Whether he is willing to admit it, this Halloween is probably going to be a day of some importance to Fernando “ El Feroz” Vargas (26 -5, 22KOs). This Friday, October 31, 2014 is the last day for eligible voters to turn in ballots to decide which three of thirty prospective modern division inductees will make it to the finish line and be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2015. This year for the first time, Fernando Vargas is one of those being considered for professional boxing’s equivalent of sainthood in the hallowed halls of Canastota, New York. In keeping with his bad boy with a heart of gold image from his fighting days, Vargas is playing it cool with regard to any predictions on his own success or failure compared to that of his fellow prospective inductees. “No, no, no,no! I really don’t have any (predictions).” Mr. Vargas stated when asked about his chances last week. However even as “El Feroz” demonstratively declined to make comparisons, it was clear that it would be anything but nightmarish if in early December, Vargas is announced as one of those chosen to be honored in June. “It will be a blessing. People will have recognized my talent and also my accomplishments,” Vargas remarked. Just the same, Vargas remains hesitant to let the whole thing get too close to the skin. “I just don’t want to be let down. I don’t want to get mad or something.” This reticence is somewhat uncharacteristic for the normally outspoken two-time World Champion. Out of step enough that Vargas has also found himself explaining the root of it to his own son. “ ‘Dad, you know you were nominated to be inducted…what do you think?’, Vargas recounted. No pun intended, Vargas pulled no punches in his response: “Son it’s not up to us, it’s not up to me… it’s a blessing if it happens and then if it doesn’t we’ll go ahead.’”
This might well be the best mind set for Vargas given some of the less than favorable press that he has received on the matter. It has been said that fame is a double-edged sword. With regard to Vargas’ Hall of Fame aspirations and his voters, namely the Members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an international panel of boxing historians, it would appear that Vargas is getting licks on both sides. Vargas’ considerable fame from his fighting days has been extended in today’s popular culture due to his current standing as a successful reality TV star and household celebrity. While this has allowed him to standout more than most within the pool of possible 2015 inductees, it also puts Mr. Vargas’ past boxing career under increased scrutiny. Both a blessing and a curse, Vargas’ notoriety has created a powerful lens further magnifying things that would both prevent and allow him from gaining Hall of Fame inclusion. In an induction year that has been hailed by many voters as a year with no shoo ins or sure bets, Vargas’ case is one that can be more easily disseminated publicly in the press versus soberly resting on a ballot sheet with an accompanying vitae. In a year that would also seem to favor Prince Naseem Hamed (36-1, 31KOs) as the deserving but previously slighted Susan Lucci of the modern ballot, it could be said that Vargas might be in some real danger of being painted in relief to Hamed as somewhat of a voter’s black sheep; heavy hitting, highly influential voters and star boxing writers Kevin Iole and Dan Rafael have both cast Hamed as their yes vote, versus Vargas as their very public no vote, with little if nothing in between on other possible modern voting cues. Why this high profile calling out and somewhat pointed smoke signal to other voters and boxing fans? True, a writer’s opinion is their necessary bread and butter, but why not more on other new modern inductee hopefuls in this division? The easiest answer is public recognition, kissing cousin to that unruly and indiscreet temptress fame. Ironically, some of the same issues that many bemoan as those that have wrongly denied the Prince his due within the Hall of Fame, specifically shortness of career span, and thus a denial of he opportunity for more high caliber battles, are shared by Vargas. Indeed, this particular issue serves as part of the lynchpin of the same argument for those that would stop short of giving Vargas their vote in favor of Hamed. However, while both Prince and Fernando were also highly skilled at building up and harnessing fan enthusiasm for the sport, they are still two different cases and two different men. Additionally, often the course towards enshrinement and greater glorification does not run smooth. It is not nor should it be a walk in the park.
However, it is not all bad for Vargas. Everyone whether they are pro or con team Vargas recognizes El Feroz for having been the youngest world light middleweight champion in Boxing History until Saul Canelo Alvarez (44-1-1, 31KOs) won the vacant WBC belt in 2011. That Vargas was able to achieve this at, “ twenty- one years, five days,” as Vargas himself states to the letter as a stickler for detail, is no statistic to disregard or ignore. Vargas fought five world champions off the bat as a professional, fighting and winning the title against Luis Ramon Campas (103-17-3, 79KOs), with only fourteen professional fights. As Vargas is understandably fond of retelling, Campas “ … had a record (at the time of their contest) of 76 and 1… So I did a lot of things early.” As another firm mark in the yes column, Vargas was also a former Olympian, additionally winning a bronze medal as an amateur at the 1995 Pan American Games in Mar del Plata. Nevertheless, to revisit the issue, many important voters appear legitimately hard pressed to label Vargas as induction worthy due to the length of his career, which was somewhat short compared to other current inductees. However, anyone choosing to offset this negative by gracing Vargas with the positive of being similar in the ring to current Hall of Fame inductee Arturo Gatti (40-9, 31KOs) will find a very weighty observer who strongly eschews the parallel. While Vargas like Gatti has been known by his fans for having no quit in him, it is paradoxically none other than Vargas himself who takes exception to this comparison as a gimmie for induction. Yes, Vargas is quick to revel in the fact that all of his fans associate him with the popular song “ No Me Se Rajar” (I don’t know how to quit), but only in fight sentiment does the similarity hold water in Vargas’ view. “ I think the biggest misconception is that I fought like Arturo Gatti and that’s not true,” Vargas explains. “I knew how to box. You can see my fight with Ike Quartey (37-4-1, 31KOs), with Winky Wright (51-6-1, 25KOs)…. when I hurt them, I tried to get them out of there…. I don’t want people to just think that I was a brawler… my key wins, they’ve been intelligent boxing punching… I don’t want people to think that I was a fighter that just went forward and didn’t have any defense.”
Slights with regard to full recognition due have always been a bone of contention for Vargas. As he is quick to attest, he grew up in a broken home with no father figure. It can be extrapolated that in the absence of the recognition and attention that comes from a positive male figure, Mr. Vargas at the young age of ten had in response developed into a regular in juvenile hall with multiple batteries. It was only through his chance discovery of boxing and the recognition that he subsequently received there that Fernando Vargas was saved. Mr. Vargas remembers the exact moment like it was yesterday when on an otherwise ordinary day, suspended from school, Vargas flipped through the channels on the TV and stumbled upon, “ringside boxing challenge. I could not believe it. I saw kids my age that were ten years old and as young as eight years old fighting for trophies and I couldn’t believe it. I was like what is this? How can I become part of this?... I walked to the gym the next day….Ten years old….my life changed.” To listen to Mr. Vargas, given the magnitude of this experience and it’s after effects on his life, it follows that he feels very strongly about being accepted into the Hall of Fame for everything that he believes he truly is versus what he is not: “I can punch, and I could brawl. If I had to brawl, I brawled, but mostly my intelligence. I want people to never forget how I won the title. I won it by fighting a guy that…only lost one time. And I only had fourteen fights. If that’s not skilled, then what is it? ….Campas had something like seventy with sixty-eight knockouts… I boxed his ears off. Because I hurt him in the last round he quit.”
As consideration for induction requires, it’s been over five years since Mr. Vargas fought professionally. While Mr. Vargas has retired from working within the ring, he has not given up promoting and contributing to the continued health of boxing from outside of the ring. Via Mr. Vargas’ promotion company, Feroz Boxing, Mr. Vargas remains dedicated to keeping boxing alive and accessible for those that would strive to become it’s next generation of stars. Only this past September, Mr. Vargas staged his first amateur fight night similar to the fight challenge that ignited his desire for boxing at ten years old. “I started my first show September 20th at the Silver Nugget here in Las Vegas, Nevada,” Mr. Vargas recounted. Not just a one time endeavor, Mr. Vargas has secured a broadcast deal with Azteca America and has plans to do another of what he hopes to be a series of amateur shows in Las Vegas with plans to resume next month in November. “We are going to continue to do shows like that because the amateurs are the future of boxing… professionals are the ones that make the money right now but amateurs are the ones that are going to be the future of boxing. … that’s why I wanted to do amateur boxing for kids so they can see….there’s millions of Fernando Vargases that were in trouble like me in the world that they’ve never been found because they never knew about boxing. They don’t know….they can turn their lives around with boxing… So let’s not let people forget about that.” This current commitment of Mr. Vargas to amateur and youth boxing really has no direct relation to his successful or unsuccessful 2015 bid for induction into The Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, seeing as it follows the tenets and mission statement of the International Hall of Fame with regard to promoting and fostering continued excellence and education in boxing, it would seem to merit some note with regard to what it would mean for the Hall of Fame to have a direct association with the likes of Mr. Vargas.
To that point, one of the strongest and most damning arguments against Vargas’ induction would be his fine and suspension for steroid use after his loss to Oscar De La Hoya ( 39-6, 30KOs). Despite the fact that Mr. Vargas accepted responsibility for this bad act (albeit while claiming that he was not aware that he was in use of the steroid), some have suggested that an example should still be made of Mr. Vargas with regard to the overall issue of steroid use. While this could prove to be a deterrent for some, the cost versus reward in the actual execution of going after Mr. Vargas or anyone else in this manner would seem to present itself as a rather complicated foray into extremely murky waters. With some voters have expressing a desire for stiff non admission and others expressing a desire for leniency based on a sliding scale of acceptably shown remorse, anyone would be hard pressed to agree on an accurate barometer of reciprocal apology and/or shame paid. As such, it seems unfair to penalize Mr. Vargas for something that to date has no concrete universal measure and also seemingly had no bearing in his initial consideration for induction to begin with. Perhaps it is a very good in house question to be revisited in the lead up to ballot year 2015.
All things considered, whether Mr. Vargas is successful in his bid for induction this year or not, it is always telling to hear from a prospective inductee exactly what fight and what moment in their career for them best encapsulates why they deserve to become a part of Boxing pantheon. For Mr. Vargas, more than just a fight, it was a feeling that he had and sustained in his competition against and ultimate victory against Marquez: “I love the way I felt against Raul Marquez, “ Vargas remembers. “I never felt like that in my life. I couldn’t wait – I actually peaked in the dressing room. I had worked hard. I remember running hard you know twenty miles hard at a speed all that I could go from the beginning all the way to the end. Three miles every day hard like that. And I remember man, just making weight and feeling so good. As soon as I ate and everything everything was so perfect and my camp and my sparring was so great and I just remember being in the dressing room and I can’t wait to get in the ring!. I can’t wait!... I never felt like that before again.”
Similarly, we can wait to see who goes from prospect to actual International Hall of Fame Inductee come early December.
Is there room for Fernando Vargas in the Hall of Fame?
Written by Kylie Krabbe
Photo by El Heraldo
October 30th 2014