Forgotten Legends: Fernando Vargas

By: Steve Gallegos

Many fighters are primed for greatness; however some fail to reach that level due to issues outside the ring that affect their focus inside the ring. This was the case with former two-time champion “FerociousFernando Vargas.

Vargas had it all. The looks, the personality and an exciting boxer puncher style in which he had fire in either hand. Born and raised in Oxnard, CA, Vargas had an extraordinary amauter career of 100-5 which also included a spot on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team. He turned pro in March of 1997 and would go 9-0 in 1997, all by KO. 1998 would be even bigger in which he knocked out his next five opponents before getting his first crack at a world title when he met Yory Boy Campas. Campas was a hard punching destroyer and many thought Vargas might not be ready for someone of Campas’ level.

They met on 12/12/98 in Atlantic City, NJ for the IBF Jr. Middleweight championship. Vargas proved the doubters wrong as he put on an excellent display of boxing in which he refused to get into any exchanges with the harder hitting Campas. At one point in the bout, Campas tried to engage Vargas and Fernando smiled, pointed to his head as if too say “I’m too smart for you”. After seven rounds, Campas had enough and quit; making Fernando Vargas the youngest Jr. Middleweight champion. It would be a record he would hold for 13 years until Canelo Alvarez became the youngest Jr Middleweight champion in 2011. He would continue his KO streak by knocking out his next three opponents, including former Jr. Middleweight champion Raul Marquez.

By mid 1999, Vargas began experiencing troubles outside the ring, when he was involved in an assault and battery case. This would affect him inside the ring when he met slick southpaw Ronald “Winky” Wright. They met on 12/04/99 in Lincoln City, OR. It was a rough and tough night for Vargas as he wasn’t able to hurt Wright as he did all his previous opponents. Wright, known for his slick boxing style, elected to stand and trade with Vargas in which he would get the better of the exchanges. When the final bell sounded, many at ringside believed Wright was the winner. The final result was a close majority decision win for Vargas, ending his impressive KO streak.

He would start the new millenium off well with a convincing 12 round decision over former welterweight champion Ike Quartey and he would follow it up with a 4th round TKO over Ross Thompson. This would setup a huge mega fight with fellow Jr. Middleweight champion Felix Trinidad. They met on 12/02/00 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, NV. During the referre’s instructions, Trinidad told Vargas in Spanish that he would leave him on the canvas.

In the first round, Trinidad landed a solid left hook that rocked Vargas and would eventually put him down. Vargas was able to get up and was immediately put down again by a left hook. It was looking as though it would be an early night; however Vargas was able to make it out of the round. By the fourth round, Vargas‘ head had cleared and he put Trinidad down with his own left hook. Vargas then took control of the fight by boxing smartly and it looked as though he might be able to box his way to a decision, however he then elected to stand and trade with the much harder hitting Trinidad. Oscar De La Hoya was criticized for running in the final rounds against Trinidad and Vargas wanted to prove that he could stand and fight. Vargas would bite off more than he could chew as Trinidad would get the better of him in exchanges throughout the late round.

In the 12th round, Trinidad put Vargas down three times before referee Jay Nady stepped in to stop the bout. It was a crushing defeat for Vargas and it would seem to affect him for the rest of his career. He returned to the ring just five months later and scored a sixth round TKO against Wilfredo Rivera in which Rivera put him down in the fifth. Four months later, he was back in line for another titleshot and he would stop Shibata Flores in the seventh round, claiming his second world title. This would set up another title unification bout with another boxing superstar in Oscar De La Hoya.

There was a lot of bad blood between the two fighters coming into the bout which had the Mexican-American community split. They met on 09/14/02 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Vargas came in very cut and muscular as if he did a lot of weight training for the bout. He came out in the first round and made a statement as he rocked De La Hoya late in the round. The fight was very even for the first half of the round, however Vargas ran out of gas late and De La Hoya began to pick him apart. After rocking Vargas at the end of the 10th, De La Hoya, put Vargas down in the 11th with a left hook. Moments later, De La Hoya went in for the kill, causing referee Joe Cortez to stop the bout.

A post fight drug test detected steroids. Vargas claimed he was unaware he was given steroids, however he took responsibility and was suspended for nine months as well as fined $100,000 of his purse. He would return to the ring in August of 2003 and would score back to back TKO wins over Fitz Vanderpool and Tony Marshall. During the Marshall fight, Vargas injured a disc in his back which would keep him out of the ring for all of 2004. He would make a comeback in 2005, moving up to Middleweight in which he would win unanimous decisions over both Raymond Joval and Javier Castillejo.

He would then face “Sugar” Shane Mosley in a crossroads bout between 2 former champions. They met on 02/25/06 in Las Vegas. In the first round, Mosley landed a sharp right hand that caused Vargas‘ left eye to swell. The fight was close and competitive for 10 rounds; however Vargas‘ left eyes was nearly swelled shut when referee Joe Cortez stepped in and stopped the bout. At the time of the stoppage, one judge had Vargas ahead by one point. A rematch was inevitable and Mosley and Vargas would meet again five months later in Las Vegas and Mosley would score a sixth round TKO. It was pretty much the end of the road for Fernando Vargas.

He would fight only once more in 2007, losing a majority decision to Ricardo Mayorga. He would retire with a record of 26-5 with 22 KO’s. Today Vargas is the subject of his own Reality TV show, “Welcome to Los Vargas“, which focuses on his family life and the training of his son. Vargas‘ boxing career was short and bittersweet. He gave it his all, each time he stepped into the ring, sometimes too tough for his own good. What would have happened had he been handled better? Would his career have been different if he would have chose to box more instead of slug. What we got is a career that started off too fast and ended too soon.

De La Hoya vs Vargas








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