By Thomas Gerbasi
After a victorious return to the ring in December after a 13-month layoff from the ring, former two-division world champion Jessie Vargas expected to take a couple months off from serious training, but his team told him to stay ready just in case something came together sooner than expected.
He did. Then the phone rang with the type of fight he was hoping for – an April 21 main event in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center against Adrien Broner.
“The minute I got the call, it was perfect for me,” said Vargas, who replaced Omar Figueroa against Broner. “I don’t like long training camps. I’m not one of those fighters anymore. I am old enough and mature enough to really adapt my body and I don’t need long camps. They can affect me more than benefit me, and for that reason, short camps are always more beneficial. I push it to the limit, and when you do it for so long, it can affect you. Seven weeks to prepare for this fight is all I need to perform at my best. That’s what I had when I fought Sadam Ali. Sometimes when you’re young, you’re so anxious and you push it so hard that sometimes it works against you.”
Those are the words of an experienced fighter who has seen it all in the ring, and while Vargas hasn’t seen everything since turning pro in 2008, he likely has more notches on his experience belt than most 28-year-olds. Yes, despite it feeling like Vargas has been around forever, he hasn’t even reached 30 yet.
“(Mayweather Promotions CEO) Leonard Ellerbe said it best, he’s like, ‘Man, you’re a young veteran.’ And I said, ‘You know what, you’re right,’” Vargas laughs. “I’m a veteran because I gained a lot of knowledge and experience throughout the years, and I was thrown in with the wolves early on in big fights and I had to learn as I went. That’s what I did, and now I feel that I’m an accomplished fighter, I know what I want, I know the style that I have, and my strengths, which are many. It has to do with the team as well. If you don’t have a good team behind you that you trust, it makes it more difficult. Thankfully Mike is a very good trainer, very knowledgeable, and I have a good team behind me.”
Mike is Mike McCallum, the legendary “Bodysnatcher” who won world titles in three weight classes en route to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and in his first full camp with Vargas, the Las Vegan is excited to be taking his game to the next level alongside one of the sport’s greats.
“We’re doing a great job together,” Vargas said. “He’s bringing out the best in me, he’s perfecting some things that could have been done better, and I’m very happy to have the team that I have. Mike was a tremendous fighter himself and a three-division world champion. He has several strengths in his style that he’s bringing over to me. The confidence inside that ring is one, and there’s the thinking game. I’ve always been the type to accept that boxing is a thinking man’s game, but when it comes to Mike, he was above and beyond when it comes to that. He really thought things through, and he reminded me what it takes to stay composed and to keep winning every round.”
If McCallum can keep Vargas on the track he’s on and also evolve his attack, the potential for big things in the sport’s hottest division is huge for the 28-2 fighter who is a dark horse at 147 pounds despite a body of work that includes wins over Josesito Lopez, Antonio DeMarco and Sadam Ali, as well as high-profile bouts against Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley. That status as the “under the radar” guy may explain why Vargas has a different view than most when it comes to the development of a fighter.
“It’s gonna help your fan base if you’re at 30-0 with 30 knockouts, because people are gonna say, ‘Damn, this guy is a killer,’” he explains. “But then who has he been up against? I feel proud to have been brought up the hard way, but if I was a promoter, I’d probably choose the route that everyone else is taking. No one really acknowledges the fact that you beat this guy and that guy when you were 7-0 or 8-0. It’s rare. A lot of the fights I’ve been in, I challenged undefeated fighters and I took them down and they were actually entertaining fights. I’ve always been proud to present myself as an entertaining fighter and a fan-pleaser. But at the end of the day, your first 20 fights, no one really pays attention. But I was glad I was able to learn early on and all those experiences made me the fighter that I am today and for that reason, I wouldn’t change anything.”
At the very least, Vargas is confident that his fighting education will serve him well as he approaches his prime years, and he’s confident that he’s going to get the ball rolling with a win on April 21 against an enigma who did throw a curve ball at him by taking the bout.
“I was surprised that he accepted the fight,” Vargas said of Broner. “Just thinking that (Keith) Thurman refused to fight me because he was advised not to, according to him, it says a lot about Broner and, for that, I’ve got to respect him and give him credit. It still doesn’t change anything about me coming April 21 to beat him, but I do give him credit. He is a fan-pleaser and an entertainer, and I am as well. We both acknowledge that this is an entertaining fight for the fans, and I’m coming to win for sure.”
With a win, Vargas will likely have a very interesting rest of 2018, a time in which he hopes to get a shot at some gold, particularly the belts held by Mr. Thurman.
“On April 22 I look forward to being with my family and celebrating and leaving it (the future) all to my advisors,” he said. “I have them next to me and they have my back for a reason. I trust them and whatever decision they make for my next fight and what route we’re gonna take, I’m gonna respect it and I’m gonna go that way. If it was up to me, I’d love to have those WBC and WBA titles. He (Thurman) has two of them and we can kill two birds with one stone – I want both of those titles and one fight will give them both to me. But he did refuse to fight me in the past and I’m not sure if he’ll be willing to fight me after I beat Broner either.”