12 Rounds With … Jessie Vargas

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Former world champion discusses the recent death of his godfather and renowned cutman Rafael Garcia, his upcoming FS1 fight against veteran Aaron Herrera and how he plans to jump back into the mix in the welterweight division.

Jessie Vargas

Jessie Vargas bounced back from a controversial loss to Timothy Bradley to win a 147-pound title. Next month he starts his journey back to regaining a belt. (Getty Images)

Jessie Vargas will feel an additional presence against Aaron Herrera next month at the Pioneer Events Center in Lancaster, California, having dedicated the remainder of his career to renowned cutman Rafael Garcia, who passed away at 88 two weeks ago.

Inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in August, Garcia was Vargas’ godfather and known for working with 35 world champions—including Floyd Mayweather Jr., Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello and Wilfredo Gomez.

Vargas will take Garcia’s memory into the ring with him December 15 when he takes on Herrera (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on FS1) in a match that could insinuate him into the mix at 147 pounds. Vargas is a former welterweight champion, having won the title with a ninth-round stoppage of Sadam Ali in 2016 and then losing the belt to Manny Pacquiao a few months later.

What is your mindset in the wake of Garcia’s passing?

It’s been difficult with the death of my godfather, Rafael. He was an excellent mentor and cutman and Floyd Mayweather’s cutman as well. Since my amateur days and as far back as I can remember he’s been like a father to me.

Rafael has been in my corner for virtually all of my fights, helping to develop me into the fighter I am today, mentally and physically.

He was in my corner for Pacquiao, but there was a decline in health for about the past eight months. He was in camp for part of this one, also, until about two weeks ago.

Rafael started feeling weak and his body gave up on him. We’d been saying since my last fight that we’re going to be champions, once again, and from this fight on, I’m dedicating the rest of my career to making him proud.

Are you re-energized looking to inject yourself into the deep 147-pound division?

I’m very happy with the position that I’m in now, and it couldn’t come at a better time. When you have good, honest people around you with positive vibes, it’s career refreshing. 

I’m coming to the gym with a different mentality from now on. I’m much happier, and, in my view, I’ve knocked out two of my last three opponents, Sadam Ali and Tim Bradley.

I had a very close fight with Manny Pacquiao. I’ll fight any of the champions or contenders in the division, particularly if the fans’ demand for it is high. That’s my plan.

None of the 147-pounders is ducking anyone, so I believe I’m now in a position where all of those fights are possible. I want the WBC title, and, for that, I’ll mention Keith Thurman. 

Can you explain what you meant on the Bradley fight?

The referee said in his pre-fight instructions that he was there to protect the fighters, and if he sees someone who is hurt, he will stop the fight. He said if he steps between us and waves his hands in that fashion it means I’m stopping the fight.

He did exactly what he said he would do if he saw somebody hurt, plain and simple. I can’t change what happened, but I want the facts to be known. The fight was stopped in accordance to what he told us in the locker room before the fight.

I wasn’t in great shape or well prepared, physically, but I found a way to win. I didn’t give up and felt as if I would catch him with a punch. I made him work, so I don’t feel that’s a loss at all.

I overcame adversity, being down on the scorecards, and I found a way to win, knocking out Bradley in the 12th round. Now I’m back to give the fans a good show, which I did against Ali.

I had a very close fight with Manny Pacquiao. I’ll fight any of the champions or contenders in the division. None of the 147-pounders is ducking anyone, so I believe I’m now in a position where all of those fights are possible. Former Welterweight Champion Jessie Vargas

How validating was the stoppage of Ali?

That was huge. I came back with a vengeance. There was so much anger and animosity that I turned into a positive.

I transferred and channeled all of that frustration into smart thinking, taking it out on Sadam Ali. Nothing was given to me. I took it.

What did you learn from the fight with Pacquiao, who dropped you in the second round?

It was a straight left. I was attacking and he was attacking. I saw the punch coming. I tried stepping back from the punch.

He caught me as I was moving back. That’s how I was dropped. I didn’t feel hurt. That was his luck.

I respect Manny Pacquiao, but I felt very confident of knocking him out with my right hand. That was my mistake, but I learned a lot from that fight.

What does your resume say with wins over ex-champions Vivian Harris, Antonio DeMarco and Steve Forbes, and decisions over Wale Omotoso, Khabib Allakhverdiev, Anton Novikov, Josesito Lopez and Aaron Martinez?

Well, Lopez knocked out Victor Ortiz immediately after I fought him, and Martinez beat Robert Guerrero after I beat him. I’ve faced tough opposition and beaten a lot of good, well-recognized fighters.

That’s been my mentality and how I’ve gained respect and popularity with my fans. My opponents always want to beat me, so it’s been tough getting knockouts, but anyone seeing my record knows I’ve beaten tough or unbeaten guys.  

What are your thoughts on Herrera?

It’s been over a year since my last fight, but this is the second stage of my career. I feel strongly you’ll see a more experienced, mature fighter who knows exactly what it takes, that a knockout can come at any time, and who is working on his power.

People are going to be surprised with the things I’m discovering about my body, at how enhanced my power will be now at 147. I’m already a well-established name in the sport with a great style, but fans want to see knockouts.

I’m pushing for the stoppage in every fight from now on and beating Herrera the way that I’m planning will provide a statement that puts me back in the public eye, letting them know that we’re back better than ever.

Do you have a boxing hero?

I looked up to Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., who was a peoples’ champ with a crowd-pleasing style.

But there are a lot of great fighters I’ve learned from. There was Alexis Arugello, Sugar Ray Leonard, Floyd Mayweather and Roberto Duran.

What’s your favorite punch, and when did you land it perfectly?

It could be the uppercut, the hook, the right and I love the jab for snapping your opponent’s head back.

I really liked the way I used a little bit of everything against Ali, showing the versatility and pressure I’m capable of.

If you could change anything about the world today, what would it be?

I would get rid of racism and inequality, the idea of anyone being different from others. Somehow, coming up with a time where the color of your skin doesn’t matter. That and health insurance being readily available and provided to everyone who is in need of it worldwide.

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

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