This weekend in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, IBF junior middleweight Fernando Vargas further established himself with a dominant performance against former title holder Raul Marquez. It was not a quick, thrilling, showcase fight that proclaimed the emergence of a new star, but rather a measured and mature fight that solidified Vargas' standing as one of the game's consummate pros.
Prior to the fight, Vargas sounded every bit of his 21 years. Bold and confident, he never hesitated to dismiss Marquez. At the weigh in the day before the bout, the traditional stare down boiled over when Vargas shoved his challenger for flexing his bicep in his face....in Big Bear, where both men were training, the two exchanged heated words during a chance meeting at a restaurant...and when Marquez attempted to embarrass Vargas by presenting him with an Oscar DelaHoya t-shirt, Ferocious Fernando quickly assured Marquez that he would return the shirt to him after the fight "so that you can wipe the blood from your mouth".
But once in the ring, Vargas' bristling enthusiasm was stripped, his raging demeanor was under control, and the ferocity that has earned him his nickname was channeled into the type of in-ring poise that is usually reserved for veteran fighters. Rather than attack, Vargas instead stalked...and it paid dividends.
In the first round, Vargas fired one of his best weapons, the lead right, with thudding accuracy. Straight down the pike, Vargas' quick right stung Marquez early and immediately began swelling the challenger's face. Indeed after less than a round, Marquez's high cheekbones and drawn face had already begun what would become another gross transformation of his features. His left cheek already swollen, Marquez also suffered a badly placed cut on his left eyelid in the opening stanza.
Already damaged by the heavy incoming, Marquez's own aggression was nowhere to be found. Occasionally flicking a range finding jab, Marquez was unable to land cleanly on Vargas for much of the fight. His sneaky right hook landed only a couple times throughout the bout, and his counter left often missed over a ducking Vargas. Meanwhile, the champion continued his measured pace, picking off Marquez at every opportunity.
At 16-0 with 16 knockouts before the 7th round, two questions hovered over Fernando prior to the bout: could he go 12 strong rounds, and could he cope with an opponent that wouldn't fold. In this fight, Vargas answered both questions with his poise. Although the opportunities were presented for Vargas to turn up the heat, he smartly realized that Marquez needed to be chopped down slowly. Coming in at a very slim and fit 153, Marquez had often gone into the late rounds, and so Vargas continued his consistent assault.
As the fight wore on, Vargas wisely worked Marquez's body. While Marquez was headhunting...Vargas paid special attention to Marquez's frame. In every round, Vargas launched straight right hands into Marquez's sternum. It's the type of flashless punch that garners little attention on television, but in the small Caesar's Palace ballroom where the fight was staged, each time Vargas landed the punch, the crowd could hear the wind momentarily being forced from Marquez, and quietly gasped as though they themselves had absorbed the punch. It was a crucial element in Vargas' ability to stop Marquez late in the bout.
And so, with Vargas providing much of the offense (Marquez's few and far between clean punches earned him one or two rounds mid-bout, at most) and Marquez quietly absorbing punishment, the bout continued at a steady pace. At only one juncture did Vargas temporarily lose focus: in the sixth round when a stooped over Marquez fired a wicked left uppercut into the center of the champion's protective cup. After taking the requisite five minute respite, Vargas attacked back with a flash of vengeance. With Vargas finally free swinging, Marquez landed some of his best shots of the night...but the champion was unfazed.
By the eleventh round, Marquez had accomplished half of his goal: to take Vargas into the uncharted late rounds. Unfortunately, Vargas was still there in front of him. Despite the high altitude of the fight location, Vargas looked fresh in the eleventh while Marquez looked like he was just hoping to last to hear the cards. Battered, bruised, swollen, and now bleeding out of three separate cuts across his face, Marquez was finally chopped down. As Vargas began landing heavy rights and lefts, the weakened challenger twice stumbled back across the ring as Vargas pummeled him, until referee Joe Cortez jumped in to call it off. Slumped on the ropes and taking shots, Marquez offered no resistance to Cortez's call. Vargas TKO11.
Continuing his streak to 17-0/17, Vargas was quickly hoisted in the ring in celebration. Once lowered, he quickly grabbed the DelaHoya shirt Marquez had used to taunt him, crossed the ring, and threw it back in Marquez's face. A scuffle ensued and security quickly separated both camps before the rematch took place in the same ring.
With this victory, Fernando Vargas removed little doubt as to the identity of the best 154 lb. fighter fighting today. With David Reid struggling the night before versus suspect competition, Vargas' calm, cool, and collected showing boosted his name atop the division rankings. With a year 2000 showdown with Reid being set up by HBO, and the likes of DelaHoya, Trinidad and Quartey all headed into the division, the future looks bright for the young champion from Oxnard. If he can duplicate the focus and control of this performance, Vargas stands a good chance of defeating anyone put in front of him.
On the undercard, David Tua wasted little time in smashing down Holyfield's sparring partner Gary Bell. Attacking Bell from the outset, Tua surprised Bell with a crippling right hand while the challenger was waiting for Tua's trademark left hook. Moments after an accidental headbutt opened a small nick over Bell's left eye, a wrecking ball Tua right hand opened the cut into a three inch gash that poured blood down Bell's face. After a Nevada doctor was called to the ring apron, and Bell was allowed to continue, Tua simply came in and finished his man. Backing Bell into his own corner with both hands flying, Tua unloaded on the helpless challenger until the referee was forced to step in and halt the action after only 79 seconds of the first round.
While Gary Bell wasn't the most formidable of tests for Tua, it was nonetheless the type of quick knockout that turns heads. While Michael Grant may have more physical gifts, it is this type of quick domination that could propel Tua's name ahead of Grant's on the prospect list. With Holyfield and Lewis looking to each other this fall, Tua would be well off to see if he can match his performance against Grant or Ike Ibeabuchi, the only man to hold a win over him. Indeed, Tua may need that type of challenge to be in top form, as he came through the ropes versus the lightly regarded Bell at a pudgy 237 pounds, 14 more than his last fight against the more seriously regarded Hasim Rahman.
-Also on the undercard, Main Events fighter Sam Hampton, the gigantic Native American heavyweight trained by Ronnie Shields, showed his rather serious limitation in his undercard bout. In an embarrassing performance, Hampton lost a unanimous decision to John Kiser, whose record coming into the fight was a harrowing 14-20-4/5 KO. Despite swelling Kiser's left eye shut in the first round with a decent jab, Hampton was completely unable to guard against Kiser's left hook. Kiser cracked into Hampton's skull repeatedly with that punch, each time sending sweat flying off the long hair of Hampton and drenching the crowd in the first three rows. After two rounds of trying to keep Kiser off him, Hampton was completely exhausted, and could barely even keep his hands up. Kiser won every round on two judge's cards and 5 of 6 on the third. Hampton falls to 19-7-2/15KO
Other undercard results:
-Mario Aguiniga, also of Oxnard CA, improved his record to 3-0/2KO with a second round knockout of fellow featherweight Franciso Guzman, who fell to 1-1/1KO. Aguiniga showed quick hands and a penchant for digging to the body before dropping Guzman for good with a left hook to the head that sent Guzman reeling into unconsciousness.
-Eric Regan improved to 3-0/2KO with a KO1 of Marcos Cruz. The super-middleweight bout was hardly a contest, and Cruz's slow motion punches from the southpaw stance left him wide open for a quick kayo.
-Juan Lazcano, now 17-2-1/12KO, defeated Tito Tovar with a brutal body shot in the second round that rendered Tovar unable to beat the count of ten. Tovar drops to 18-15-2/8KO.