Fernando Vargas finds wisdom in the corner
As junior middleweight Gabriel Rosado takes on Joshua Clottey this weekend at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, NY., he has a familiar face in his corner: Fernando Vargas, once a distinguished 154-pounder during his short but eventful career. Once a hot-headed, swaggering fighter, Vargas now acts as the wise trainer, dispensing knowledge.
Yeah, Vargas never envisioned this scenario for himself but hes not necessarily surprised, either.
“Nah…but you know why? Because I love it,” he said a few weeks ago, after contemplating if he ever thought he’d be tutoring boxers. “But look, I’ve done small things with my amateurs. We’ve gone to California; we’ve come with a whole team, California State Championships and we’ve had the most fighters, most entries, most wins, most outstanding fights, most wins for a team. So I’ve been able to do a little bit in the amateur world.”
Vargas, who now resides in Las Vegas, opened up the Feroz Fight Factory as a way to pass the time and find some structure in his life. It was also a way to give back to the sport that gave him so much. Now, he has a thriving amateur program and he spends many weekends traveling to amateur tournaments.
“Would I have ever thought that? No, but it’s like teaching what you could do if you were in the ring. So I have a lot of experience; I’ve been boxing since I was 10 years old, three-time champion of the world, youngest junior middleweight champion in boxing history. I beat five world champions; four beat me and the four that beat me didn’t walk away saying it was easy,” stated Vargas. “So I know this and it’s something that I love, man. This is my new, second coming as a fighter. I’m always going to be a fighter but it’s now as a trainer.”
Vargas was every bit as precocious as he was “Ferocious” and his career was like that of a shooting star. He won a version of the 154-pound title just as he turned 21 and, soon, he was facing Winky Wright, Ike Quartey and, at age 23, a prime Felix Trinidad. But this came at a cost as Vargas simply was not built for the long run (more on this later) and he retired just weeks shy of his 30th birthday after losing a majority decision to Ricardo Mayorga on Nov. 23, 2007.
Life after boxing was turbulent for Vargas, who admits he it left a void that was difficult for him to overcome. He had millions but he didn’t have a purpose and had lost much of his identity.
“Look, when fighters retire, we don’t have jobs and that’s what got me into trouble,” explained Vargas, who retired with a record of 26-5 (22). “I became an alcoholic, a womanizer and I thank God that He saved me and I don’t drink anymore and I thank God for blessing his grace on me and my family.”
At one point, Vargas walked around at heavyweight (which, quite frankly, wasn’t a good look on his 5-foot-10 frame). His weight loss is noticeable and, from the outside looking in, it seems like he’s found contentment in his life. Much of that has to do with his work as a trainer.
”Yeah, it does,” he agreed, explaining, “I don’t have a job. I don’t work. I love it. If I can make these guys world champions, I know I’m changing their lives and I’m able to help them do something that every amateur dreams of becoming – a world champion. Very few people can say that they’re world champions. So I’m excited about it,” says Vargas, who says his style as a trainer has been influenced by the men whom with he’s worked, first and foremost, Eduardo Garcia and then Buddy McGirt and Floyd Mayweather Sr. “I put’em all together. I’m going to keep learning; you never stop learning. It’s boxing; you never stop learning.”
Much of training or coaching is “Do as I say, not as I did,” and it’s no different with Vargas, who oftentimes burned both ends of the candle like a tiki torch.
“I tell ’em this all the time, ALL the time…I go, ‘Look, if I could take anything back as a fighter, I would take back the partying, the drinking.’ That’s what blew me up, the drinking and the womanizing and the being out till the wee hours of the morning with women and drinking – that was my drug: Women and alcohol,” he admitted. Yeah, to be rich, famous and wild. Vargas was all that. He didn’t just take shots of Patron but bottles.
“So if I could take that back, I would. And I tell ’em all the time, ‘Don’t start partying; don’t start celebrating. Look, dedicate yourself for five years – five years! That’s not a long time and you get to live the rest of your life where you don’t have to worry about nothing. That drinking will slow down your motor skills, your movement, your mind thoughts – because it’s a depressant. If you take care of yourself, you can make a lot of money, be set for the rest of your life. If not, you’re going to make things shorter.'”
Yeah, blame it on the Henny.
Vargas continues, “I go, ‘Look, I could’ve been fighting (Miguel) Cotto; I could’ve been fighting (Saul) ‘Canelo’ (Alvarez) but I wanted to jump into the big fights, which I don’t regret, but if somebody would’ve told me, ‘Look, Fernando, nobody says you can’t beat these guys and we don’t doubt that you’d beat them. Of course we know you can beat them but let’s wait and let’s rob the bank,’ like Floyd Mayweather did.”
Speaking of which, the Trinidad fight on Dec. 2, 2000 was an evening when his career reached its apex and, at the same time, when it was forever altered. Rising from two devastating knockdowns in the first round, Vargas gamely battled back (even scoring his own knockdown of “Tito” in the fourth) and was right in the thick of things till the very end before being worn down and then beaten into submission by the heavy hands of the Puerto Rican star.
He was never the same again. His prime effectively punched out of him in under 12 full rounds.
Hindsight is always 20/20 but many observers always believed that fight came a bit to early for Vargas. But the reality is that Vargas simply wouldn’t let the adults hold off on that fight. It didn’t help that, at the time, he was also facing other legal consequences of misspent youth. In looking back, Vargas finally admits it would have been prudent to hold off on that fight for a year or two.
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” he says – and this after years of insisting that he’d change nothing. “But if they would’ve told me, ‘Lets rob the bank,’ you know when you’re a champion, your pride, man. It’s like, ‘Nah, man, I want to fight him; I don’t care.’ But if somebody would’ve said, ‘Look, sit down; I want to talk to you, man. You can get these guys; don’t worry about it. You’re going to get these guys but let’s rob the bank.’
“Like, Floyd did it; Floyd, he retired for awhile. He came back a villain and people love it; people hate him. But guess what? People watch him and that’s what you gotta take your hat off to him for doing what he’s done in the sport. There wont be another one like him.”
While his career arc may serve as a cautionary tale, Vargas will also be fondly remembered for being a fighter who actually was more gladiator than accountant. That in itself should be appreciated.
Now Vargas, the wild child, is now the sage, the adult and the mentor. And he sees himself in many of the young men who come through the doors of his gym.
“I see a lot of Fernando Vargas, y’ know, no father, alone in the home, locked up already in juvie (juvenile hall) and they come in here and they say, ‘Hey, thank you for letting me train in here, man. My life changed.’
“I know how your life has changed because I was you.”
Yeah, life is good for Vargas and it’s certainly changed (he’s even friends now with former archrival Oscar De La Hoya – did you think that would ever happen?!) and much of it has to do with the time at his gym.
“It’s a short, fun day because there’s characters; there’s fun,” he says. “I train the kids; I sit down and chill. I eat my lunch and I help the two pros I’m working with. So it’s amazing; I love it.”
Here’s Episode 560 of “The Next Round” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly.
Mario Lopez and I cover a myriad of subjects on this week’s edition of “The 3 Knockdown Rule” from boxing (of course), to the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” premiere and the Heisman Trophy race.
You can also listen to it here…
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I like Andy Lee to retain his WBO middleweight title over Billy Joe Saunders on Saturday (Showtime Extreme 5 p.m. ET/PT)…Both Spike and Estrella TV have cards tonight…RingTVLive.com will have live coverage of the card from the Fantasy Springs Casino featuring Joseph Diaz Jr. I’ll be on the call with Beto Duran, Doug Fischer and Andrea Rueda…So was that really the last game in St. Louis for the Rams?…If it was, please leave those all yellow unis over there…Does Texas A&M have any quarterbacks on its roster?…Will the Golden State Warriors end up breaking the record of the 95-96 Bulls?…I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.