Fernando Vargas blessed with aggressive spirit

Fernando Vargas comes from a region well known for its fierce blood. His ancestors lived in a proud kingdom of haughty masters of their land: The Tarascos.

According to historians, the region known today as the Mexican states of Michoacan, Colima, Nayarit, Queretaro, Guerrero and Jalisco was a part of that kingdom, which reached its peak in the 15th century, marveling the Aztecs, who could never conquer them.

Like many other Mexican families, El Feroz' parents had to leave their homeland in a quest for better horizons. Vargas was born in 1977 in Oxnard, Calif. His story is similar to those of hundreds of kids who have proved their courage, character and audacity in the streets. The combination of his warrior spirit and the adversities of an aggressive neighborhood forced Vargas to learn to overcome his problems. How? Well, with his fists. And his knack for throwing punches was soon spotted and tutored. His visits to the gym made him forget about his aggressive drives. That was how he was initiated in a boxing career that gave him success and prestige.

Between ages 14 and 18, he won several state and regional titles and made it to national and international championships. All that experience was rewarded with an invitation to join the national delegation for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

A few days before the opening of the tournament, the team trained in a small Atlanta gym, which was named after hometown boxer Evander Holyfield in honor and recognition of a fighter who made history and a certain boxing Hall of Fame inductee. The legendary fighter worked several camps in this gym.

Vargas was sharp, lively and outgoing. He talked about his family, his roots, his amateur career and his plans for the future. That was 11 years ago. By February 1999, he was a world champion. On Dec. 12, 1998, he defeated Luis Ramon (Yory Boy) Campas to take the IBF super welter crown. He was training in New York because he would meet with Howard Clark, an Englishman with an incredible taste for defeat on a Holyfield-Lennox Lewis card at Madison Square Garden.

During his first years as a professional, Vargas was trained and mentored by Enrique Garcia with the devotion of a father. Garcia managed many other fighters, had great boxing instincts and high expectations for his trainees.

Then came the most important days of his career, when he faced the best of the best in 154 pounds: He fought Ronald Lamont 'Winky" Wright, Ike Quartey and Felix Trinidad in extreme combat. Often, both fighters withstood so much punishment that it was even reflected in their faces afterward. Vargas lost against the best; Oscar de la Hoya thrashed him and (Sugar) Shane Mosley defeated him so easily on a couple of occasions that many recommended his retirement.

After the de la Hoya fight, Vargas tested positive for steroids, which he said were given to him without his knowledge, but he accepted responsibility, was fined and suspended. He also was sentenced to 90 days in jail following an 1999 for an incident involving a female friend's ex-boyfriend. Aside from the troubles, the boxer nicknamed "The Aztec Warrior," and "Ferocious Fernando" has maintained his popularity with his fans. He started a clothing line, has appeared in a movie and done charity work for children in California.

He remained inactive for several months but later agreed to face Nicaraguan Ricardo Mayorga in an attempt to restore his status. There were heated news conferences between these two characters. The Sept. 8 meeting had to be postponed until Nov. 23 because the California fighter suffered from a stomach ailment apparently caused by anemia.

Vargas, now age 29 with an all-time record of 26-4, including 22 KOs, is a worthy representative of the Latin American blood that flows in American boxing, because he is fully committed. Whatever the final outcome of his career, he is already respected by many for his character and courage at the sound of the first bell.