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








Forgotten Legends: Wilfredo Rivera

By: Steve Gallegos

The great boxing island of Puerto Rico has produced 4 world champions with the first name “Wilfredo”. There was the legendary Wilfredo Benitez, Wilfredo Gomez and a father/son tandum in Wilfredo Vazquez Sr and Jr.; however there was another talented “Wilfredo” from Puerto Rico that wasn’t able to reach the same level of success. His name was Wilfredo Rivera. A fairly tall fighter with decent hand speed and power to go along with very good technique, Rivera was a top contender in the welterweight division in the mid to late 90’s in which he mixed it up with some of the greatest fighters of his era while showing class and intergrity.

Rivera grew up in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico and began boxing at the age of 9. He had an amatuer record of 51-6 and earned a spot on the 1988 Puerto Rican Olympic team; however due to politics from the Puerto Rican Boxing Federation, he was replaced. Rivera turned pro in April of 1988 and scored a 4th round TKO in his pro debut. He would go 24-0-1 from 1988-1995. He would earn his 1st world title shot against the legendary Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker.

They met on 04/12/96 on the island of San Martin for the WBC welterweight championship. Whitaker didn’t appear to take Rivera seriously and was looking ahead to possible bigger paydays against the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Ike Quartey and Felix Trinidad. During the bout, Rivera proved to be a worthy challenger and outboxed “Sweet Pea” during many rounds. The two men collided heads early in the bout which caused a bad cut high on Rivera’s head. He fought valiantly despite the cut and would later turn southpaw so that the lead eye would be the eye that wasn’t cut. The southpaw stance would in turn confuse Whitaker. At the end of 12 rounds, Rivera was confident he won the bout and was ready to join the list of the many Puerto Rican world champions; however the judges decided otherwise. The end result would be a split decision win for Whitaker.

Although he lost on the cards, the Puerto Rican public celebrated Rivera as if he won. Many fans greeted him with cheers at the airport when he arrived home in Puerto Rico telling him “You are the champion, Wilfredo“. He was even dubbed by the press as “El Campeon sin Corona”, a champion without a crown. The WBC ordered an immediate rematch and five months later, he got another crack at Whitaker.

They met on 09/20/96 in Miami, FL. A strong Puerto Rican crowd was in attendance in support of Rivera including welterweight champion Felix Trinidad. Although Trinidad was there looking to land a fight with Pernell Whitaker, he was in full support of his fellow countryman while leading the cheers at ringside. Rivera had earned Whitaker’s respect and didn’t overlook Rivera this time out. Whitaker, who was known as a slick, defensive genius opted to stand flat footed throughout most of the bout, throwing hard shots; however Rivera took them well while still landing shots of his own.

Rivera scored a knockdown in the fifth round and Whitaker would score one in the sixth. The two men fought hard up until the final bell. This time the end result would be a unanimous decision victory for Pernell Whitaker. The scoring was very close in this fight. One judge had the fight scored 112-113 and another judged scored the fight 113-115. Had Whitaker not put Rivera down in the sixth round, the fight would have been ruled a draw. Rivera continued on and won his next four bouts, all by KO before landing another shot at a world title. This time, it was against the “Golden Boy”, Oscar De La Hoya. The “Golden Boy” was in the prime of his career and was the biggest star in boxing.

They met on 12/06/97 at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, NJ and there was a great deal of mutual respect between the two fighters prior to them stepping into the ring. In the second round, a left hook by De La Hoya opened up a huge cut over Rivera’s right eye. Rivera fought through the blood like the warrior he was and continued pressing forward. In the fourth round, De La Hoya put Rivera down with a barrage of punches; however Rivera was up almost immediately. He continued pressing forward; however the cut was getting worse as the fight was going on and the fight was finally stopped in the eighth round. Rivera held his head high and handled his defeat with class. Rivera won his next three bouts and before facing “Sugar” Shane Mosley.

They met on 09/25/99 in Temecula, CA. Mosley had cleaned up the lightweight division and moved up two weight classes to welterweight and would find out that Rivera was one tough cookie. They fought hard for 10 rounds and Mosley had to dig very deep to finally put Rivera down and out in the final round. Mosley would later score the biggest win of his career against Oscar De La Hoya and would have an easier time with De La Hoya than he did with Rivera.

As always, Rivera shrugged of the loss and won his next two fights before landing another high profile fight, this time against “El Feroz” Fernando Vargas. Vargas was coming off his first loss in a war with Felix Trinidad and appeared to look at Rivera as a safe opponent. They met on 05/05/01 in Corpus Christi, TX. In the second round, Rivera landed a flush right hand count that put Vargas down. Vargas was wobbly as he got back up and was clearly hurt. Vargas was in jeopardy of having his young, promising career possibly coming to an end; however he was able to regain his composure. They traded shots for six rounds and Vargas landed a hard body shot in the sixth round which put Rivera down. Rivera got up but was having trouble seeing as his eyes were starting to badly swell; therefore the corner threw in the towel.

Rivera would go 3-2 over the next four years before retiring in 2005 with a record of 35-7-1 with 21 KO’s. A class act the entire time and there wasn’t a more nicer, honest fighter in the game. It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t able to win a world title as he ran into the best fighters of his era, but he gave it a whole-hearted effort the entire time and that is why he will always be considered “El Campeon Sin Corona”, A champion without a crown.