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Fernando Vargas and sons: “It’s them now, it’s not me”

With the global pandemic affecting the sport of boxing in a multitude of ways, former two-time world champion Fernando Vargas (26-5, 22 KOs) had suffered uniquely. Currently training his three sons, the household was split as he and his wife, Martha, tested positive for Covid-19.

“We’re in good spirits now. Unfortunately, me, my wife, my father-in-law and my sister-in-law, we all caught Covid. But we were able to beat it,” Vargas told Boxing Social. “In the beginning, when we barely knew what was going on with it, it was a difficult time for us. We didn’t know what could happen, so it was the uncertainty. My kids wanted to go and train. They train in the back yard, but I couldn’t train ’em, so they’d do pads with one another. It was difficult because I love doing that – I’m growing through their eyes. I couldn’t hug my daughter; I couldn’t hug my boys…

“I’m a man of god; I prayed every night before I got to bed, and I go to church with my family, so I said to god, ‘I’m not ready to go’. I was scared. People were passing all the time and, at the end of the day, praise god that he didn’t take me,” Vargas jokes, choosing to remain light-hearted, now back to full health. “We quarantined for two weeks; we went back and were still positive. So, we did another month of isolation and we became negative eventually.”

Negative wasn’t a word associated with the 42-year-old, cracking jokes about still being able to kiss his wife despite falling ill, and remaining upbeat when discussing his recent recovery. Vargas knew he’d been luckier than many others – again. He spoke at length about his three Vargas boys, Fernando Jr, Emiliano and Amado.

The next generation of champions have been building in the shadows of their father, ‘El Feroz’, but Fernando revealed it wasn’t supposed to be this way.  

“Once I opened up the gym, they started training. I was like, ‘What are you doing? You don’t need to train’. Amado’s godfather, a good friend of mine, he said, ‘Yo champ, how are you gonna tell your sons that they can’t be like their daddy?’ I thought, ‘Wow, okay’. I told them that if they wanna do it, they gotta do it 100%. They gotta work harder – I know people will critique them because of who their daddy is, but they’re stepping into the ring, not me. My kids are great young fighters themselves already.”

The narrative of father and son fighting combinations has become prevalent in recent years, especially in the United Kingdom, with the recent announcement that Ricky Hatton – a champion that Vargas can relate to – has introduced his son Campbell to the paid ranks, courtesy of Matchroom Boxing. For Fernando, it is his namesake who will slip between the ropes, under the spotlight, for the first time without headgear and national vests.

Vargas Jr turns pro on December 18, hoping to emulate his famous father.
Photo: YouTube.

Fernando Jr, who narrowly missed out on a spot in the US Olympic boxing team, is set to make his debut at middleweight at the Grupo Sipse TV Studios in Merida, Mexico, on December 18.

Videos released via social media have caused a sense of intrigue, as he moved from east to west, north to south, sparring beautifully. The very fact that Fernando Jr had come close to a spot in US Boxing’s top team with such little senior experience suggests his ability – but we’ll watch it unfold properly next week.

Emiliano and Amado may be further behind in terms of age, but they lack nothing in terms of dedication or determination. The Vargas matriarch, Martha, was heard often in the background, reminding Fernando Sr of certain parts of his own career. When it came to her sons, though, she was happy to speak to Boxing Social.

“Being with Fernando so long, I knew he could handle business,” the mother of four admitted. “It’s different when it’s your children. When he would get me upset, it would be like, ‘Well, that’s what you get when you get in hit in the face, right?’ But my kids, with my kids it’s different. My security is their dad in the corner. That makes me feel a lot better – but this is what they want. I wish they would want something else, but they don’t.  

“It is nerve-wracking; I can’t sit down; I have to stand when they’re fighting. I don’t know. I get very, very nervous. But I trust their father in the corner. It’s just a very hard sport. My kids are coming in with that last name already, so that’s scary – Fernando didn’t have that when he came in, nobody expected anything. I’m confident my husband will make everything okay, because if not, he will have a fight with me when he gets home.”

The good humour, with which both mother and father approached our conversation, was a testament to the strength of their family unit.

Martha knows more than most about boxing; about its dangers and injuries, suffered alone in warm-but-lonely showers after punishing defeats; about its triumphant glory, celebrated aboard the sweat-covered turnbuckles, or when mingling with 30 ‘fans’ in the suite of a fancy hotel. Yet still, three of her four children spent their days gloved up. It was – and still is – a lifestyle.

It’s a lifestyle for Martha by way of marriage and motherhood. But for Fernando, it was punched into the creases in his skins, from his loveable smile to his angry, piercing eyes. It wasn’t something he could shake, despite the potential health issues that await him. His sons are fighters because they wanted to be like their daddy – and, as they embark on their own careers, is there anything purer than that? 

“I make sure I go to the gym every day, and I do pads with my kids every day. I go to the doctors, and I go to the clinic that helps with retired fighters, for help with my brain; I keep busy with that and it’s something that I need to do. I don’t wanna go through anything bad – Alzheimer’s or anything like that – so I stay busy doing exercises that help with memory. I wanna be a part of my kid’s lives. I have to – because they’re great fighters.”