Jessie Vargas was the latest guest on Matchroom’s Lockdown Tapes series, speaking with host Chris Lloyd about his boxing career from start to where we’re at today.
One of the topics was the late Roger Mayweather, whom Vargas worked with some as a kid. Devin Haney recently said that Roger was always exceptional working with young fighters and even little kids, and Vargas backed that up.
“I was one of those kids, along with Devin Haney. That was something special about Roger. He was very direct to everyone — not to the kids, but he was very direct and straightforward with everyone else,” Vargas said. “I respect him for it. He always spoke his mind. He was a great guy, honestly, a great guy.
“Devin Haney got the pleasure of working with Roger, but also, man, I used to see Devin Haney when he was training with him. I was already a professional, I was, like, 8-0, 23 years old. I’d see him in the gym and his dad behind him all the time. He was cool, him and I were cool. His father would always say hell to me. Devin was a kid, but I always saw him giving his all, so I’d always give him credit. Now he’s an adult doing very well for himself. It’s a joy to see him succeeding. The teachers we had were great teachers. And now he’s training with Floyd Mayweather, as well. Floyd has invested some time training and helping him out.”
As for Floyd Mayweather going into training, or at least taking steps toward that, Vargas said that’s a surprise to him, but a good one.
“I think he’s only gonna pick and choose a couple [fighters to train], but it’s surprising, I didn’t think he would ever do it,” he said. “I’m glad he did. He’s able to pass on that knowledge to someone else, especially another fighter he has known for a while, because he’s known Devin since he was a child, also. They even sparred together once. He’s a kid who has grown close to Floyd, so [Floyd] respects him, and that’s why he’s giving him some of that knowledge.”
Vargas’ two most famous fights came in 2015 and 2016, against Timothy Bradley Jr and Manny Pacquiao. He lost both, but under quite different circumstances.
In the fight with Bradley, many will recall that Vargas drilled the favored fighter with a brutal right hand late in the 12th round, and referee Pat Russell accidentally stopped the bout early, with about 10 seconds actually remaining in the fight.
Bradley won on the cards.
“I knew I was down on the score cards, so I was, like, I gotta do something. I’m just trying to look for the knockout in the 12th, and I look for that right — BOOM!” Vargas recalled.
“Man, I landed it with everything I had, and the referee steps in as I’m on the attack, trying to continue to throw blows at Bradley, because I knew he was hurt. He was out. And the referee steps in and stops the fight. I’m celebrating, keep in mind, he stopped the fight with 10 seconds remaining.
“So I’m celebrating thinking he stopped the fight because he saw how hurt he was. Because Bradley just, like, drops his upper body down to the floor to where his hands almost touched the canvas. That’s when the referee stopped it. And then two or three minutes later, Michael Buffer comes in and says that the referee stopped the fight, I don’t remember exactly what it was, but he let us know he stopped the fight with 10 seconds left because he thought he heard the bell ring. The bell didn’t ring.
“To this day, I was never happy, but I came back with a vengeance and I ended up fighting for that same title, and I won it against Sadam Ali in the next fight. I said, ‘I’m gonna knock whoever they put in front of me out,’ and I did so.”
As for the fight with Pacquiao, which was a less controversial defeat, Vargas said he had no nerves and wasn’t intimidated or overwhelmed by the moment.
“I looked over and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I was excited. I was smiling inside and said, ‘Come on, man, let’s do it. I’m gonna mess you up.’ That’s what I felt, mentally,” he said.
“You gotta be confident in your abilities, you gotta believe in yourself. What was most surprising was walking through that entrance and just seeing thousands and thousands of people screaming, lights everywhere. It was just incredible. It was a good fight. I gave it my all. Threw as many punches as I could. Manny missed a lot of punches. Something I saw was in all his fights, that’s when he connected the least amount of punches. He had difficulties.
“I had difficulties, too, because he’s so fast. I was trying to play target practice with him, but he’s moving left and right; he’s quick! It’s the experience he has. I was in the game. I started off real good, and then I get hit in the [second round]. I’m coming in, and I’m about to land a hard right hand, and I open up, but then I see him coming in with his straight left. I’m, like, ‘Oh, no, pull back.’ So instead of cocking it, I just pull out. In that second I pulled out, he ended up hitting me with a straight left that barely nicked me, barely got me. But since I was already pulling away, it was a knockdown. There goes that round. That round was in the bag, I felt, until that happened. Things happen. It was a great learning experience.”
Vargas, now 31, says Manny’s speed is a bigger asset than his power.
“I think it’s his positioning that gives him some of the power, but mainly it’s his speed,” he said. “I’m sure he’s a power puncher, but I didn’t feel his punching power, honestly. Now his speed was dangerous. If you don’t see his punch, he can take you down.”
Vargas added that Pacquiao is “for sure” the best fighter he’s faced to date.
Vargas, a former two-division titleholder, is now 29-3-2 (11 KO) and coming off of a competitive loss to Mikey Garcia on Feb. 29 in Texas. He’s 1-1-2 in his last four bouts, and has also started branching out in the last couple of years, getting more involved in the broadcasting side of boxing.