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BOXING STEVE SPRINGER

Injury May Wear on Vargas

October 25, 2003|STEVE SPRINGER

He was savagely beaten by Felix Trinidad, who knocked him down five times. He was convincingly defeated by Oscar De La Hoya, who left him helpless on the ropes. He was suspended for steroid use and pleaded no contest in an assault case.

But bloodied and bowed, Fernando Vargas insists that, at 25, despite all he has been through, he has plenty of fight left in him.

Not necessarily.

Vargas has recently learned that the biggest obstacle to continuing his career lies ahead. And it is something over which he may have no control -- a bulging disk in his back. The injury forced him to postpone a fight earlier this month.

He is not considering surgery, saying he has been assured treatment and rehabilitation will keep the problem manageable.

"I have always had back problems," Vargas said. "In my last training camp, it became unbearable. When I threw a punch, it felt like I had thrown my back out. We did an MRI and they told me I have a bulging disk.

"The pain is still there. The pain is always going to be there. But if it's bearable, I can still train. I'm not going to say it's 100% now, but it's better. I have to work through this and fight for my people."

Absolutely no chance of surgery?

"That's the last thing I want to do," he said. "If I stay with the treatments, I can maintain. If not, it flares up on me. I want to try to strengthen my back and continue to do the rehab. Hopefully that will work. If it doesn't, it's in God's hands."

While talking optimistically about a ring future, Vargas seems also to be conceding that his future might lie elsewhere. And he seems OK with that.

"I have already done a lot at a young age," he said. "I have money in the stock market and real estate. I am financially secure. I don't need to fight anymore."

At the least, Vargas is taking small steps on the comeback trail. The old Vargas, loudly proclaiming his desire to take on the world, has been replaced by a humbler Vargas. He is no longer demanding a rematch with De La Hoya. Or a showdown with Shane Mosley. Not just yet.

Instead, Vargas will continue to rebuild his confidence and refine his skills against lesser opposition. He will go ahead with the fight originally scheduled for Oct. 3, facing Tony Marshall at Casino Del Sol in Tucson on Dec. 12. If all goes well that night, Vargas hopes to fight Javier Castillejo in February.

And Vargas will continue to follow the game plan being laid out by Buddy McGirt, his new trainer who joins Eduardo Garcia in Vargas' corner. McGirt wants Vargas to get away from the toe-to-toe style that caused him so much damage in recent years, to become a boxer again, rather than a puncher. More finesse, less ferocity.

"I tried to be like Mike Tyson," Vargas said. "I got away from what made me great as an amateur. I didn't do it knocking people out then. I did it by outsmarting people, by outboxing them. If you just box, it makes things easy.

"I want to go back to being the old Fernando. I just got a little sidetracked. I'm trying to grow as a fighter. Anybody can bang and be in the line of fire. There is no rule in boxing that says you've got to give [your opponent] a turn. If a fighter keeps on going to war, he can only have so many wars in him."

In Fernando's case, with a chronic back problem, should he even remain on the battlefield?

Against All Odds

It seemed like a long way to go just to become the prime notch on somebody else's gun butt.

But, realistically, what else could Julio Gonzalez hope for?

True, the light-heavyweight from Huntington Beach had won 33 of his 34 fights. But that one loss was devastating, a defeat by Roy Jones at Staples Center two years ago.

Until his fight against Jones, Gonzalez was considered a journeyman. Afterward, he was a journeyman with heart, a solid fighter, a nice guy, but still not a world-class contender.

That's just what Dariusz Michalczewski was looking for, an easy opponent to push his unblemished record to 49-0, tying Rocky Marciano's record.

Michalczewski held the light-heavyweight title of the World Boxing Organization, one of the lesser sanctioning bodies, but he had held that title since September 1994, having successfully defended it 24 times. That inspired his handlers to begin comparing him to Joe Louis, who defended his heavyweight title 25 times.

Putting Michalczewski in the same sentence with Marciano or Louis was laughable. But nobody really knew how good Michalczewski was because his record had been amassed mostly against nobodies.

Michalczewski, of German-Polish descent, had been campaigning for a long time for a Jones fight. But Michalczewski insisted that fight be held in Germany, and Jones refused to subject himself to the possibility of a hometown decision.

Gonzalez, on the other hand, had no such reservations. And last Saturday night, in Hamburg, Gonzalez proved Jones' fears unfounded. He not only beat Michalczewski in a shocking upset, but did so on the judges' scorecards, winning a split decision.

So what now for Gonzalez?

A rematch with Jones, who clearly outclasses him, would seem to be pointless.

Jones, who won the World Boxing Assn. heavyweight title earlier this year, is coming back to the light-heavyweight division Nov. 8 to fight Antonio Tarver, World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation champion.

If Jones should lose -- which would be an even bigger upset than Michalczewski's defeat -- or if Jones should win, then move back up to heavyweight, Tarver would be the perfect opponent for Gonzalez. Fighting Tarver would be the ideal opportunity for Gonzalez to show that his win last week was neither a fluke nor a victory over a highly overrated opponent.

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