Jessie Vargas had the good sense at 8 years old and living in a rough section of Las Vegas to seek lessons in self defense. He had the good fortune of living near the now-defunct Nevada Partners boxing gym, where Roger Mayweather trained fighters.
Vargas’ father, a Mexican immigrant, was abundantly familiar with Mayweather because the former titleholder had beaten so many Mexican opponents that he was dubbed the “Mexican Assassin.”
“My dad wanted me to train with Roger Mayweather, he wanted the best,” said Vargas, who faces tough journeyman Cristian Favela in the main event of the Fight Night Club card Thursday at Club Nokia in Los Angeles on Fox Sports Net and streamed live on RingTV.com.
“We’ve been together ever since.”
Vargas, now 21, has been part of the Mayweather boxing family for 13 years. In that time, he has grown very close to Roger and is tight with the extended family, including Floyd Jr.
And in terms of boxing, the former amateur star has evolved into a promising junior welterweight prospect under the guidance of Roger and more recently Cornelius Boza Edwards, with some assistance from Floyd Jr.
Vargas took his good fortune for granted at one point but ultimately realized that he had fallen into something very good.
“Actually it hit me when I was about 13 or 14,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m with the right people.’ I thought they could teach me a lot, put me on the right path. And that’s what’s happened.”
The Mayweathers are known to sometimes stray from the right path, creating what seems to be never-ending drama.
Vargas, well aware of events, said he has never been fazed by any of it. He has followed Roger’s legal problems because he cares about him and he’s trainer, which could impact his career. Otherwise, he tries to stay out of the fray.
“I just try to stay positive and think that everything is going to be fine,” Vargas said. “I try not to get into their business. Unfortunately things happen. I just try to stay positive, stay quiet. I do stay in touch with the problems, especially with Roger. I want him with me. If he needs anything, he knows he can count on me.
“Beyond that, though, I focus on my career. That’s what has to be most important to me.”
And Floyd Jr.?
Vargas has respect for the unbeaten superstar both as a fighter and as a person. The fighter part speaks for itself. The person part gets a little tricky, though, at least to many of those on the outside looking in.
Vargas defended his friend by saying the public persona is largely an act, an intentional effort to cultivate a bad-boy image as part of a grand marketing scheme designed to generate as much money as possible. And it seems to have worked.
The real Floyd Jr., he says, is different.
“Plain and simple, he’s a nice guy,” Vargas said. “A lot of people in Las Vegas know him as a nice guy. Everywhere you go, you hear positive things about him. You have to understand that he’s a very smart businessman. He does things … he knows will benefit him.
“And I think everything he’s done has made him what he is now. Everything has a reason behind it. Behind the scenes, he’s a different person.”
And Vargas, who trains at the Mayweather Boxing Club, feels extremely lucky to have a future Hall of Famer around to give him advice.
“Who wouldn’t want to be in my place?” Vargas said. “I grew up in the same gym as a pound-for-pound champion. I pay as much attention as I can when he’s there. I feel we have a good relationship. He teaches me a lot, gives me good advice. He’ll tell me I’m doing this wrong or that wrong but he needs to tell me only once. And he keeps me positive. He always says people consider it cockiness but you have to stay positive. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re in trouble.
“You have to be cocky in the ring, to think you’re the best. That’s the only way you’re actually going to be the best.”
Vargas (13-0, 7 KOs) apparently is heading in that direction. He’s a well-schooled boxer who fights with bad intentions, the type of fighter who wants to maim you with every punch. None of his mostly-young opponents have given him much of a challenge, which leaves him itchy to test himself against fighters on the next tier.
He has been a professional for less than two years, though. He knows he can’t rush things. Everything is in place: The ability, the confidence and the guidance. Now all he has to do is continue to win.
“I’m very, very happy with how everything is coming along,” he said. “I’m happy with the team I have, everything I’ve learned. And I know I still have more to learn. I think I’m close to being a complete fighter, though, very close.”
Floyd Jr. must be proud.