November 23, 2007 -- Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Winner: Ricardo Mayorga MD-12
They billed it as "The Brawl." Somehow, despite that Mayorga and Vargas are both well past their primes -- plus fighting at a catchweight that was near absurd for both -- it lived up to the hype.
Originally planned for September, and said to be Fernando Vargas' farewell fight, the bout was delayed until November 23 due to Vargas ailing from anemia when trying to cut down to 162 pounds in the final stages of training. With the extra two months, Vargas fought off the illness, though the catchweight was moved up to 164. Mayorga, to his credit, never batted an eye, and simply agreed. He knew, probably, that this fight was every bit as important, maybe even more important, to his career. For Vargas, it was a chance to say goodbye. For Mayorga, it was an opportunity to rebuild a career shattered in 2006 by Oscar de la Hoya.
The original build-up, of course, was notable thanks to a predictable press conference brawl that erupted after Mayorga repeatedly insulted Vargas, his wife, his mother, and anyone else that might possibly matter to "El Feroz." It was, in all likelihood, a promotional stunt, as most stuff is. But beyond just selling a fight, Vargas and Mayorga seemed to have a genuine dislike for one another, which was also predictable -- they are two of boxing's most macho guys, and frankly, they probably have quite a bit in common. Plus, they were selling a fight. These guys fight for a living, and they've also made money with their mouths. It was bound to happen.
The initial reaction to the official announcement of the long-rumored fight was, "Well, that'll be fun." But if you really stacked it all up on paper, and made a pros and cons list, I think the cons would've vastly outnumbered the pros. Mayorga is 34 years old, Vargas came in just a couple of weeks before his 30th birthday, and Vargas' body is very old for a 30-year old pro athlete. The last time either had won a fight was in August 2005; on the 13th, Mayorga beat Michele Piccirillo in Chicago, and one week later, Vargas beat Javier Castillejo in the same town (well, Rosemont). Since then, Vargas had lost twice to Shane Mosley, and Mayorga was bombed by Oscar.
They were also going to be fighting very heavy. These are two guys that have no business at 164 pounds. Mayorga started his career at 140, made his name at welterweight, and moved up to 154. Vargas had fought the majority of his career at 154, and often struggled with weight issues. He had long since lost the ferociousness that gave him his nickname, and Mayorga hadn't beaten a major opponent...well, ever, except for Vernon Forrest.
I feared it would be a plodding fight with two guys who couldn't even punch anymore, and would gas themselves out in the middle rounds.
And, then, it wasn't.
In the opening round, Mayorga dropped Vargas to the canvas, and dominated the next two rounds as well. To his credit -- and I wouldn't have expected he had the legs left to do it -- Vargas roared back. His best weapon was an overhand right that stung Mayorga on several occasions, and I thought there were a few times that Mayorga was surely going to go down. It's not as if he's never been knocked out.
Vargas actually gained control of the fight in the same rounds that I thought would be the death of the bout. They fought at a good pace, and they proved they could still go, at least against each other, and for that night, that's all that really mattered. In the championship rounds, Mayorga sealed the deal. He crushed Vargas with his own overhand right in the 11th, flooring Vargas for the second time. And Fernando got up again. If nothing else, Fernando Vargas proved his mettle in his final fight. Once again, he showed the world just how tough he is. It was a fitting end to an exciting, if slightly disappointing, career.
And for the victor, it was like putting new tires on an old Buick. Maybe it doesn't run like it used to, but it sure feels good. And you'll get some more mileage out of the old clunker. For Mayorga, he now has opportunities that wouldn't have existed if he hadn't been able to pull out the win. He showed up and looked the best he has in years, boxing with confidence and brawling when he saw the opportunities. This wasn't the uncontrollable Mayorga that took advantage of Forrest the first time around or the guy that was so headstrong he let Tito Trinidad beat the hell out of him. This was the Mayorga that beat Forrest the second time, a guy that fought with a gameplan and executed it well.
It was adios, Fernando, and welcome back, Ricardo. And it was a fight that beat the odds.