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Randy Harvey

It Wouldn't Be Boxing Without Some Fighting Words

September 11, 2002|Randy Harvey

LAS VEGAS — Boxing promoter Bob Arum was in an L.A. restaurant recently with one of his Top Rank publicists, Bozo Caplan, and a couple of newspaper guys when Caplan began trying to earn his lunch.

"This was one of the hardest fights to put together in history, wasn't it Bob?" he said, referring to Saturday night's bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center between Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas. "Tell 'em, Bob. Tell 'em how hard it was to put together."

"It wasn't hard at all," Arum said.

You wouldn't think it would be. It has seemed like an inevitable match since early 2000, when De La Hoya met Derrell Coley at Madison Square Garden. Vargas, who was on the undercard, started talking trash beforehand about De La Hoya. Vargas said he couldn't wait to fight De La Hoya. De La Hoya said that he would never give Vargas a fight.

"It's not going to happen," he said.

That's when you knew it was going to happen.

These fighters truly dislike each other. How could they not? They are too much alike.

Vargas likes to present himself as the street guy and De La Hoya as the yuppie. De La Hoya does nothing to make anyone argue with that assessment.

At a news conference here Tuesday, Vargas slouched in his seat, chewing gum and wearing a baseball cap with the brim pulled down to his brooding eyes. De La Hoya sat tall and straight, his strong chin pointed upward the way they teach in etiquette classes.

But they have more in common than they have differences. Both are Mexican Americans who were born in Southern California, De La Hoya in East L.A. and Vargas in Oxnard. De La Hoya was the best fighter on the U.S. Olympic team in 1992 and won a gold medal. Vargas was the best fighter on the U.S. Olympic team in '96, although he didn't win a gold medal.

Neither is as good as Felix Trinidad Jr., who has beaten both. Both are good enough to have beaten Ike Quartey, who is very good. De La Hoya is a boxer who, with the notable exception of his loss to Trinidad, can be drawn into a brawl. Vargas likes to brawl but is smart enough to know he is more effective when boxing.

De La Hoya is not as smooth as he likes people to think he is. Vargas is not as rough as he likes people to think he is. Both have vices. De La Hoya has been in more trouble. Vargas has been in worse trouble. Both contribute to charities.

Of course, they had to fight each other.

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The only question was when.

The bout was originally scheduled for May 4, until De La Hoya's left wrist, which had previously required surgery, was re-injured. That's his story. Vargas' story is that De La Hoya simply wasn't in shape to fight him then. In any case, that would have been a more appropriate date for a fight promoted as "Bad Blood."

In one small concession to Sept. 11, the major news conference, normally scheduled for the Wednesday before a Saturday night fight, was moved to Tuesday.

Arum thanked the media for coming a day early, recognizing the sacrifice that sportswriters were making by spending an extra day in Las Vegas.

I'm not sure why anyone believes changing the date is more respectful. There is no formal news conference scheduled here today, but the stories of the news conference are appearing in newspapers today, and there was no shortage of references to war and warriors and "explosive" this and "explosive" that.

That's boxing. That's life. Vargas and his entourage honored the anniversary by wearing "FDNY" and "NYPD" caps. It was a nice touch. De La Hoya and his entourage should have thought of it. Their caps read, "Everlast."

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The last time before Tuesday that Fernando "Ferocious" Vargas and Oscar "He Hate Me" De La Hoya had been in the same room together was for a news conference in January at the Biltmore in downtown L.A. They went nose to nose, then Vargas shoved De La Hoya, starting a melee. The fighters were uninjured, but a photographer broke his leg.

As a result, two plexiglass walls were placed between the two fighters and their entourages on the stage here Tuesday.

That was stolen from Don King's repertoire. It was how he separated Bernard Hopkins and Trinidad before their fight. He said it was required because of their animosity toward each other, but, winking, confided, "It's all bull."

Considering their history, De La Hoya said he didn't think this was all hype.

"I feel embarrassed," he said when asked about the plexiglass. "But this is what Vargas brings to the table."

Actually, neither Vargas nor De La Hoya brought much to the table Tuesday other than good manners.

"Sept. 14, you will see a good show from both of us," De La Hoya said.

It was left to their handlers to provide the bull.

A la Muhammad Ali, De La Hoya's trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr., read a poem he composed to fight off the boredom at their Big Bear training camp.

"Exactly this way, the fight will happen.

"Round one has just begun. We want to dance and prance and have a little fun.

"Round two, Vargas is nearly through.

"He's got two black eyes because of you.

"You can't hit what your eyes can't see.

"If you keep talking, we'll end it in three."

Vargas' co-manager, Rolando Arellano, and trainer, Eduardo Garcia, fired back.

"Keep the ... from Floyd Mayweather's mouth from ruining my Italian suit," Arellano said.

"Kmart suit," Mayweather said.

Isn't that the way it usually is? The guys who are the most worked up are the ones who don't have to dodge each other's punches on Saturday.

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Randy Harvey can be reached at randy.harvey@latimes.com.

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