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Vargas Suspended 9 Months

In a 4-1 vote, a Nevada panel bars the Oxnard fighter over steroid use before De La Hoya bout. Fine is $100,000.

November 21, 2002|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- Members of the Nevada State Athletic Commission listened to a contrite Fernando Vargas, listened to pleas for leniency from his attorney, Pat English, and then voted, 4-1, Wednesday to suspend the Oxnard fighter for nine months, retroactive to Sept. 14, and fine him $100,000 for testing positive for steroids.

It was on Sept. 14, after his TKO loss to Oscar De La Hoya, that Vargas took a urine test that revealed the presence of the androgenic anabolic steroid stanozolol in his bloodstream, illegal for fighters under Nevada law.

Although he continues to maintain that others in his camp gave him the steroid without his knowledge, that they were slipped in with the vitamins and supplements he was taking, Vargas told the commissioners, "I hired individuals I felt were competent, but I don't place the blame on anybody but myself. At the end of the day, I am the captain of my ship."

The individuals Vargas was referring to are strength and conditioning coach John Philbin, who resigned after the fight, and nutritionist Mazzan Ali, who has since been fired. Philbin wrote a letter to the commission this month declaring his innocence and his disapproval of Ali's methods. The commission tried unsuccessfully to get a response from Ali. English told the commissioners he appreciated Philbin's letter and was not pointing a finger at him.

Rolando Arellano, Vargas' co-manager, told the commission, "There is no dispute our hiring process was flawed." He promised to remedy that by setting up criteria for future hires and demanding proof of credentials.

Luther Mack, chairman of the commission, and fellow commissioners Tony Alamo, John Bailey and Raymond "Skip" Avansino Jr. voted for the suspension and fine. The lone holdout was Edwin "Flip" Homansky.

"We like Mr. Vargas," Mack said, "but we want to tell the rest of the world that Nevada will do the right thing. We will protect the fighter."

Mack, who Tuesday had labeled Vargas' claim that he didn't know he was being given steroids "a lame excuse," Wednesday told the fighter, "Be careful who you hire."

In voting against the motion, Homansky pointed out that a letter sent out by the commission on July 1, reiterating a ban on steroids, specified that, until Jan. 1, "There will be a period of leniency." He also expressed concern that Vargas was being singled out.

Vargas said he was "astonished" when he learned his blood test was positive, because he thought steroids could be administered only through a needle.

"When I think of steroids," he said, "I think of the guy in 'Rocky IV' pumping needles into his arm. I would give my life before I would go out there and inject, before I would cheat. That's what I feel it is, cheating. I figured I had no injections, no problems."

Vargas said the weight he was losing and the muscle he was adding lured him into continuing to take whatever pills he was offered. "All my fellow Mexican friends," he said, "they don't look like this. I figured I would keep these guys [his strength coach and nutritionist] around.

"Now I want to serve as an example to all fighters and athletes. At the end of the day, you have to be responsible."

Vargas later joked that he might use the time off "to take a chemistry class."

To bolster his claim that he was unaware an illegal substance was in his system, Vargas reminded the commissioners that he had ample opportunity to avoid giving a urine sample that night.

Taken to a hospital for examination after the fight, Vargas said he subsequently drove to three labs before finding one that could administer the test.

"If he did it intentionally," Arellano later told reporters, "he sure as hell went out of his way to be caught."

English appealed to the commissioners to cut the suspension to six months retroactive to September.

Seated beside Vargas for the hearing was two-time heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who will return to the ring Feb. 22 against Clifford Etienne in Memphis, Tenn.

"I thought the decision was too harsh," said Tyson, a friend and supporter of Vargas who has had his share of hearings before the commission. "He didn't understand what went down with the steroids. We are so naive. People take advantage of us to make a buck."

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