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A Great Victory for Fernando Vargas

by Eldon Frost (eldonfrost@canada.com)

On the night of Saturday the 2nd of November 2000, Fernando Vargas lost a memorable battle against Felix Trinidad. It was a great victory for Trinidad, a great victory for Puerto Rico, and just maybe an even greater victory for Fernando Vargas.

In the days before the fight, Fernando impressed the media and fans with his hard training and his attitude. In newsreels from the Vargas training camp at Big Bear California, Fernando worked the heavy bag as if it were filled with foam. Head trainer Roger Bloodworth talked about the difficulties in keeping sparring partners for Vargas, most of who proved unwilling to take the physical beating that he unleashed. The only thing that struck me as a possible downside to Fernando's training was his mental game plan. He talked about 'cutting off the ring.' He talked about how he was going to control the pace of the fight. He talked about Felix Trinidad as if he were just another good fighter. In retrospect, it was bound to be a disaster.

Fifteen seconds into round one, a shocked Fernando Vargas was on his butt after catching a huge left hook from Felix Trinidad. It was obvious that Vargas did not expect to encounter the speed or power of a fighter like Trinidad. It wasn't that Vargas couldn't handle Trinidad. In later rounds Vargas showed that he could. It was that Vargas didn't EXPECT anyone to be equal to his own speed and power. The bell at the end of the round one created a broad smile on the face of Vargas. It was as if to say, 'OK, I'm not a virgin any more. Now I know what this is like.'

By round three, Vargas' punching power and skill had returned. He bobbed and weaved so much it made me dizzy watching him routinely avoid five-punch combinations. By the final rounds of the bout, however, the early abuse he sustained caught up with him. An exhausted Vargas hit the canvas for the final time, 93 seconds into the twelfth round.

The day after the fight, did Fernando cry and whimper, whine about the low blows, make excuses, and announce a 6-month layoff? No. First he expressed his dismay at having let his fans down. Then, just as he had promised, the Vargas camp declared Felix Trinidad the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. When Main Event's Gary Shaw asked Fernando if he wants a rematch with Felix Trinidad, Fernando's response was, "Absolutely yes."

What did Fernando lose in the fight? Well, he lost his 20-0 perfect record, and he definitely lost his naivete about fighting top opponents. What did he gain? Vargas gained even greater prestige and support, increased his draw power, and likely increased his future pay. He also showed us that at merely 23 years old, there will be much more of Fernando Vargas to come. Vargas put up a great fight and a noble effort. He gave it everything he had, just as he promised he would.

In the few days prior to the fight, commentators, sports writers and fans alike jumped on the Vargas bandwagon. Far fewer have jumped off. Felix Trinidad may just be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but Vargas has also emerged from his loss as a champion.

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