Vargas' comeback nearly derailed
Lazcano-Molina undercard steals the show
Fernando Vargas's first professional bout after his epic war with Felix
Trinidad was supposed to be an easy tune-up against journeyman Wilfredo
Rivera. After all, Rivera's reputation was always based on the number of
punches he could take, not the number he could throw. But instead of a
confidence builder, Vargas got a wake-up call. 30 seconds into the second
round of their bout, Rivera slammed his knuckles into the ridge of Vargas's
jaw and sent the former world champion to the canvas in a heap.
Although Vargas beat the count and bounced some life back into his rubber
legs, the damage had been done. The fact that Vargas turned the tide and
made Rivera quit 10 minutes later is almost a footnote to the story of the
night: Vargas may not have much left after his memorable battle with Felix
At only 23 years of age, with a mere 22 professional fights on his resume,
the questions about Vargas' future have already begun. At various times in
his return bout, Vargas was tentative, rusty, inactive, confused, and
occasionally downright passive. His five month layoff looked like a five
year sabbatical after only the first round. Vargas slowly approached Rivera
holding his hands uncharacteristically high. As Vargas watched Rivera, and
Rivera watched back, the two men engaged in a typical feel-out round, only
without much of the feeling. Each man volleyed a few jabs in the opening
frame, but did little else. Vargas' attempts seemed stiff and slow, while
Rivera kept his hands mostly cocked as he watched Vargas' every move through
wide eyes. We scored the round 10-10, which is really being too generous to
The second round was continuing at a snail's pace until the aforementioned
right cross caught a jabbing Vargas and put him down. When the blow landed,
Vargas' knees simply buckled. On all fours, Vargas hung his head in place
for a second before wobbling and nearly collapsing further onto his own head.
By four Vargas had popped up, but his first steps sent him stunbling to his
left into the ropes. Fernando finished the mandatory eight by jumping in
place. He was hurt.
Despite the fact that Rivera's corner adamantly called for their man to
attack, the Puerto Rican boxer took his sweet time. Vargas immediately fired
a retaliatory blow, but Rivera countered with a left hook that caught Vargas'
chin in the air and looked eerily like one of the deadly hooks Trinidad had
landed on the former champ. Vargas backed off and tried to regroup.
Standing at a distance from Rivera, Vargas seemed unsure of his next move.
Whenever he threw punches, he ate punches... and the usually powerless Rivera
was landing with some force this night. Luckily, Rivera never pressed the
action. In fact, neither man landed a punch of significance until the final
30 seconds of the round, when Vargas again summoned the courage to lead, only
to get nailed with another chopping Rivera right. Fernando did tag Rivera
with a single left hook, but it came simultaneous with the bell, preventing
anything other than a 10-8 for Rivera.
Vargas picked up the pace to begin the third round, but again found Wilfredo
Rivera more than willing to answer every assault with one of his own. Vargas
found some quick success by stepping into a few heavy jabs then pushing his
big right across the distance. But Rivera would answer with a right of his
own, each time making Vargas stop briefly in his tracks. Vargas may have
been able to neutralize Rivera's returns by pumping his jab, but the punch
was noticeably absent from his arsenal this night. Still, Vargas threw and
landed individual rights and hooks in the middle of this stanza, and Rivera's
delicate face began swelling this way and that. The right side of Rivera's
mouth began to balloon in the round, a perfect match to the dark red mouse
that quickly formed under his left eye. Rivera was getting caught because he
was looking to land another perfect right hand... and waiting a bit too long.
Luckily, Vargas's punches did not come in packaged in their usual combination
With Rivera's face contorting into a mess of cuts, bruises and bubbles,
Vargas' job seemed much easier in the fourth round. Still, Vargas never
seemed to find his rhythm. Perhaps fearful of another right counter, Vargas
rarely jabbed with effectiveness. Most of his punches were one-at-a-time
bombs. Many of them landed, but more than once Vargas missed and found
himself badly off-balance. After one such miss, in the final minute of the
round, Vargas ate another Rivera right hand. Vargas rushed at Rivera to grab
onto his midsection, but Rivera moved back to avoid the clinch. Unable to
grab on, Vargas' momentarily wobbly legs carried him straight back to the
ropes. Rivera followed him, landing punches all the way. Despite Rivera
looking like he had been in a car accident, he was again winning the round.
Vargas drew Rivera into a good exchange at the bell (again), but it was too
The pro-Vargas El Paso crowd had been pretty silent following the knockdown
in round two. Perhaps they had exhausted themselves cheering during the
Lazcano-Molina undercard battle, but more likely their silence was a
reflection on the state of the main event. The fifth began as many of the
previous rounds did: with Vargas looking tentative and unsure as he
cautiously approached Rivera. By now, however, Rivera's left eye was giving
him problems, and Vargas was able to land his bombs more often and more
effectively. Despite offering virtually no set-up for his biggest shots,
Vargas was able to crank Rivera with both the right hand and the left hook in
this round. For awhile, not even this seemed like enough for Vargas. For
each bomb that Vargas would land, Rivera would answer with three of four body
shots of his own. Vargas' best moments were being overwhelmed by volume.
But then, Rivera crapped out.
Despite holding his own with Vargas, Rivera suddenly lost his steam. Vargas
pounded his opponent with a big overhand right. When there was no answer, he
landed the hook. No answer brought another single punch, and eventually the
assault snowballed into the first real Vargas flurry of the night. Rivera
slumped onto the ropes under this barrage, but was saved by the bell to end
The fight would end only a short time later. Early in the sixth, Rivera
again let Vargas build some momentum with his power shots. There was a
Vargas right, then a Vargas hook to the body. As the effects of that body
blow rippled through Rivera's torso, another hook came up top, and now it was
Rivera who suddenly was taking a knee and a mandatory eight count.
As referee Lawrence Cole administered his count, Rivera shook his head. He
had had enough. As he stood for the end of the count, he signaled over to
his corner that he could not see from his mangled eye, then covered up as
Vargas was unleashed on him again. Vargas sensed that the end was near, but
Rivera hadn't officially quit. So Fernando unloaded a sloppy barrage while
Rivera's cornerman finally got the hint and climbed up onto the apron waving
a towel. Rivera ate only a few of Vargas' punches before the bout was waved
off, giving Vargas a KO6 in his return bout.
Certainly, Vargas has a lot to be proud of. He got off the canvas from a
not-quite routine knockdown to stop Rivera faster than any of Wilfredo's
previous conquerors had. He notched a win against a legitimate opponent less
than six months after being manhandled by one of the sport's certain
hall-of-famers. And he kept his composure at a time when his entire career
seemed to be hanging by a thread in the second round.
But despite all of this, there are now more questions than ever about Vargas's
status. It's one thing to be dropped hard by Felix Trinidad. It's quite
another to find yourself seeing stars at the hands of Wilfredo Rivera. If
Rivera can nearly kayo Vargas with a single punch, shouldn't DelaHoya be able
to finish the deal? But worse than the knockdown may be the somewhat slow,
often tentative, and downright minimal manner in which Vargas put together
his punches this night. It's abundantly clear that Vargas needs more tune-up
work before he again faces another world-class fighter. Perhaps an off-TV
bout or two would be enough for him to work on the skills (notably the jab
and combination punching) that were lacking this night. Or perhaps Vargas
(now 21-219) is another Meldrick Taylor: a bright star who streaks across the
sport quickly, but then burns out equally fast. Only time will tell.
Vargas had a difficult act to follow this night, as his bout with Rivera was
preceded by an action-packed battle between contender Juan Lazcano and
ageless workaholic John John Molina.
Lazcano was looking to replace some of the luster that he lost after getting
a gift decision against Jesse James Leija some nine months prior. Molina was
having none of it. Despite a 59 fight career and 36 years of age, Molina
seemed determined to overwhelm Lazcano with punches much as he had Ben Tackie
on the Lewis-Tua undercard. And when Lazcano showed up stiff, Molina jumped
out to an early lead.
Lazcano didn't know what to make of Molina in the opening rounds. Molina
peppered Lazcano with body shots and looping overhand rights, making the
young contender back straight up in retreat. By not moving out of harm's way
with lateral movement, Lazcano simply ate punches for most of the opening
three rounds. Molina's blows rarely were thrown with power, but he
repeatedly threw five and six punch combinations without any response... a
surefire way to bank points with the judges.
Lazcano looked as mediocre as ever during these opening rounds. Under
Molina's attack, Lazcano frequently backed himself into corners or allowed
himself to fall into ugly clinches. Lazcano unloaded a few beautiful left
hooks in the third, but compared with the endless stream of body punches
coming from Molina, it was no contest. When you can throw six punches, land
four, then clinch and begin again, you're going to win rounds. And Molina
won the first three on our scorecard.
Lazcano remembered to throw his jab in the fourth and fifth rounds, and the
dividends were paid out immediately. By jabbing, Lazcano suddenly found
(surprise, surprise) that he could set up his combinations more effectively.
Molina, who had been walking through Lazcano's shots, now began shaking his
head after a eating a few hooks, especially a monster shot that landed at the
very end of round four.
But as good as Lazcano looked in these flashes, he also left plenty to be
desired. In the sixth round, Lazcano again forgot about his jab. Without a
stick to get by, Molina was able to simply walk up to Lazcano and begin
wrestling. So chaotic were the clinches in the sixth, that Lazcano soon
emerged from one with a headbutt-induced cut on the inside corner of his left
eye. The blood would flow periodically for the rest of the bout, a painful
reminder of the importance of the jab.
Although Molina had been exceeding all expectations in the first half of the
bout, he slowed considerably in the second half. Because Molina began coming
forward with his hands held lower, Lazcano was more tempted to load up with
big haymakers. At one point in the seventh, Lazcano simply loaded up
everything he had into each of five separate one-at-a-time bombs. Each one
bounced flush off Molina's head, drawing gasps from the crowd... but doing
little to slow Molina's aggression. Lazcano opted for the
home-run-swing-only offense again in the eighth, and the effort seemed to
tire him. Time and again, Lazcano bookended these spectacular bursts of
violence by laying on the ropes. The technique hurt him only a little
against a pushing-40 Molina. Against a regular top-ten opponent, it would be
Lazcano was finding Molina so easy to hit that he simply kept firing the
giant bombs in the ninth round. Determined as ever, Molina simply kept
coming forward, landing punch after punch after punch to Lazcano's left side.
It was an admirable effort by Molina, but his volume punching was giving way
to Lazcano's bomb-oriented offense on the scorecards, and the end was near.
Lazcano was tiring in the tenth round, although by now he had banked enough
rounds to regain the lead. The two men continued their battle of attrition
in center ring when all of a sudden, Molina was wobbled by a big Lazcano
hook. Standing in place with his hands down, Molina took a series of
follow-up hooks as he was driven into a corner by a surging Lazcano. Once on
the ropes, Molina took even more flush shots without offering any resistance.
Referee Jerry McKenzie was nowhere to be found. Molina eventually initiated
a clinch, and when McKenzie pushed Molina back out of the clinch, the
weakened fighter nearly tipped over. Eventually, the round ended... but not
before Molina had taken an inordinate amount of unanswered punches.
Molina's corner had threatened to stop the fight after the ninth, so it was
with some surprise that they sent him out again after the beating he took in
the tenth. And then it got worse.
Lazcano came right at Molina to begin the eleventh, and was soon landing
flush hooks at will on a defenseless Molina. Four such hooks rocked Molina
at center ring, and again Molina retreated to the ropes with his hands down.
Lazcano fired another flurry, and not even this new series of flush blows
ended the bout. A weak Molina slid across the ropes into a corner, and while
McKenzie now moved within inches of the action, he still did not stop the
one-sided pummeling. Instead, McKenzie simply stood there in amazement at
the beating he was watching. After what seemed like an eternity, Molina's
cornerman jumped into the ring waving a towel. McKenzie had his back to
center ring, however, and still didn't stop the action. Molina was out on
his feet on the ropes, and Lazcano landed a few more blows. McKenzie made a
half-hearted effort to get between the fighters, yet still did nothing.
Eventually, Molina collapsed to the canvas. McKenzie appeared confused. He
didn't begin a count or wave the fight over. He simply watched Molina's corne
rman scoop his fighter off the canvas as Lazcano began to celebrate in an
opposite corner. It was one of the worst reffing jobs of recent memory.
With this victory, Lazcano (27-2-1/20) now has a verbal promise for a bout
against WBC lightweight champ Jose Luis Castillo. Mark my words: Lazcano
will be torn to shreds. Castillo will destroy Lazcano if he starts this slow
again. And even if the Hispanic Causing Panic can turn it up a notch,
Castillo is no John John Molina. If we were Lazcano's manager, we'd aim for
the B-circuit: a rematch with Leija and a title shot against light-hitting
Paul Spadafora. Anything less will be a mismatch.