By Fiona Manning
NABO super featherweight champion Yoni Vargas who was sidelined by a hand injury last month and forced to cancel his ESPN fight against Martin O’Malley, is hard at work preparing for his next fight, tentatively scheduled for late this month or early December.
Vargas, who is known as “Superdad” at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym is the newly proud papa of two week-old Andy Vargas who has tested his dad’s endurance in the sleep department since his birth.
“I sleep on the sofa some nights which my wife doesn’t like much,” said Vargas today. “My son Yoni jr. who is almost two, was a much quieter baby, but you know what can you do? My wife was a professional athlete, so she understands the pressures. She understands I’m in training and she takes care of the boys and she lets me sleep.”
Although he is still unable to use his right hand, the gym’s “holy trinity” of Macka Foley, Pepper Roach and Justin Fortune (who are watching over things while “God” - Freddie Roach - is in Las Vegas with Johnny Tapia) are impressed that Vargas lost none of his momentum in the gym following the injury incurred during sparring.
“He trains like a dog. He’s been in every day, throwing but not landing the right,” said Fortune. “Some fighters would love the excuse to take time off, but not Yoni. I think it almost killed him to have to pull out of the O’Malley show.”
Foley concurs. “This is one great kid,” he said. “Yoni works hard in the gym. I’d say he’s our hardest working fighter. He will become world champion just based on sheer determination and damned hard work.
“He’s doing great in the gym. By the time he’s done training for his next fight, he’s gonna have one hell of a jab because he’s working on it all the time.”
This week however, he’ll be one step closer to a fight, because he starts landing the right again.
Fortune who was supervising sparring the day Vargas was injured in the gym, said he cannot remember the opponent’s name.
“It was some 47 pounder from the Philippines,” he said. “I only had him in the gym for three days. I couldn’t believe it when Yoni got hurt.”
Vargas, 23-3, 12 KOs, who is also California state’s lightweight champion is in training for an opponent and fight date TBA.
“My whole career has been like that,” said Vargas. “When my managers Norman Kaplan and Mike Jacoby tell me I have a fight, they always says my opponent is someone called “Killer.” They believe you should be ready for anybody and I like to think that way too.
“Boxing is like marriage, you know? You have to give it 100%. It takes everything. My wife hates to watch me fight because she doesn’t like to see me get hurt. She doesn’t like to see the punches land.”
Neither does Vargas - on his wife that is. As a member of the Mexican national basketball team, Dulce (Spanish for sweet) and Vargas met whilst training for the 1996 Olympics.
“We play one on one and she beats me every time. I’m proud of that,” said Vargas. “But I never watched her play basketball because I hate to see her get hurt. Basketball players are very dirty you know. They punch, they slap, they use the elbow.”
Not that Vargas is one to talk. One of the most aggressive fighters on the circuit, he’s been known to lose a point or two for low blows.
“Accidents,” he said with a laugh. “When I fight, I forget everything. When I get hit, I have to hit back. I don’t feel pain, I just get angry.”
The team at the Wild Card has worked hard to coach the face-first style out of Vargas. “He’s a stubborn man,” said Fortune.
“It took a while but he’s finally listening. He’s finally getting the idea that it’s not necessarily a good idea to be taking all those shots. He’s got a fantastic punch and a good chin but we’ve finally drilled it into him: we don’t want him to get hit that much.”
Vargas started with the crew at Wild Card immediately after his loss to New Yorker Brian Adams last year.
Roach, who was in town briefly for a public workout with Tapia, smiles at the mere mention of Yoni Vargas.
“He’s my hardest-working fighter,” he said. “Yoni is willing to go that extra mile all the time. You gotta love a man who’s willing to work that hard. He does everything we ask him to do.”
Roach watched a tape of the Adams fight afterwards and told his charge he saw nothing to be concerned about. “I told him we needed to get him to shorten his punches. Not to be so willing to brawl. Sometimes, we boxers have got to learn the hard way.”
Vargas agrees. “It was the first time I lost a fight since very early in my career and it’s hard to lose a fight,” he said of the bout which was stopped by the red after six intense, bloody rounds in which Vargas was badly cut.
“My corner just couldn’t stop the cuts from bleeding,” he said. “I’ve never been cut like that. Two of them were from headbutts. I’ve been head-butted before. I would have kept going but the referee stopped the fight.”
It was a loss which still hurts and haunts the fighter who would love to avenge it - as quickly as possible.
“I’m not making excuses,” he said. “But a lot of things happened before that fight. They say you learn more from a loss sometimes, than a win and in this case I did. I remember how it felt and I will never let it happen again.
“If I fought Adams now it would be a different fight. I know it would. I realize now my defense wasn’t there. At the time, I just couldn’t believe it. It didn’t go the way I thought it would. Sometimes I still think about it...’what if I had done this? Or that?’ ”
Meanwhile he runs hard every day, coaxing stablemate, heavyweight Javier Mora into running with him. His best friends outside of the gym remain Mora, fellow stablemate Raul Franco and world light heavyweight contender Julio Gonzalez. The two fighters go to the movies together.
“Nobody loves movies more than Julio,” he said. “He’s always at the movies. He often calls me to go but with the new baby it’s been difficult. Last week we went to see a double feature but that’s the first time I’ve been in a long time.”
The pair also share parenting tips.
“One day my wife was very upset. Very stressed, Julio said I should go home and cook the dinner. The only thing I only know how to make is salad but it seemed to make my wife very very happy!
“Julio loves being a dad too,” said Vargas. “We talk about our boys. I think my son, Yoni junior wants to be a fighter so my wife will never let me bring him to the gym. Maybe I have to sneak him out of the house one day!”
Things have changed for Vargas in the last two years. The Mexicali native became a US citizenand has been studying English.
“Going to classes for the immigration exam was fun,” he said. “Like being back in school. I liked studying English. I liked learning about American politics, all the questions you have to know for the exam. The funny thing was the only question I had problems with was who is the President of Mexico!”
Dulce recently completed a degree in business administration and now she too, is studying English.
Lately, he finds he is recognized many places he goes.
“It was a shock at first,” he said. “One time this woman was staring at me. I thought why is she looking at me then she told me she and her husband saw me fight at the Pond.”
The recognition happens often enough that he feels a responsibility towards his fans as a fighter.
“It happens mostly in Orange County where I live,” he said. “I love Orange County. The pace is quieter, people are friendly. It’s like a bunch of families living there. I take my children to the park and I spend a lot of time at home.
“My son Yoni likes to ride this horse outside the market in the mornings. You know the kind where you put in a quarter? He could ride that thing all day if I let him. Maybe he’ll become a ranchero one day! I don’t care what he chooses to do. For me, it’s important that I can give him a good life here.
“My family is still in Mexicali which is so close. I want my children to know both places. They are a part of both places.
“When I drive to the gym in the mornings, to me it’s like going to the office. I want to do my best,” he said. “I do the best I can every day - for me and my family. This is what God has chosen for me, to be a fighter. And my goal is to be the best. And one day I will be. For sure.”