about the debilitating pain that can come at the slightest wrong move, maybe even from just sneezing. I suspect Vargas' back problems may be one of many things that will prevent him from returning to the form he once enjoyed. Maybe the steroids played a role in diminishing him. Though things went well enough against Joval, I don't think Vargas will ever be the same fighter we all remember.

Hopefully, other athletes out there will see that it's better to just be your natural self. The Devil's help never comes cheap.

At just 28 years old, Vargas looked like an old fighter making a comeback. It was kind of sad. I hope he does recover and come back strong in the future, as I'd like to see him in some good fights, the kind that made him a big name in the first place. In his current state, I don't see him making so much as a squeak in an already quiet division.

As for Ray Joval, who's better remembered for his halo hair style than his punching power, he's going to get a lot of offers from other 'big names' seeking a safe W in the future.

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Article posted on 29.03.2005

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