Trinidad-Vargas Revisited

16.08.06 - By Anthony Coleman: At its very best, no other sport can provide the drama and excitement of a great boxing match. When you first watched Hagler-Hearns or Corrales-Castillo I, you can almost remember your adrenaline pumping in amazement while you stood up in your living room watching these fighters put it all on the line. However, there is also a sad truth about the ďsweet scienceĒ-in one fight, maybe just one punch, a fighter can literally lose their prime. Weíve seen it happen on a number of occasions when a brave boxer gets into all out war with another fighter. Usually one fighter gets beaten up and the boxer never recovers. In each era there are always fighters who serve as unfortunate examples of this phenomenon (ex: Hector Camacho, Meldrick Taylor), and for this generation it is Fernando Vargas. Vargasí deterioration can be traced to one fight-of course Iím speaking of his twelve round epic struggle with Felix Trinidad. Their fight was also one of the best world championship fights in the last 15 years.

Going into his fight with Trinidad, Fernando Vargas sported a record of 21-0 with 19 KOís and had made five defenses of his IBF Junior Middleweight Title. He was also looked upon as one of the best young fighters in the sport. Vargas had turned pro in 1997, after an excellent amateur career which included being the youngest fighter to win the US Amateur Championships.

In 1996 he would lose in the second round of the Olympics and thus marking the end of his amateur career. In 1997, Vargas knocked out Jorge Morales in the first round of his pro debut. Vargas would then roll of off a record of 14-0 record with all of his wins coming by knockout when he challenged Yori Boy Campas for his IBF title in 1998. Many wondered if Vargas was being pushed into a title fight too soon with a fighter with 60 more career fights than him. The fight would turn out to be a mismatch with Vargas using his combination punching, counterpunching and ring generalship to batter Campas to the head and body. Vargasís punches closed Campasís right eye, broke his nose and jaw, caused massive swelling on the right side of Campasís face and blood to pour out of his nose and mouth. After the seventh round of the beating Campas quit on his stool and Vargas was now a world champion at just 21 years of age.

Over the next two years Vargas defended his title against Raul Marquez (KO-8), win a controversial decision against Winky Wright, and win a unanimous decision against former Welterweight champ Ike Quartey. With the exception of his win against Campas, the Quartey fight was Vargasís most impressive performance. In an exciting fight, Vargas would showcase that he not only possessed considerable skills, but poise beyond his years. The decision victory over Quartey cemented his reputation as a crowd pleasing action fighter who was capable of beating more experienced and seasoned veterans.

Nearly a decade earlier, Felix ďTitoĒ Trinidad was in the same position that Vargas was in: a boxing prodigy who was a world titlist. By 1993, when the 20 year old Trinidad faced Maurice Blocker for his IBF Welterweight crown, Trinidad had garnered a reputation as the best puncher the division had seen since Thomas Hearns arrived on the scene a decade earlier. Trinidad packed one punch KO power in his left hook, but he also had an excellent right cross plus phenomenal combination punching and accuracy. Trinidad would KO Blocker with one vicious left hook in the second round and captured his first world title. Over the next five years Trinidad would defend his title 15 times including impressive KO victories over Luis Gabriel Garcia, Oba Carr, Yori Boy Campas, and Freddie Pendleton. After he KOíd Mahenge Zulu in four rounds in 1998, talk of a unification fight with WBC champion Oscar De La Hoya was on the lips of every boxing fan. In 1999, Trinidad would finally face De La Hoya in the most anticipated fight since Leonard-Hearns. Trinidad would win a much disputed decision against De La Hoya and partially unify the Welterweight division (he should have been recognized as the undisputed Welterweight champ but that is a story best told for a different time).

The next year, Trinidad would relinquish his Welterweight title and move up to Junior Middleweight. In his first fight in that division he would face David Reid for his WBA Title. Reid would drop Trinidad in the fifth round, but Trinidad would dust himself off and proceed to pound Reid. In the Tenth round, Trinidad dropped Reid three times with his left hook. To this very day I donít understand why the referee didnít stop the fight after the third knockdown, because Reid absorbed a beating and had little chance of winning the fight. Reid, to his credit survived to hear the scorecards and Trinidad won a lopsided unanimous decision and his second world title. After a quick KO win against Mamadou Thiam, Trinidad signed to fight Vargas in order to unify two thirds of the Junior Middleweight title.

On December 2 of 2000, Vargas and Trinidad finally stood on opposite corners of the ring and were set to determine supremacy at 154 lbs. As soon as the bell rang it would merely be seconds before the crowd would be on its feet. Vargas came over to Trinidad and landed a left hook, then bounced around the ring, Trinidad patiently stalked Vargas around the ring. Vargas then threw a jab and immediately Tito threw a counter left hook over Vargasís low right guard. The punch landed with full impact on the side of Vargasís face and his whole body shook to his left and then to his right while Trinidad pounced on the wobbled champ. Vargas tried in vain to escape Titoís punches but was finally chopped down by a follow up left hook to the head. The fight was only 28 seconds old and Vargas was already down. Vargas rose to his feet at the count of two and convinced Jay Nady that he could continue. But Vargas, perhaps showing his inexperience, got to his feet before he had cleared his head because after Nady allowed the action to continue Trinidad landed another left hook and Vargas was down again. Vargas had been down two times in the first 38 seconds of the fight.

Yet again Vargas convinced Nady that he was able to continue and as soon as the action resumed Trinidad tried to finish the job and started landing his left hooks and rights, but this time Vargas was able to take the shots and try to get his legs back under him. Eventually Vargas regained most of his composure and made it to the bell, and the crowd was in near delirium.

The second round began with Trinidad employing his jab and boxing around a still slightly dazed Vargas. Trinidad used his jab to great affect and half way through the round Trinidad landed another left hook and Vargas was wobbled again. Vargas tried to stay away for a few seconds then trade with Tito and got caught by a follow up right cross which drove him into the ropes. But, Vargas was wise enough to get out of the ropes and back to center ring. Vargas now tried to box from the outside, while Trinidad was still having success with his combination punching and when the bell ranged Trinidad banked another easy round.

Round three began with Vargas still standing in front of Trinidad and again being wobbled by the Puerto Rican greatís power shots, this time a right cross to the head. Vargas however recovered and started landing shots to Titoís head and body including an excellent straight right to the face with a minute to go in the round. Vargas then accidentally thumbed Trinidad in the corner of his eye and Trinidad immediately pawed at his eye. Vargas seized the moment and started to land a flurry, Trinidad caught the Vargasís right armed, but Vargas started to land with his nine very short left hooks to the head. Trinidad was able to compose himself then land another hard right cross on Vargasís head. The fighters would exchange punches for the next twenty seconds then Vargas would get caught low by one of Titoís left hands. Vargas curled up in pain and took a few minutes to recover from the punch. Vargas recovered from the blow then exchanged jabs with Tito to end the round. Vargasís had banked his first round.

The next two rounds would belong to Vargas. With his senses now recovered Vargas now went to work. Twenty seconds into the round Tito threw a left hook, the same exact time Vargas threw his own-Vargasís landed first and with full momentum. Trinidad flew backwards unto the seat of his pants. Trinidad took his time to get to his feet while the crowd was once again screaming in euphoria. Vargas, now sensing that Trinidad was hurt, opened up on the wobbled champ. While he missed many of the punches in the flurry, he landed enough and was doing some real damage. That was until Trinidad hit Vargas with another low blow, this one intentional. Nady immediately deducted a point from Trinidad while Vargas tried to regain his senses. When the fight resumed the two boxers continued to trade punches and now it was Vargas getting the best of the exchange. With the knockdown and the low blow the fight was now even on the judgesí score cards.

In the fifth round Vargas would gain the lead in the fight with his accurate counter punching, jab-cross combinations, and left hook to the body. Earlier in the fight, Trinidad couldnít miss with his jab and power shots, but now Vargas was timing him and was making Trinidad miss with feints and slipping with his shoulders. With forty seconds to go, Vargas caught Trinidad with a right uppercut that stood Trinidad up. For the rest of the round Trinidad tried to land one big punch to regain control of the fight, but this was Vargasís round. An easy round for Fernando Vargas.

In the Sixth round Vargas continued using the ring and counter punching to time Trinidad. Tito was now abandoning his jab and combination punching, instead loading up with his power punches and trying to end Vargasís night with one punch. However, Vargas could see Trinidadís telegraph punches and continued to do a good job of boxing. Vargas was clearly winning the round until the last minute when Trinidad connected with a right cross on Vargasís jaw. A few seconds later landed the same punch followed by a short left hook. Vargas, perhaps stunned or filled with pride, instead of clinching and preserving the round he clearly banked decided to slug it out with Trinidad for the last twenty second of the round. Because of the rally, the round was a toss up.

In the seventh round, Trinidad did something that all great champions do in times of adversity: adapt to the opponentís style. Trinidad opened the round with a big left uppercut that landed flush Vargas and then he countered off of Vargasís jab and scored with his left hook that seemed to wobble Vargas for a brief moment. Vargas then clinched, but then as Trinidad tried to land a hook to the body he accidentally strayed low again. Vargasís face once again contorted in pain and Jay Nady called time to the action and marched both fighters to mutual corners. Nady again took another point from Trinidad and then let the fight continue. However, Trinidad won this round but because of the point deduction had to settle for a 9-9 round.

In the 8th round Trinidad began to regain control of the fight with his right hand. On three occasions Trinidad caught Vargas with the right cross and at this moment Vargas seemingly decided to throw caution to the wind. He was now going to slug it out with Trinidad and prove that he was the one and only champ. Vargas came into the inside and traded his left hook to the body with Titoís own left hook to the head. Midway through the round Vargas landed a left hook to the body that stopped Trinidadís momentum. Vargas now landed his shots to the head and body while Trinidad tried to whether this storm, then he was saved from punishment when Vargas strayed low and Jay Nady stopped the action. This break allowed Trinidad to regain his senses and control of the action. No longer over committing with single shot bombs, Trinidad was now using constant pressure and reverted back to using short accurate combinations to score on Vargas head and body. The 8th round was a round owned by Trinidadís combination.

The ninth round was clearly the best round of the fight with Trinidad and Vargas standing toe to toe in close quarters and landing their best artillery. Tito would land with his short right cross and Vargas would land with a double left hook to the head and body or score with his own counter right hand. It must be said, while both me stood in center ring and dueled it out Trinidad clearly was clearly winning the exchanges. Trinidad was landing the harder, crisper and more accurate shots while it was now Vargas who was throwing one punch at a time and having a hard time hitting the mark. When the bell rang to end the round Tito had banked another round and the tide was now turning against the young Vargas. The situation was becoming dim for Vargas, but in the next round things got a lot worse for him.

Quite simply Trinidad owned Vargas in the tenth round. Vargas was now very tired and he was missing with many of his shots. While he was still punching with respectable power, he lost quite a bit of snap off of his punches and he wasnít punches together in consistent combinations. Trinidad on the other hand was still in fantastic shape and was again pressuring Vargas with short accurate combinations that often landed. Throughout this round Trinidad landed flush with his left uppercut, left hook and right cross on numerous occasions. Each time those punches landed Vargas was visibly wobbled or hurt outright. Midway through the round Vargas would be deducted a point for low blows. The low blow and a wounded Vargas only provided Trinidad with more confidence and for the rest of the round he would have his way with his foe as he battered him with his power shots and high work output. Though to Vargasís credit he didnít pack up and quit. Though exhausted and hurt, Vargas stood his ground and continued to slug with the more experienced Trinidad. Though Vargas was game, Trinidad was marching him to the deep side of the pool and taking him under. A huge round for Trinidad.

Much of the eleventh round was a repeat of the tenth with Trinidad punishing Vargas with his chopping straight right and left hook. Vargas showed his immense courage and will by still standing in front of Trinidad and trading with him. However, though his pride wasnít broken, Vargasís body was getting steamrolled over Titoís pressure and power punching. But then in the last 30 seconds of the round another violent exchange between the two champs occurred, this time Vargas seemingly getting the better of it. He landed a left hook and right cross to the head that swiveled Trinidadís head and sent the screaming crowd into another state of delirium as the bell rang. It was the first time in four rounds that Vargas had won an exchange with Trinidad.

At the beginning of the 12th and final round the fight was still very much up for grabs. Though Trinidad had a clear points lead, if Vargas could assert himself and box he still had a realistic chance of pulling off a victory. However, soon Trinidad would turn out the lights. Vargas started the round by landing his left hook, but seconds later Trinidad would unleash his own left hook. The punch slammed into the side of Vargasís chin while he was leaning into the punch. Fernandoís head and eyes spinned in a motion reminiscent of a slot machine and Vargas slammed to the floor. Vargas beat the count by six and Nady allowed the fight to continue. However, seconds later another perfect left hook by Trinidad sent Vargas to his knees again. This time Vargas was much slower getting up and he walked around in his neutral corner. When Nady told Vargas to step forward he was non compliant for a few moments and seemingly didnít know that Nady was telling him to step forward. Then when Nady asked him Vargas if he wanted to continue he didnít answer. Surprisingly Nady allowed this fight to go on which was a huge mistake. If anybody wants to question Jay Nadyís officiating skills, they should look no further than this fight because he let this fight continue even though the George Forman, Jim Lamply and everybody who was watching the fight could see the obvious: Vargas was out on his feet.

As soon as the fight was allowed to continue Trinidad attacked while Vargas tried in vain to get away and force a clinch. Vargas was hoping to stop the inevitable and his floppy armed motions and dodging head was a clear testament that even though his body had nothing left, he was not going to quit. But eventually Trinidad caught Vargas in his crosshairs and finally blasted him with a right cross. Vargas collapsed onto his forehead and Jay Nady immediately stopped the fight. Trinidad was the winner by KO.

For Felix Trinidad this was the pinnacle of his career. He had just accomplished something which is extremely rare in boxing: partially unifying titles in two divisions. With this victory many were now putting Trinidad at the top if their pound for pound lists after his impressive performance.

As for Vargas, he was very competitive and showed his championship heart. However, he paid a huge price. Though the scorecards were close going into the final round, the tally didnít show the damage that Vargas had accumulated. Vargas didnít just get knocked out; he had taken a horrendous beating at the hands of one of the best punchers in the history of the sport. In recent memory, very few elite level fighters have taken the kind of beating that Vargas absorbed in his fight with Trinidad.

The next year would see both fighters ride off into different paths. Trinidad would move up to Middleweight and capture the WBA title by knocking out William Joppy in five brutal rounds. Four months later Tito would face WBC and IBF champ Bernard Hopkins for the undisputed Middleweight title. Because of the roll he was on, Trinidad was installed as a 7-1 favorite over Hopkins. However, Hopkins would dismantle Trinidad over 11 one sided rounds before finally KOíing him in the 12th round. Trinidad would step back in the ring in May 2002 and stop Hacine Cherifi in 4 rounds. Two weeks later Trinidad announced his retirement, but two and a half years later he would step back into the ring and KO Ricardo Mayorga in 8 rounds, but then in his next fight he would lose every round to Winky Wright by unanimous decision and retire for the second time. There arenít any whispers of a comeback from Felix Trinidad, though his impressive ring accomplishments guarantee him induction into the hall of fame.

As for Fernando Vargas, his career as a top level fighter was over after the Trinidad fight. In his first comeback fight, Vargas would be dropped and nearly stopped in the first round by light punching Wilfredo Rivera. Vargas would get off of his feet and stop Rivera in the 6th round, but everybody who saw the fight knew that Vargas wasnít the same fighter. He couldnít put his punches in combination and his chin and defense were weak. Four months later, Vargas would win the WBA junior Middleweight title (which was ironically vacated by Tito) by stopping Shibata Flores in seven rounds. While Vargas won the fight by KO, Vargasís still showed poor defense and was stunned on numerous occasions by Flores.

In 2002, Vargas would meet WBC junior Middleweight champ Oscar De La Hoya in another unification match. In an excellent fight, Vargas used his superior strength and punching power to bully De La Hoya early in the fight. But De La Hoya adjusted and started to exploit Vargasís defensive deficiencies. Finally in the tenth round De La Hoya caught and badly stunned Vargas with a left hook at the close of the tenth round, then dropped him and finished him in the 11th round.

Vargas would win his next four fights, but still didnít look like the fighter he was pre-Trinidad. Then earlier this year he would fight competitively with Shane Mosley until the fight was stopped because of massive swelling on Vargasís left eye. Then in the rematch in July, a resurgent Shane Mosley would dominate Vargas and drop him with a single left hook in the sixth round. Vargas would barley beat the count but five more unanswered blows by Mosley forced the referee to stop the fight. This lost ended Vargasís career as a top contender.

Trinidad-Vargas is proof of what a bad beating can do to a fighterís skills. In 1999, many thought that Vargas was a future hall of famer, but after his knockout loss to Trinidad he was never the same afterwards and his chances for induction to Canastota are probably low. Though it was unfortunate to see what happened to Vargas after this fight, the world cannot deny that he and Felix Trinidad showed great courage, skill and heart in their classic confrontation. If you have a chance I suggest you do yourself a favor and watch this fight.

Article posted on 16.08.2006

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