Vargas’ performance as pretty as his attire |

Vargas’ performance as pretty as his attire

Tim Parsons

Fernando Vargas’ place in boxing is like the hair on his head. He’s one of a selected few at the very top.

The IBF junior middleweight champion answered the toughest test of his young career Saturday at Caesars Tahoe with the usual, impeccable result. In his second title defense, the “ferocious” one knocked out Raul Marquez in the 11th round to raise his record to 17-0 with 17 knockouts.

In front of a sellout crowd of 2,000 that included a huge Mexican-American contingent and basketball great Magic Johnson, Vargas displayed tremendous punching power with cat-like quickness, superb boxing strategy along with an ability to improvise – and not one hint of humility.

In the weeks before the fight both boxers did their best to verbally disrespect each other. Vargas reportedly was fined for pushing Marquez at Friday’s weigh-in. Earlier at a press conference, Marquez tried to show up Vargas by presenting him with an Oscar De La Hoya T-shirt. Marquez is a friend and 1992 Olympic roommate of De La Hoya, the welterweight champ who is an icon to Mexican-Americans and the object of jealously from Vargas, who would dearly love to meet him in the ring.

After referee Joe Cortez pulled Vargas from Marquez, who was defenseless, bloodied and laying against the ropes at the 2-minute mark in the 11th round, the champ elected to take one more shot. He retrieved the T-shirt and tossed it into Marquez’s corner. A brief scuffle between the opposing cornermen ensued.

“I told him I was going to give him back the shirt so he could wipe the blood off his face,” Vargas said at a postfight press conference/victory party attended by about 200 family members and supporters.

The face of Marquez, indeed, was a mess. He sustained a cut over his left eye in the first round, in which for a while he appeared close to being knocked down. With each round his face became more red and swollen, and late in the bout he was cut near his right eye. Marquez skipped the press conference so he could visit the hospital.

Vargas was a contrast in appearance. The 21-year-old’s face was unmarked. His high-fade haircut touched with golden tiger stripes smartly matched his tiger boots and trunks, which he adorned with the IBF belt.

Vargas dominated the fight. Only two or three rounds were close. However, the veteran Marquez, who actually set the pace by moving forward, was crafty enough to take just one or two punches at a time.

The punches Vargas landed packed a wallop.

“I am amazed at how much he took,” Vargas said. “He’s a tough fighter. Tonight Fernando Vargas took it to the next level.”

Marquez was interviewed on HBO immediatley after the fight.

“(Vargas) fought a very intellegent fight,” he said. “I could never catch him. I’ve got to give it to him. He was better than I thought he was. … This will probably be my last fight.”

No other opponent before had gone beyond the seventh round against Vargas. Although Marquez’s face looked like a jack-o-lantern, he only appeared in serious trouble in the first round. It seemed that he would be the first to extend Vargas to 12 rounds. A left hook to the body in the 11th ended that notion.

Vargas jumped on the hurt Marquez with a, well, ferocious flurry of punches. Cortez called an end to it before the former champion went down, but it was clearly a proper decision.

“People wondered if I could go the full 12 rounds because my fights are usually over by the second round,” Vargas said. “I’m sure you can give me the last round and a half and say now that I can go 12 rounds.”

Vargas did appear winded at times during the last half of the bout. After taking a low blow in the sixth, the fight slowed with Vargas fighting in flurries. Vargas often was breathing from his mouth, and his mouthpiece fell out three times, giving him time for a breather.

“My mouthpiece didn’t fit,” Vargas explained. “I’ll get a new one.”

Marquez did have some good moments. He landed some combinations, especially in the later rounds, and a few times backed Vargas into the ropes. But his punches didn’t have the power to hurt Vargas.

In the sixth, Marquez was penalized a point for landing a low blow. It took Vargas two minutes to recover.

“The only other time I’ve been hit low like that was from my sister,” Vargas said. “And I was down a lot longer for that one than I was for this one.”

Vargas said his goal now is to fight former Olympian David Reid and unify the 154-pound title. Eventually, of course, he would like to face De La Hoya, who would have to move up in weight for the match to occur.

“I idolized him when I was growing up,” Vargas said. “But when I met him, he wasn’t the same guy I saw on TV. … I am at his level now.”

Notes: Forum Fights will be hosting a card at Stateline on September 25, Caesars Tahoe spokeswoman Trish Gilbert said. The fighters have not been announced. … An additional 400 seats were added at the Showroom for the fight. It was the largest attendance for boxing card at Stateline in at least eight years. … One of the biggest ovations of the night came when ring announcer Michael Buffer announced the presence of Johnson, who walked in about five minutes before the David Tua bout. “We had no idea he was coming,” Gilbert said. … Vargas made $500,000 for the fight. Marquez (30-2) earned $100,000.

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