Smarter-working Jessie Vargas Looks To Join Welterweight Elites

Former two-division world champion returns to the ring for the first time in a year Friday night when he faces Mexican veteran Aaron Herrera on FS1.

Vargas vs Herrera

Jessie Vargas won a welterweight world title via a ninth-round TKO over Sadam Ali in March 2016. (Getty Images)

The delicate whispers would bounce around in his head, always with the same message: “You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough.”

They drove Jessie Vargas. They would echo in his head as he steered toward Floyd Mayweather’s gym, where he had a key to come and go as he pleased. He would always arrive usually late in the morning, before anyone else, and leave as the crew left in the afternoon.

Those morning sessions, however, were his. He was the conductor of his own boxing music, hitting the speed bag, pounding the heavy bag. Fulfilling his hunger to get better, fulfilling the goading whispers.

Through time Vargas began to evolve and learn something: Working himself to death was killing his boxing career.

This Friday night Vargas will be returning to the ring for the first time in over a year. The former two-weight world champion is more relaxed, more rested. He’s scheduled to take on veteran Aaron Herrera (33-7-1, 22 KOs) in a 10-round welterweight bout from the Pioneer Event Center, in Lancaster, California on FS1 (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).

Vargas (27-2, 10 KOs) last fought in November 2016, suffering a 12-round unanimous defeat to Manny Pacquiao.

This version of Vargas vows to be a shiny, aggressive model.

“I needed some time off,” Vargas said. “I was busy in the gym working. I needed some time off for myself, to focus on my family and reassess everything that was going on in my career. I’m coming back with a great team, with a better team and with a better mentality. I’m stronger physically and I come back as a more experienced fighter. I think it was a perfect time to relax and strengthen my body.”

Vargas switched trainers. He moved from Dewey Cooper, who trained him for the Tim Bradley, Sadam Ali and Pacquiao fights, to former light heavyweight world champ Mike “Bodysnatcher” McCallum. The two began working with each other in the fall. Vargas said McCallum has him back honing the fundamentals. He said he likes McCallum’s old-school approach.

Vargas has been working on changing speeds on his punches, using different punching angles, and feels free in letting his hands go.

Above all else, Vargas has learned to relax.

“My problem has always been that I worked myself to death; I have a tendency to overwork,” Vargas said. “I wanted it so bad and I have such a huge work ethic that I didn’t know how to tell myself no. I feel good. I’m in a good spot. I used to tell my coaches that I was tired and I needed a day off, and some trainers would tell you to go back at it.

“From now on, no coach can tell me how to have my body at the most optimum level. There is a trust between me and Mike because I’ve known him since I was 15. He knows that I’m experienced and he knows what I need to do. Mike tells me anything that’s on his mind. Mike is actually the one who tells me, ‘Jessie, slow it down. Jessie, you don’t have to do that much today.’ He’s told me that about three times already. I’ve always listened.

“But in the past, I listened, too. I had trainers tell me to keep working, keep working. I’m going to push myself anyway. I was over there like a dummy working harder, not listening to my body. And guess what, come fight time I had nothing. It happened to me before. Not again.”

I needed some time off for myself, to focus on my family and reassess everything that was going on in my career. I’m stronger physically and I come back as a more experienced fighter. Former two-division champion Jessie Vargas on his Dec. 15 fight vs Aaron Herrera

Vargas’ goal is to get back into the title picture. He’s 1-2 over his last three fights, though the two losses came against Tim Bradley, in a fight that haunted him months after it was over, and to Pacquiao. Sandwiched between those losses, and shining far brighter now than it did a month ago is a ninth-round TKO over Sadam Ali, the Miguel Cotto-conqueror’s only defeat.

His Ali victory is emblematic of Vargas’ career. He was a late substitute, given six-weeks’ notice coming off the Bradley setback. Vargas was thrown in as an afterthought to fight Ali for a vacant title.

“People that know boxing know that Sadam Ali is a talented fighter,” Vargas said. “I’m just more talented than he is and I schooled him. It’s unfortunate that people don’t know how talented Sadam is until now. It’s frustrating because when I became world champion the first time, back in 2014, they brought in this undefeated fighter from Russia (Khabib Allakhverdiev).

“I had no problems beating him. I was brought in as the opponent; I wasn’t given any credit to win. I was the underdog. Just like I was for Ali. I beat (Allakhverdiev), I beat him without a problem. It was the same thing with Sadam. I knew he was a tough, talented fighter. But I knew that I was more talented than he was. I beat Ali. I won and I didn’t get the credit that I deserved.” 

As for Herrera, Vargas knows he’ll be facing a gutsy opponent, though someone who is not on the same skill level as he is.

“I plan to make a statement against Herrera, I want to prove that I’m one of the best and strongest welterweights in the world, and that’s what I plan to do,” Vargas said. “In the past, I would concentrate on being this technical fighter. That’s over. Fans want excitement, they want to see knockouts, and I’m here to do that.

“I’m here to show that Jessie Vargas is back. I’m back and better than ever.”

For a complete look at Vargas vs Herrera, visit our fight page.

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