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The Remarkable Career of “Ferocious” Fernando Vargas

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The Remarkable Career of “Ferocious” Fernando Vargas

Back in the 90s the sport of prizefighting in Southern California was centered in the major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.

Along came a small group of aspiring boxers including a fiery youngster named Fernando Vargas who hailed from Oxnard, California.

“Top of the food chain baby!” was the rallying cry of Vargas and others.

Vargas simply stood out among the others from the farming community of Oxnard. He quickly rose up the ranks in a weight division not common for Mexican-Americans and became an Olympian and later a super welterweight world champion as a pro.

He also was tabbed by the nickname “Ferocious” Fernando Vargas, a moniker he earned throughout his boxing career. Last week the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame added Vargas name to their honored list.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Vargas said.

When he was a youngster in junior high he admitted to having a quick-trigger when it came to unleashing those quick fists.

“I wasn’t a bully but if somebody wanted something I wouldn’t hesitate,” said Vargas via phone in Las Vegas.

After a junior high suspension, he was forced to stay home and by accident, or serendipity, the fiery youngster happened to see a TV news clip of youngsters boxing in Oxnard. He didn’t know fighting was allowed or even practiced. He wanted to be a part of it so he hunted it down and discovered the gym three miles away from his home.

“I walked there every day three miles,” said Vargas. “I never missed a day.”

The fighter quickly became part of the Garcia clan that was sparking interest in Oxnard boxing. The head of the family, Eduardo Garcia, quickly became the father figure of Vargas and taught him the rudiments of boxing.

“He’s my jefe and will always be my jefe,” said Vargas. “He has always been like a father to me.”

La Colonia Gym

It was either 1993 or 1994 when a Los Angeles Times reporter was sent to investigate a boxing club that was making noise in Southern California. It was unusual to hear that several boxers from the Ventura County area were slicing through boxing competition in the amateur levels. One boxer, Robert Garcia, was considered a prize prospect in the professional ranks and had been signed by Top Rank promotions.

While interviewing Garcia, the reporter was urged to talk to a youngster, Fernando Vargas, who was blowing by competition in the amateurs. It was the first time I met him; he was about 16 years old at the time.

“He is really good, he’s going to do things,” said Garcia that day of Vargas.

We shook hands and Vargas resumed his training. There were about two dozen youngsters training outside because the new La Colonia Gym was being built.

By 1996, Vargas was making headway in the national amateur boxing scene and after fierce competition captured a position on the USA Olympic Boxing team. Though the Oxnard youngster did not win a medal in the Atlanta Olympics due to strange scoring, he was primed and ready for the professional ranks.

“We were always taught the pro style, not that pitty-pat stuff,” said Vargas. “We were taught to throw three and four-punch combinations and nothing more than that. Once in a while maybe five but all of our punches connected.”

It was that pro style that first enabled Robert Garcia to win the first world title by an Oxnard fighter in March 1998. Vargas soon followed by capturing the second world title by stoppage against Mexico’s Yory Boy Campas in December 1998. Vargas had just turned 21 years old. He was the youngest fighter to win a super welterweight title.

Campas was a revered Mexican warrior and the victory by Vargas sent shockwaves through the boxing community. But for Vargas his sweetest victory took place seven months later against Raul Marquez in the Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

“I was at my best against Raul Marquez. I don’t know how to describe it but I never felt better before a fight. Everything was working, even during training things were perfect. I made weight easy and felt good during that fight,” said Vargas. “I walked in there feeling I could not be beat. I felt invincible.”

He defeated Marquez by technical knockout in the 11th round and then out-battled Winky Wright to win by majority decision. At the time, few knew the abilities of Wright and a few skeptics arose doubting Vargas’ talent. In his next fight, the doubters would be silenced.

Bigger Game

One man feared in the welterweight and super welterweight division was Ghana’s human battering ram Ike “Bazooka” Quartey. He had just faced Oscar De La Hoya and lost a back and forth battle with the East L.A. fighter but had raised his profile as a dangerous foe for anyone.

Vargas accepted a fight with Quartey.

Instead of seeking easy opposition, the fiery Vargas sought out fights that his rapidly growing legion of fans preferred. Quartey fit that prerequisite perfectly. He was avoided, feared and had only lost once to a fighter widely respected. Vargas wanted that respect too.

A crowded arena at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino awaited them on April 15, 2000. Fans for both packed the seats for the IBF super welterweight title clash in Las Vegas. The Oxnard fighter’s eagerness to prove his mettle quickly gained him admiration and a quickly growing legion of “El Feroz” rabid fans. The loud and boisterous Vargas fans arrived in droves and made their presence known.

But could Vargas defeat Quartey?

Though Vargas was known as a boxer-puncher he seemed to prefer slugging it out. All of those watching on television and those in the arena expected a battle of machismo, but instead Vargas showcased his polished ability to box and give angles against Quartey’s seek and destroy style. It also proved the Oxnard fighter was more than just a slugger, but a skilled warrior capable of sustaining a disciplined attack for 12 tense rounds. Vargas won by unanimous decision to the joy of his fans.

Parties erupted all over Las Vegas that night wherever fans of “El Feroz” gathered. In the coming weeks celebrations were still taking place including a planned bash in Montebello, California. Vargas and his crew arrived and the partying continued.

Vargas fans were drunk with pride at his victory. Who would be next?

Tito

One of the biggest names in boxing was Felix “Tito” Trinidad who had defeated De La Hoya by majority decision in September 1999 and followed that up by moving into the super welterweight division. Knockout wins over David Reid and Mamadou Thiam gained the popular Puerto Rican slugger the WBA super welterweight title. It was a perfect match for Vargas who held the IBF version.

Both champions met at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on December 2, 2000 before a raucous packed arena. Puerto Rican and Mexican flags were scattered throughout the stands. Vargas fans were confident as were Trinidad’s.

Vargas, 22, was just days before turning 23 and was the natural super welterweight. Trinidad was 27-years-old and in his prime when he stepped in the boxing ring for their unification bash.

It was a horrible start for Vargas who was dropped twice before the first minute of the first round by Trinidad’s vaunted left hook. The Puerto Rican celebrated after the second knockdown thinking the fight was over. It was far from over, as Vargas showed that tremendous heart he was famous for.

“I came back and I knocked him down and he hit me in the balls. It was f****n crazy but I gave everything that I had in me and left everything in the ring,” said Vargas.

After six rounds the Oxnard fighter had managed to pull even with a furious and ferocious counter-attack including a knockdown of the Puerto Rican champion. It looked like Vargas had pulled out a miracle. But those knockdowns and the persistent attack by Trinidad saw the fight tip in his favor and in the 12th and final round Trinidad connected again with that lethal left hook and down went Vargas three more times before the fight was stopped. Trinidad had defeated Vargas.

“To this day I don’t even remember that fight after the first knockdown,” said Vargas. “My wife told me I had been knocked down five downs and I said what? I only remember one knockdown.”

Regardless of the loss Vargas remained a fan favorite because of his willingness to fight the best and do it with guts. Hardcore fight fans loved his style and throughout his career his fans remained loyal and devoted. He was a true warrior and for many boxing lovers that’s what prizefighting is all about.

Today, Vargas owns a gym in Las Vegas and has three sons competing in the amateur boxing program. All three sons are outstanding boxers and groomed to fight in a style similar to his own.

“I teach my sons to be able to fight a variety of styles and not be just one dimensional,” said Vargas whose sons are named Fernando Jr. Emiliano and Amado. “That’s how you get beat.”

At his gym called the Feroz Fight Factory in North Las Vegas, several dozen youngsters train regularly. It’s one of the premier gyms in the new Mecca of boxing Las Vegas.

Vargas was one of the primary reasons for the resurgence of boxing in not only Southern California but the entire southwestern region of the U.S. All fans of boxing remember “El Feroz.”

When the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame announced the selection of this year’s class of 2020 many fans applauded the choice of Fernando Vargas. The induction ceremony is scheduled to take place on August 7th and 8th at the Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas.

“Aw man, it was a blessing. I’m grateful I did some things in the sport to be inducted. I was humbled and to be enshrined with the likes of Roberto Duran, Mike Tyson, Thomas Hearns and Oscar De La Hoya is truly a blessing,” said Vargas.

And for those who forget Vargas and where he came from, just remember his war cry: “Top of the food chain. Oxnard stand up.”

Welcome Fernando Vargas to the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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Haney-Garcia Redux with the Focus on Harvey Dock

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Saturday’s skirmish between Ryan Garcia and WBC super lightweight champion Devin Haney was a messy affair, and yet a hugely entertaining fight fused with great drama. In the aftermath, Garcia and Haney were celebrated – the former for fooling all the experts and the latter for his gallant performance in a losing effort – but there were only brickbats for the third man in the ring, referee Harvey Dock.

Devin Haney was plainly ahead heading into the seventh frame when there was a sudden turnabout when Garcia put him on the canvas with his vaunted left hook. Moments later, Dock deducted a point from Garcia for a late punch coming out of a break. The deduction forced a temporary cease-fire that gave Haney a few precious seconds to regain his faculties. Before the round was over, Haney was on the deck twice more but these were ruled slips.

The deduction, which effectively negated the knockdown, struck many as too heavy-handed as Dock hadn’t previously issued a warning for this infraction. Moreover, many thought he could have taken a point away from Haney for excessive clinching. As for Haney’s second and third trips to the canvas in round seven, they struck this reporter – watching at home – as borderline, sufficient to give referee Dock the benefit of the doubt.

In a post-fight interview, Ryan Garcia faulted the referee for denying him the satisfaction of a TKO. “At the end of the day, Harvey Dock, I think he was tripping,” said Garcia. “He could have stopped that fight.”

Those that played the rounds proposition, placing their coin on the “under,” undoubtedly felt the same way.

The internet lit up with comments assailing Dock’s competence and/or his character. Some of the ponderings were whimsical, but they were swamped by the scurrilous screeching of dolts who find a conspiracy under every rock.

Stephen A. Smith, reputedly America’s highest-paid TV sports personality, was among those that felt a need to weigh-in: “This referee is absolutely terrible….Unreal! Horrible officiating,” tweeted Stephen A whose primary area of expertise is basketball.

Harvey Dock

Dock fought as an amateur and had one professional fight, winning a four-round decision over a fellow novice on a show at a non-gaming resort in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. He says that as an amateur he was merely average, but he was better than that, a New Jersey and regional amateur champion in 1993 and 1994 while a student New Jersey’s Essex County Community College where he majored in journalism.

A passionate fan of Sugar Ray Leonard, he started officiating amateur fights in 1998 and six years later, at age 32, had his first documented action at the professional level, working low-level cards in New Jersey. The top boxing referees, to a far greater extent than the top judges, had long apprenticeships, having worked their way up from the boonies and Dock is no exception.

Per boxrec, Haney vs Garcia was Harvey Dock’s 364th assignment in the pros and his forty-second world title fight. Some of those title fights were title in name only, they weren’t even main events, but, bit by bit, more lucrative offerings started coming his way.

On May 13, 2023, Dock worked his first fights in Nevada, a 4-rounder and then a 12-rounder on a card at the Cosmopolitan topped by the 140-pound title fight between Rolly Romero and Ismael Barroso. It was the first time that this reporter got to watch Dock in the flesh.

Ironically (in hindsight), the card would be remembered for the actions of a referee, in this case Tony Weeks who handled the main event. Barroso was winning the fight on all three cards when Weeks stepped in and waived it off in the ninth round after Romero cornered Barroso against the ropes and let loose a barrage of punches, none of which landed cleanly. Few “premature stoppages” were ever as garishly, nay ghoulishly, premature.

With all the brickbats raining down on Weeks, I felt a need to tamp down the noise by diverting attention away from Tony Weeks and toward Harvey Dock and took to the TSS Forum to share my thoughts. Referencing the 12-rounder, a robust junior welterweight affair between Batyr Akhmedov and Kenneth Sims Jr, I noted that Dock’s Las Vegas debut went smoothly. He glided effortlessly around the ring, making him inconspicuous, the mark of a good referee. (This post ran on May 15, two days after the fight.)

Folks at the Nevada State Athletic Commission were also paying attention. Dock was back in Las Vegas the following week to referee the lightweight title fight between Devin Haney and Vasyl Lomachenko and before the year was out, he would be tabbed to referee the biggest non-heavyweight fight of the year, the July 29 match in Las Vegas between Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr.

The Haney-Garcia fight wasn’t Harvey Dock’s best hour, I’ll concede that, but a closer look at his full body of work informs us that he is an outstanding referee.

While the Haney-Garcia bout was in progress, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman threw everyone a curve ball, tweeting on “X” that Devin Haney would keep his title if he lost the fight. Everyone, including the TV commentators, was under the impression that the title would become vacant in the event that Haney lost.

Sulaiman cited the precedent of Corrales-Castillo II.

FYI: The Corrales-Castillo rematch, originally scheduled for June 3, 2005 and aborted on the day prior when Castillo failed to make weight, finally came off on Oct. 8 of that year, notwithstanding the fact that Castillo failed to make weight once again, scaling three-and-a-half pounds above the lightweight limit. He knocked out Corrales in the fourth round with a left hook that Las Vegas Review-Journal boxing writer Kevin Iole, alluding to the movie “Blazing Saddles,” described as Mongo-esque (translation: the punch would have knocked out a horse). After initially insisting on a rubber match, which had scant chance of happening, WBC president Jose Sulaiman, Mauricio’s late father, ruled that Corrales could keep his title.

Whether or not you agree with Mauricio Sulaiman’s rationale, the timing of his announcement was certainly awkward.

Haney’s mandatory is Spanish southpaw Sandor Martin (42-3, 15 KOs), a cutie best known for his 2021 upset of Mikey Garcia. A bout between Haney and Martin has the earmarks of a dull fight.

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In a Shocker, Ryan Garcia Confounds the Experts and Upsets Devin Haney

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Its good to be crazy. Like a fox.

Ryan “KingRy” Garcia knocked down WBC super lightweight titlist Devin Haney three times to remind everyone of his fighting abilities in winning by majority decision on Saturday.

“I just knew what I could do,” Garcia said.

Fans will not forget the lanky kid from Victorville, California now.

Garcia (25-1, 20 KOs) fooled everyone in playing crazy weeks before the fight, then showed shocking power to hand Haney (30-1, 15 KOs) his first loss as a professional at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Haney’s WBC super lightweight title was not at stake for Garcia because he weighed three pounds over the limit.

After Garcia seemingly acting out of control on social media, Haney’s guard must have slipped in the first round during the first few seconds as Garcia connected with that hellish left hook and Haney, with a look of shock in his eyes, almost went down. He barely survived the first round.

“He caught me with it,” said Haney.

During the next few rounds, Haney proceeded to advance toward Garcia seemingly fully aware of the lethal left hook. He used feints and rights to score with a busier approach as Garcia seemed cocked and ready to counter with a left hook.

In the fourth round it seemed Haney was confident he had regained control of the fight, but every time he opened up with more than a two-punch combination Garcia reminded him whose hands were faster and more dangerous.

Though Garcia seldom jabbed he seemed bent on looking for the right moment to unleash his deadly left hook. And every time the Southern California fighter opened up with a combination he scored and Haney dare not exchange.

A few times Haney smiled as if signifying he escaped.

In the seventh round Haney looked to punish Garcia’s body and instead was met with a three-punch combination included a left hook to the chin and down went Haney slumped on the ground. He managed to beat the count and as soon as Garcia came within reach Haney wrapped his arms around him with a python grip. Despite the warnings by referee Harvey Dock, the fallen fighter would not release and Garcia impatiently fired a weak punch during the break. The referee deducted a point from Garcia though he could have deducted a point from Haney for not obeying his instructions to release his hold. Haney actually went down three times in the round but only one was counted by the referee.

From that point on Haney was very cautious but still looking to win by decision.

Though Garcia kept using a shoulder-roll defense that left his body exposed, he would retaliate with three and four punch combinations that usually Haney could defend against other fighters.. But Garcia’s blazing combinations were too fast to defend.

In the 10th round Haney looked to attack and was countered by Garcia’s right and a blinding left hook to the chin and another two blows that sent the former undisputed lightweight champion to the floor again.

It didn’t look good for Haney to survive.

Garcia walked into the 11th round still composed and never out-of-control He dared Haney to exchange and when within striking distance Garcia unleashed another lightning combination and down went Haney again with a defeated look.

Both fighters had fought each other as amateurs six times so there were no surprises between them. But Garcia’s power and speed were superior and that was the difference in a professional fight.

In the final round both were cautious with Garcia’s combination punching proving too dangerous for Haney to open up. Garcia celebrated early as the round ended confident of victory.

After 12 rounds Garcia was seen the victor by majority decision 112-112, 114-110, 115-109.

“You really thought I was crazy,” Garcia told the interviewer and the crowd. “You guys hated on me.”

Other Bouts

Arnold Barboza (30-0) won a curious split decision victory over United Kingdom’s Sean McComb (18-2) in a 10-round super lightweight fight. McComb’s long reach and busy southpaw style gave Barboza trouble. But he managed to win the fight though the crowd was not pleased.

Bektemir Melikuziev (14-1, 10 KOs) defeated France’s Pierre Dibombe (22-1-1) by technical decision after eight rounds due to a cut on his eye from an accidental head butt. It was a very competitive super middleweight fight.

Costa Rica’s David Jimenez (16-1, 11 KOs) outworked John “Scrappy Ramirez (13-1, 9 KOs) in a 12-round scrap to upset the Los Angeles based fighter. After a few close rounds Jimenez simply bullied his way inside and forced Ramirez against the ropes and unloaded his guns.

After 12 rounds two judges saw it 117-111 and 116-114 all for Jimenez.

“I’m a hard-working man from Cartago I come from nothing,” said Jimenez. “My corner told me I had to work inside.”

Charles Conwell (19-0, 14 KOs) stepped on the gas early with vicious body shots and uppercuts and blasted through the resilient Nathaniel Gallimore (22-8-1, 17 KOs) for several rounds. After a brutal fifth and sixth round the referee halted the one-side beating in favor of Conwell who was fighting for the first time under the Golden Boy banner.

Another winner was Sergiy Derevyanchenko (15-5) by decision over Vaughn Alexander (18-11-1) in a super middleweight match.

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Haney and Garcia: Bipolar Opposites

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Haney and Garcia: Bipolar Opposites

One young man flew halfway around the world to take on a world champion in his own living room; not once, but twice. The other young man quit prior to one fight, and then again during another one.

The first guy mentioned is an obedient son of an ultra-streetwise father.  The type of parent where, if he doesn’t know the answer (and more times than not he most likely does), he will know where to find it. The second guy doesn’t appear to have that quality guidance scenario going on for him, which is probably for the best, because he believes he has all the answers.

The first guy is on record as saying he wants to go down in boxing history as an all-time great.  The other guy?  He decided not to continue in a fight while he was still sporting an undefeated record.  You may think to yourself if there was ever a time to soldier through, right?

Then yesterday, that same guy missed making weight by 3.2 pounds, and seemed to be more than fine with it, to the point where he actually appeared to be quite pleased with himself.

If you haven’t heard, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia are going to share a boxing ring in a twelve round go for God knows what will be at stake by the time they actually punch off.  The fact that no one from Garcia’s team has stepped in and rescued him from these unfolding events, his own personal well-being, and/or not to mention Devin Haney is, well, troubling in and of itself.

Back in the amateur days, the record shows they split six fights.  They were boys back then, so it means zero.  If anything, you’d want to be the older of the two, and Ryan had over a three-month age advantage.  If you’ve only been on the planet for a total of 120 months or so, every extra month could be a big enough difference in strength and development. Now as world class professionals in their prime?  That’s different.  Younger is always better.  Devin is that guy.

Haney and Garcia fought six times for free but will fight only once as professionals.  Then one of them will continue with their march for historic greatness, while the other will head back to Kamp Krazy, where he’s the current Mayor.

It’s never smart to lay 8-1, 9-1 in boxing.  And if you see taking Garcia as a value bet with +500 to +600 and beyond, you don’t understand value and you evidently don’t like money.

There is, however, a wagering opportunity here.

Total Rounds:  Fight doesn’t go 10.5 rounds.

Take anything over +125.  It’s worth a unit on a scale of 5.  Logically, there are a lot of ways to cash this ticket: legitimate victory, meltdown, catching lightning in a bottle, etc.  Or simply the exiting stage left of a guy who may be already plotting his next career move.

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