I put it to him right off the bat: Jessie Vargas, every time I talk to you, you are polite, measured and basically, a gentleman.
Yeah, Vargas, who fights Mikey Garcia on Feb. 29, is a gentleman-pugilist.
He doesn’t stir that pot, talk shit, get himself hyped by going at a foe. He’s not inclined to hype his scraps and help catalyze his career by giving the media and fight fans what they want. He won’t be the guy you call to score sensationalized tidbits, manufactured drama, to get clicks.
So I asked the 30-year-old with a 29-2-2 (11 KO) mark, when was the last time you got in a shit-talking beef with a foe?
“I don’t remember, honestly,” the Las Vegas resident said. “I try not to.”
After thinking more, Vargas recalled that he and Josesito Lopez shoved each other and yapped at their weigh-in back in 2011. And there was a little shoving (as well as a top grade staredown) with Thomas Dulorme in Oct. 2018.
But, nah, he said, that hasn’t been him, and won’t be him. His fight with Mikey will be sold on the merit of the promised action. You got Vargas coming in off a win over Humberto Soto last April, but craving a real message outing.
He lost in 2016 to Manny Pacquiao (not unexpected), beat Aaron Herrera in 2017 (expected), had back-to-back draws with Adrien Broner and Dulorme (not too surprising). And then a win over a 39-year-old guy. So Vargas wants to give a B12 shot to his career and damn right, a win over Mikey gives him that.
I wondered, how does he look at his where his career stands right now?
“I feel like it’s just beginning, I feel like a new man,” said the fighter, who debuted in 2008.
The “new man” comment arose from him believing that the accumulation of experience will now pay off heavily against Mikey.
“It’s my time to start shining. And I’m working hard to make sure I perform at the highest level.”
Garcia, too, has come into fights with bigger momentum. In his last outing, he took a hit to the win-loss record and his public profile. More than a few pundits and fans went out on that limb, predicting Mikey would upset Errol Spence Jr, and show that a great smaller guy could handle a real good bigger guy.
Instead, Spence handled Mikey with embarrassing ease. So Mikey may well be fueled by a potent mix of punctured pride and understanding that he can’t very well drop back-to-back faceoffs and expect to hop back to the head of the line for a world title crack.
I circled back; that “new man” comment, what does that mean? Vargas clarified, saying that he’s just stepped it up a notch with his focus and dedication. Nah, he isn’t that guy who likes to carouse and break curfew. Rather, he said that it’s like this — whereas before in a camp he might agree to go out, meet a pal for dinner or have you, this time around, he’s not even allowing himself that indulgence.
That’s because he recalls the feeling he derived from wearing the WBA title at 140, then the WBO welter strap.
“The desire to become world champion once again, that’s kept me young,” he shared.
He now knows better that this body is the only vessel he’ll be granted, so he’s obsessive about keeping it right. He better understands that pushing oneself at 100% day in and day out can actually be counterproductive, because to work smarter, not harder, will have him enjoying max energy instead of getting burned out.
Garcia, however, is still seen as the A-side likely to get the W in the minds of a majority of pundits and fans. But Vargas isn’t welcoming of that take. Of course, he conveys his stance most respectfully, but he ticks off a bunch of areas where he sees himself enjoying an edge on paper over Garcia (39-1, 30 KO).
”Youth, height, reach, speed, power,” Vargas offered as advantages his way.
Wow, what about Mikey? Will he name an area where Mikey maybe on paper has better command of some trait?
“Good timing,” Vargas cites. “He’s technical, he’s a good fighter. That’s why people want to see this fight.”
What else does Vargas use as fuel? When he looks at the rankings, does he mutter under his breath that, for example, the WBO doesn’t have him in their top 15, but have at No. 14 Yuki Beppu, who is 21-1-1 but fought a debuter in his 17th bout and an 0-1 boxer in his 18th? Does Vargas read Twitter and get surly when seeing people looking past him and assuming Mikey beats him and then gets a super fight?
“I’m not sure about the discussions. I stay away from social media, just focus on what I’m capable of,” he said. “I’ve been the underdog and become world champion. I’m just busting my ass in the gym every day.”