Minutes before Fernando Vargas and Oscar De La Hoya were to weigh in for their 2002 super welterweight title fight in Las Vegas, they were at opposite ends of a long stage, perhaps 50 feet apart.
Vargas removed his shirt to reveal an amazingly sculpted physique. Predictably, he began adopting bodybuilder poses, as if his newfound muscles would somehow intimidate De La Hoya.
De La Hoya beamed as he looked across at his rival and simply pointed to his chin. The weakness in Vargas' game had long been his inability to take a punch and De La Hoya was reminding everyone that no matter how developed the pectorals or how impressive the abdominals, they'd make no difference when a punch landed on the butt of the jaw.
De La Hoya was right, of course. Though Vargas promoted the fight with a lot of bluff and bluster and tried to portray De La Hoya as effeminate, it was Vargas who needed to be saved by the referee.
Vargas' steroid-enhanced body did him no good and he was stopped in the 11th round. One would have thought the loss would have taught him a bit of humility, but clearly it did not. And so, he went through much the same type of pre-fight nonsense with Shane Mosley, only to be knocked out in back-to-back bouts last year by a decidedly smaller man.
Knowing that, one would have thought that Vargas might have adopted a different approach heading into what he says is the final fight of his career on Friday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles against Ricardo Mayorga.
Alas, that would be giving him too much credit.
It was no surprise to see Mayorga acting moronic at Monday's final news conference, but there was Vargas again, yanking off his shirt, posing as if he were Hulk Hogan and cursing a blue streak.
Somehow, you thought that Vargas would have wanted to leave a better impression of himself in his final fight than that of a raving, out-of-control lunatic who wasn't good enough to back up his tough talk against anyone who could actually fight back.
He ranted and raved and predicted all sorts of doom for Felix Trinidad, who simply smiled and went out and knocked Vargas down five times before stopping him in the 12th round of their Dec. 2, 2000, bout in Las Vegas.
He was so out of control prior to his 2002 fight with De La Hoya, whom he had some long-standing grudge against, that at the final news conference, a barrier was erected on the dais to keep the fighters from getting near each other.
Again, Vargas' tough words failed him and he was once again beaten senseless.
After topping a series of non-entities and overcoming injuires, he landed a fight against Mosley on Feb. 25, 2006. He was stopped in the 10th round of that fight, after again going through the bully bit in the pre-fight buildup, and then demanded a rematch. When he got it, he was badly outclassed and stopped in the sixth round.
He hasn't had a significant win since winning a unanimous decision over Ike Quartey in the best performance of his career on April 15, 2000, yet he's again acting like a thug and a hoodlum in the buildup to what he says is his final fight.
Their performance Monday at the Staples Center news conference when they cursed and made obscene gestures at each other and the classless Mayorga grabbed a photograph of Vargas and rubbed it across his crotch should have disgusted anyone who values sportsmanship and professionalism.
The fact that the bout is on pay-per-view is appalling. The undercard is horrific. The chief undercard bout is an IBF welterweight title match between Kermit Cintron and challenger Jesse Feliciano, a hard-nosed club fighter who has no business being anywhere near a championship match.
The Vargas-Mayorga fight pits two men who combined have been knocked out in four of their last five. That's two of his last two for Vargas and two of his last three for Mayorga, if you need a scorecard.
If Vargas, who has been one of the generation's most popular fighters for his willingness to accept any challenge and his eagerness to stand toe-to-toe and fight, wanted to thank his many fans, he would have agreed to have fought on free television.
As it is, the bout is nothing more than a money grab by a pair of washed up fighters who have no respect for the sport and even less for themselves.
Save your money and then root for Vargas. He's retiring (he says), so we won't have to listen to his bluster any more. And if he knocks out the crass Mayorga, perhaps we'll get lucky and he'll go away, too.
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- Oscar De La Hoya
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