|The Cyber Boxing Zone Newswire -- JULY 27:2001|
VARGAS COMING BACK SLOWLY BUT SURELY|
By Chris Bushnell
Fernando Vargas' knockout win over former sparring partner Shibata Flores may have returned a junior middleweight title belt to Vargas' waist, but it did not complete his post-Trinidad comeback. A full comeback requires that Vargas return to his pre-Tito form. And while Vargas peppered Flores with crisp, effective counters and finished the job when he finally had Flores hurt, Ferocious Fernando continued to show some of the lingering effects of the Trinidad beating. In nearly every round, Flores stunned Vargas with sharp hooks and/or well-timed straight lefts. And while it was Flores, not Vargas, who tasted canvas this night, critics of the Aztec Warrior saw plenty to fuel their skepticism.
Because Vargas had been knocked silly in the opening round of his last two fights, Flores began the opening round looking to complete the trifecta. After a few seconds of feel-out, Flores pushed a long left across the distance and loudly smacked Vargas square in the face. Vargas immediately fired off a counter, but missed. It was the story of the first round.
It's unclear if Vargas was gunshy in the first, or just wanting to take a good look at his former workout buddy, but Flores was the one controlling all the action in the early going. After landing his first punch on the chin, Flores moved his attack south. Vargas' body was wide open, and Flores stuck at it with a his jab and the occasional straight left. After each Flores score, Vargas would answer with a punch of two of his own, but he never caught Flores clean. Instead, he was getting tagged by Flores' left (and a sneaky right hook) time and again. After three minutes, there was no choice but to give the opening round to Flores, whose clean punches to Vargas' face defined the first round.
Simply put, Flores wasn't having any problem weaving a punch through Vargas' guard, and he continued his aggression in the second round. A minute into the frame, another oddly angled right hook landed flush on Vargas' face. The punch put Vargas into a thinly disguised retreat. Fernando quickly backed away from Flores and began bouncing on his toes, as if to wake up his legs. Flores cautiously gave chase, and after twenty seconds of allowing Vargas to regain his composure, landed another big hook to Vargas' head.
Vargas moved back into the ropes, and he did not look good. While he wasn't wobbling in place like a fighter about to collapse, Flores' hooks had stunned him. Flores came at Vargas and landed a few more hard shots to the head and body. Vargas raised his gloves above his face, as though he were preparing to weather an attempt by Flores to finish him off. But as Flores missed with a wild left hand, Vargas suddenly uncorked a short left hook from his shell. The punch caught Flores turning clockwise and slammed into his jaw at full force. Flores wobbled left a half step before dropping to one knee. In an instant, Vargas had snatched another round from Flores' column.
Flores was shaken, but was easily able to rise and beat the count. Fueled by adrenaline, Vargas rushed at Flores to finish him off. As the two men came together, they both threw and landed short uppercuts. Vargas didn't even feel his... he was already halfway through another combination. Living up to his nickname of 'Ferocious,' Vargas was letting his hands go on Flores, despite the fact that Flores had beaten the count with ease and now appeared to be firing back under the assault.
Eventually, the men tangled. Vargas punctuated his effort by plowing two huge right hands to the ribs in the moments before referee Joe Cortez forced a break. Vargas resumed his normal pace after realizing that Flores wasn't ready to fold, and in effect let Flores back into the fight. Before the final minute could tick out, Flores was again on the offensive, backing up Vargas with a series of loud, thudding, clean punches to the head. In fact, after Vargas began eating a string of these punches just before the bell, it became clear that Flores was ending round two just as strongly as he had begun it. We, thusly, scored the round for Vargas 10-9, despite the knockdown.
During his finish attempt in the second round, Vargas learned that he could be most effective when fighting the long-armed Flores in close quarters. He began the third by getting close to Flores and pounding away to the body. Flores relished the exchange, and willingly fired back to Vargas' midsection. The two took turns landing hooks and crosses to the stomach, but Vargas' blows were doing more damage. Midway through the third, Flores began breathing through his mouth, and Vargas attacked at the first sign of weakness.
After landing a few body shots, Vargas again swept a short left hook across Flores' chin. Vargas now pumped the jab with authority, and soon found range with a heavy right cross. As long as he threw punches, Vargas was winning. Every time he would stop, Flores would pop him in the mouth. This round was no exception. While Vargas had sustained his attack for most of the middle of the round, he eventually let up with about 20 seconds remaining before the bell. No sooner than he did, Flores offered his reply. It was another of Flores' sneak right hooks, and it came chopping down on Vargas' temple. Vargas' head spun, and he hastily retreated to the ropes as the clock wore down. If was in moments like this, which came through this fight, that Vargas looked completely vulnerable, despite his awesome punching power.
But Flores' big punches weren't enough to win him rounds, especially not by the fourth round as Vargas' adjustments began to pay dividends. But these occasional blasts would usually catch Vargas wide open and necessitate that the former champion back off for a short period of time. Flores opened the fourth round with one such punch, a beautiful straight left that Vargas practically stood and watched come down the pike. This blow drew yet another gasp from the crowd, and inspired some of the best exchanges of the night.
Vargas and Flores tested each other in the fourth. First Vargas would fire three punches to the midsection and the end with a clean blow upstairs. Then Flores would answer with a mini-flurry to the body and a right hook up top that swiveled Vargas' head. Over and over, Vargas would get in close, land solid blows, build some momentum, and then appear to be stunned - if even for a second - by a single Flores reply.
Luckily for Vargas, Flores' output began to slow. After a hectic fourth round, Flores began to rely on the one-punch response instead of the matched-combination response. The result was that while Vargas continued to get tagged with big, potentially dangerous, blows, he was scoring significantly more with higher output in between them. In the final minute of the round, after Vargas had slowed Flores by pounding him to the body, Vargas threw three consecutive lead right hands. The first landed on Flores' nose, the second to the side of his ribcage, and the third matched the first in every respect. The crowd roared its approval, but a Flores hook again caught Vargas on the temple and sent him bouncing away on his toes, shaken if not hurt.
Despite the fact that Vargas had banked the last several rounds, this bout looked like it would go the distance. Flores was obviously in shape for this bout, as he was able to take most of what Vargas was dishing before answering with authority. Continuing the pattern of the earlier rounds, Flores again shook up Vargas with a few big punches early in the sixth. Vargas rallied by getting in too close for Flores' looping haymakers to be effective. As the two battled on the inside, Vargas knocked out Flores' mouthpiece with a glancing blow. Flores had taken to keeping the mouthpiece half out of his mouth so that he could breath, so Vargas' removal of said gumshield was no big deal. But once Fernando realized that the mouthpiece was out, and more importantly that it would only be put back in with a lull in the action, he upgraded his attack.
Vargas began thumping Flores on his unprotected mouth with uppercuts. Flores covered his face, and Vargas immediately switched to body work. Vargas was revved up now, and with no lull in site, Flores opted to fight back. He came forward at first with a series of lefts and rights to Vargas' body. But the willingness to exchange only fueled Vargas' desire. Vargas had landed clean blows through the fight, but only now was firing away with multiple clean shots. Flores caught a hook in the mix that sent him to the ropes, and Vargas was on top of him all the way. Eventually, the bell ended the round, and Joe Cortez had to pull Vargas off of Flores to halt the one-sided beating.
Flores slowly walked back to his corner, kicking his mouthpiece in disgust as he did (it was still on the canvas). Shibata's right eye was now in horrible shape, with a puffy mouse beneath it and a red abrasion above it. As his corner frantically shouted instructions, they neglected to ever ice Flores' badly swollen face during the rest period.
Vargas had finally solved the Flores puzzle, and he went to work immediately in the seventh round. Coming in behind a jab, Vargas would follow with a right hand that was now thrown short and straight. He would follow with a hook or an uppercut, and always a few body shots before resetting and firing anew. At first, his flurries were separated by a few seconds, but as each successful combination landed, Vargas took less and less time between bursts. By the final thirty seconds, Vargas' aggression had once again snowballed into a full-on finish attempt, and Flores was folding under the pressure. Flores could do little more than cover up by this point, and Vargas was wise to focus on the wide-open body. Several crunching body blows sent an already cowering Flores into a neutral corner. Flores tried to bob and weave out of harms way, but a Vargas hook and more right hands sent him sinking down to his knees, then onto his trunks. With only seconds left in the round, Joe Cortez began a count. Flores only barely made an attempt to rise before he reached 10. Vargas KO7.
On one hand, Vargas (now 22-1/20) looked great this night. He was trim and in shape, his punching power was again impressive, he took his time, figured out an awkward opponent, and then methodically beat him up once he had made the proper adjustments. By regaining a piece of the world title, Vargas again put himself in line for big fights against the top names in the sport.
But on the other hand, did Vargas really answer any of his critics? After all, Vargas had systematically dismantled Wilfredo Rivera with the same persistence and power that he showed this night, but all anyone remembers about that fight was his weak chin. And after this fight, will people remember the beating Vargas put on Flores, or the half dozen times that a wide open Fernando was stunned by clean punches. True, Vargas didn't go down, but he looked at times to be on the verge.
The logical next opponent for Vargas would be against fellow 154 lb. titlist and longtime rival Oscar De la Hoya. While De la Hoya fulfills WBC mandatories and contemplates his future in the sport, Vargas may have to settle for a rematch with Winky Wright. Wright goes for the other junior middleweight belt vacated by Trinidad in a bout next month. A rematch would not only be a chance for Vargas to partially unify the division (and set up an even bigger showdown with Oscar), but also settle a score with a man that many felt defeated him in their first fight. If Vargas can get past either of these men, then perhaps his comeback will be complete. Until then, he remains a fighter in search of his former greatness.
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