Last September, at the age of 22, and just two bouts removed from a first-round stoppage of former titleholder, Vivian Harris, junior welterweight Jesse Vargas seemed to be on the verge of super stardom.
After a a second-round knockout of Walter Estrada in July, Vargas was after his third straight stoppage win against rugged fringe contender Josesito Lopez at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Vargas-Lopez would kick off an HBO Pay Per View event that would end with Vargas’ promoter, Floyd Mayweather Jr., scoring a fourth-round knockout for Victor Ortiz’s WBC welterweight crown.
It was Vargas’s first time being on the televised portion of Mayweather headlined event, having also appeared on the non-televised undercards of Mayweather’s bouts against Juan Manuel Marquez and Shane Mosley.
So high on Vargas was Mayweather, that he had even suggested Vargas might be ready for then-IBF/WBA junior welterweight beltholder Amir Khan.
On the way to winning a disputed, 10-round split-decision over Lopez, Vargas used his jab to win the early rounds, survived some rocky moments as well a vicious body attack from his opponent, and overcame an eighth-round point-deduction for a low blow.
Vargas (17-0, 10 knockouts) returns to action on Friday, in a ShoBox: The New Generation main event against Lanardo Tyner (25-6-2, 15 KOs) at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
RingTV.com caught up to Vargas for this Q&A regarding Mayweather’s influence, his upcoming bout and a future that could include being on the undercard of Mayweather’s HBO Pay Per View televised challenge to WBA junior middleweight beltholder Miguel Cotto on May 5.
RingTV.com: First time on Showtime, fighting in your home town, yet again, are you relaxed and ready to go?
Jessie Vargas: I’m just excited and I’m ready to get back into the ring on Friday. I think that my last performance prepared me for this atmosphere. I think that it’s great that I got a taste of being on television in front of a large audience.
Fighting on Showtime, I think that it’s a great opportunity. This is the first time that I’ve headlined on Showtime. To me, it’s just another fight.
But I’m ready to perform again and to give a spectacular fight in front of my home town crowd and on national television. My home town fans back me up 100 percent.
RTV: Thinking back to your last fight on the Mayweather-Ortiz card, how big was that moment in your career?
JV: I think that was a very, very big time in my career. It was a part of what was the biggest event in boxing at that time, and I was in front of a worldwide audience, and my promoter was Floyd Mayweather, and he was trying to match me up with Amir Khan.
I think that I was in a great position and I also I had a great fight coming up with Josesito Lopez, who was also a very, very good fighter. I think that I fought a great fight. It was a good test for me that I learned much from. It’s just on to the next one.
RTV: What did you learn from that fight and have you made any style adjustments as a result?
JV: First of all, what I learned is that I could go a good, hard, 10 rounds. [Laughs.] I learned that you have to switch up your style during a fight when you have to.
You have to be versatile. I think that’s exactly what I did. I am used to coming forward, but in that fight, I had to bring out my boxing skills, use my jab and left hook and to move around.
I learned to use the other tools that I have in the fight and to make changes. Also, what I have changed is my conditioning. I came back to the gym working even harder.
That way, I can go the 10 rounds punching non-stop, because I did get a bit tired in the middle rounds. But I came backin the later rounds again. So I’m just working harder and harder.
RTV: Considering that you’re moving up in weight, did any of your fatigue in the last fight have anything to do with weight-cutting?
JV: I’m not going to make any excuses. I was ready for the Lopez fight. But, the last two weeks for the fight, I was feeling my power diminishing. I didn’t feel the same power that I had when I started the training camp.
Once I started to drop weight, I did feel different. And I think that it did play a factor in the fight. But I still came down at the end of the night and perform.
But now, I think that at 147, it’s going to be a lot different. I have a lot more hunger and I’m a different fighter. I’m going to come in to the fight at 100 percent.
RTV: What sort of a challenge does Tyner pose, coming off losses in his last two fights?
JV: I think that he’s a strong fighter, and he’s going to come to fight, no doubt about it. He doesn’t back up and he doesn’t quit, so I think that it’s going to be an interesting fight.
We have to come in shape, and we have to fight him, and we’re ready to do that. I’m a better fighter, and I’m going to show that, come Friday.
It’s just another exciting fight that I have to come out and win, and then, after that, it will be on to bigger and better things. And then, after that, we’re looking to come back on May 5.
Photos by Chris Cozzone, Fightwireimages
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com