By Jake Donovan
The final piece of Jessie Vargas’ welterweight debut has been placed, as it was announced last Thursday that the unbeaten Vegas prospect will face veteran Lanardo Tyner. Their bout headlines a Shobox-televised card this Friday, live from the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas.
Matchmakers were on the hunt for opponents for both legs of the February 24 Shobox telecast for several weeks before last week’s announcement confirmed an end to that hunt. While the co-feature battle – Deandre Latimore taking on journeyman Ryan Davis – is far below the standard normally provided by the series, the main event is an intriguing enough affair to warrant viewership.
Vargas’ star remains on the rise, though the Vegas native was seriously tested in his last ring appearance in barely outlasting Josesito Lopez in their 10-round war. The fight took place last September, with next Friday ending a career-long layoff of 160 days or just over five months.
Such a break is common place for the average fighter these days. For a hungry young lion like Vargas, it’s the equivalent of being trapped in a cage.
“I can’t lie, I’ve been extremely anxious the past few months,” Vargas (17-0, 9KO) admits. “I needed the break after the Lopez fight, but didn’t expect five months off. I was ready to come back in December. I’m just really happy the fight is now a week away. I was going crazy.”
If boredom on the sidelines was racking his brain, it stands to reason that not knowing who he’d be fighting until a week before the fight had to be equally nerve racking.
That Tyner accepted the fight on short notice – nothing new for the Detroit native – leaves both sides with little time to prepare for the other. What little Vargas knows about him is enough to know that yet another tough challenge lies ahead, which actually helps alleviate his nerves.
“Sitting around waiting for an opponent was a bit worrisome, but I had confidence that my handlers would come through,” said Vargas, who fights under the Mayweather Promotions banner. “We were told a week ago that this fight was in the mix. Two other guys pulled out, so we went from three game plans to one. I’m just glad to be back in the ring and against a tough veteran that will come to fight.”
After the Lopez fight, it was suspected that Vargas’ handlers would travel the path of least resistance in easing him into the welterweight division. Quite the opposite has become the case. While Tyner (25-6-2, 15KO) loses a bit more than he wins lately, he is known for boasting a granite chin and making his opponents work for every minute of every round.
As far as Vargas is concerned, it’s precisely what the doctor ordered.
“I think it proves to everyone that I’m willing to fight. I’ve never said no to a fight and always seek the tough challenges, the guys that come to fight. Tyner has never been stopped and is a tough fighter.
“For me, it’s just another test that I need at this stage of my career. I don’t know a lot about him other than what’s on paper and that he’s tough. All I need to know is that he’s coming to fight, and that he’s in for a rough night.”
Should it prove to be rough both ways, Vargas has the benefit of hometown advantage. Half of his career has taken place in Nevada, with next Friday marking his sixth Vegas hometown appearance.
That said, a competitive edge among the officials’ panel is not at all what Vargas seeks when playing Sin City.
“It feels great to fight in my hometown,” Vargas states. “It’s the fight capital of the world, but not many fighters can truly claim it as their home. What I see in this fight is another exciting match and a chance for my hometown fans to once again enjoy me in action.”
That it’s a foe as dangerous as Tyner is the least of Vargas’ concerns. In fact, it’s all the more motivating, as he’d rather be tested than merely blow through handpicked opposition.
“All I ever seek is the toughest challenge. That’s because this is just a sport to me. It’s not a job, because I enjoy it too much. The old saying is that you don’t play boxing, you play football. But I have fun doing this. I expect Tyner to come at me and it’s truly going to be a fight.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .