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Vargas Proves Ready for Trinidad

Chris Bushnell
Vargas proves ready for Trinidad
Forrest still titleless after no contest

Ross Thompson really only landed one significant punch to the face of Fernando Vargas.  That punch, an unexpected right cross launched 48 hours before the official start of their junior middleweight title fight, bloodied Vargas' lip and made an otherwise perfunctory press conference quite interesting.  It also woke up Vargas, who was planning on sleepwalking through a mismatch mandatory bout for his IBF belt.  Now focused on the pest before him, Vargas' attention drifted from the mega-payday awaiting him in December. Thompson had made the volatile Vargas angry, and that action came with a price.

Thompson almost didn't make it past the weigh-in.  Drying out to 156 lbs., the anonymous challenger required steam room overtime to finally make weight.  Starched to the bone, he finally scaled at 153.5, and then began rehydrating.  By fight time, Thompson had filled himself with enough food and water to cause a Nevada State Athletic Commission scale to report his fight-night weight at 173 pounds.  Despite the noticeable size advantage over Vargas, Thompson was outmatched.  That became clear moments into the fight, when a lead left hook from the champion slammed into Thompson's jaw and bent him backwards.  It was just a matter of time.

While the lumbering Thompson leaped in with wild punches, a few of which tagged Vargas, Fernando simply waited and countered.  Despite an out-of-the-ring temper that has often made headlines, once between the ropes
Vargas has never been anything short of patient.  For two rounds, Vargas studied Thompson's sloppy style.  Forgoing his usual heavy jab for angry power punches and intense observation, Vargas tasted a bit of leather while trying to time Thompson.  But in the third, Vargas would suddenly turn the fight around.

After many swings and misses, Thompson fell off balance into Vargas.  Twice he fell past the champion, who punched at the passing target. Thompson's momentum left him with his back to Vargas, and both times Fernando openly swung at the back of his head.  One warning was issued, and then a point was
deducted on the second occasion.  But Vargas could care less.  His blood lust was growing.  Soon after the penalty, Vargas countered a wild overhand right attempt with a left hook that rattled Thompson and a right hand that sent him down onto the seat of his pants.

Up on his feet and looking dazed, Thompson was allowed to continue.  A furious Fernando rushed in, his punches finally coming in combination.  Thompson covered up on the ropes and prayed for the bell.  It finally came,
but only just after another Vargas right landed on Thompson's temple and send him to the canvas again. 

Thompson rose in his corner, and was so dazed that he tried to sit down on a stool that was not yet in place.   Eventually Cortez reached the count of eight, and despite not looking totally aware, Thompson was allowed to take a seat and regain his senses under a shower of cold water.  A minute of ice and water and counseling was not enough to revive the challenger, and he began the fourth round on stiff legs.

Vargas ignored his own promise to carry Thompson a few rounds to extend the punishment, and instead raced at his opponent to see what he had left.  Thompson's arms now extended in an effort to grab on, but before he could
tangle Vargas' offense, a blazing straight right crashed into Thompson's forehead and sent him down for the third time in the bout.  Blinking his eyes and balancing precariously on wobbly stilts, Thompson was again allowed to continue.

Knowing what was to follow, Thompson closed his gloves tight over his face as Vargas came in for the finish.  Vargas used a cute little trick, jabbing with the left, and as he retracted the punch, he pulled down Thompson's guard to make way for an incoming right cross.  The punch cracked into Thompson's face and forced him to lean back on the ropes, helpless.  Vargas continued pumping alternate lefts and rights into Thompson's gloved defense.  Although these punches were not making their way past the challenger's guard, he was not
returning fire and simply getting beaten on the ropes.  Referee Joe Cortez mercifully stepped in an halted the contest before Vargas could inflict one more blow and send Thompson down for good.  Vargas KO4.

A quick bout was just what the doctor ordered:  an uncomplicated tune-up for what promises to be the showdown of the year.  This December, Felix Trinidad will attempt to unify his portion of the 154 lb. title against Vargas (now 20-0/18) in a battle of unbeatens.  Boxer vs. puncher, speed vs. power, experience vs. youth, fluidity vs. leverage.  It will be a classic.  And more, it will be exactly the kind of mega-fight that the game needs:  a showdown between two fighters at the top of their game.  Bragging rights, and serious cashola, await the winner.  We can hardly wait.

Waiting is the name of the game for welterweight Vernon Forrest.  Despite competing on the same Olympic team that produced Oscar DelaHoya, Forrest needed eight years to secure his first title bid.  It took most of this year to get elusive #1 ranked Raul Frank into the ring.  The winner would fill the IBF 147 lb. title left vacant by Trinidad.  For Forrest, a heavy betting favorite, it was the realization of a lifelong dream... or so he thought.

Despite beating Frank to the punch for the first two rounds with a crisp right hand and thudding body blows, Forrest chose to exchange hooks with his opponent once Frank found mild success catching Forrest with the punch.  Several hook-exchanges resulted in a clash of heads, but none as bad as the
one that occurred midway through the third round.

As both men launched big left hooks, they turned their heads into one another, clashing skulls in center ring.  Forrest immediately leaned back and grabbed his head, but he was fine.  Frank also grabbed his head.  He then staggered around the ring and dropped to his knees.  Soon, blood began pouring out of a large gash on his forehead.  The cut, which was wide and deep like a puncture wound, spat out blood in a thick series of diverging rivers down Frank's face.  A stoppage was obvious, and because less than four rounds had been complete, the bout was ruled a no-contest.  Neither man wins, neither man improves his record, and neither man walks away with the title.

Forrest was overcome with emotion.  His long wait had now been extended even longer.  Frank will require months to recover from the cut, and purse bids
for a rematch may take awhile to be settled.  A win for Forrest this night might have lured Shane Mosley into a lucrative unification battle, but that too must now wait.  Even if Forrest's backers can bribe the IBF into making another tune-up fight qualify for an interim title, Forrest is looking at close to a year's wait before the matter between him and Frank will be settled.  That could push a showdown with Mosley back to 2002.  All from an accidental headbutt. 

And so it goes in boxing:  one mega fight is now in the on-deck circle, while another has been postponed indefinitely.  For Fernando Vargas this was a night that lined up his future.  For Vernon Forrest, this was an evening that delayed an oft-delayed dream.  Two completely opposite outcomes from two very similar showdowns.  The unpredictability of boxing once again commands center stage.

.....Chris Bushnell

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