De La Hoya stops Vargas in 11th round
By TIM DAHLBERG
AP Boxing Writer
September 15, 2002
LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Oscar De La Hoya wasn't about to run this time. With his pride and boxing future on the line, he gave Fernando Vargas a lesson in what being a true warrior was all about.
Battered by some right hands in the early rounds, De La Hoya came back to settle a neighborhood feud Saturday night by stopping Vargas with a vicious assault in the 11th round of their grudge match.
De La Hoya won a masterful fight of ebb and flow with left hook that turned the fight around in the final seconds of the 10th round and another that dropped Vargas to the canvas early in the final round.
De La Hoya added the WBA 154-pound title to his WBC crown, but more importantly may have won over fans still smarting from the way he ran in the final rounds to lose to Felix Trinidad.
``I can pack a punch,'' De La Hoya said. ``A lot of people are surprised when they come in the ring with me. They don't think I'm fast enough, strong enough. But I can pack a punch, that's for sure.''
Fighting with a suspect left hand and doubts about his power in only his second fight at 154 pounds, De La Hoya came back from taking a lot of punishment in the fifth round to dominate the middle rounds.
And, just when it seemed Vargas might find his way back into the fight, he staggered him with a left hook late in the 10th round that Vargas never seemed to recover from.
``Wake up, wake up,'' Vargas' trainer, Eduardo Garcia, yelled at his fighter after the 10th round.
Vargas was bleeding and wobbly but he managed to go out in the 11th round only to get caught with a big left hook that dropped him flat on his back in a neutral corner.
He got up, but De La Hoya followed him around the ring, landing a number of unanswered punches before referee Joe Cortez stopped the fight at 1:48 of the round with Vargas defenseless in De La Hoya's corner.
The sellout crowd of 11,425, seemingly evenly split between the two Los Angeles area rivals, roared throughout the fight as it built to its climax.
Vargas had portrayed himself before the fight as the warrior who wouldn't quit, while questioning De La Hoya's heart. In the end, though, it was Vargas who ran out of gas.
``I knew he was going to get tired in the later rounds,'' De La Hoya said.
De La Hoya was ahead on two scorecards and behind on the third when he caught Vargas with a left hook that exposed the chin that got him knocked down five times by Trinidad.
``Vargas was a very, very strong puncher,'' De La Hoya said. ``I had to be patient, go to the body, feint, use combinations. The strength really surprised me.''
Vargas had said he would rather die in the ring than lose and he never gave up. But he was defenseless in De La Hoya's corner and taking a beating when Cortez finally stopped it.
Both fighters were bleeding and both were landing big punches, but De La Hoya turned the fight around after a bad fifth round and was the stronger and faster fighter from then on.
Vargas seemed to be on the verge of dominating the fight in the fifth round when he landed right hand after right hand to De La Hoya's head. Punch stats credited Vargas with 21 power punches in the round to seven for De La Hoya, who couldn't seem to shake lose of the Vargas right hand.
``He's yours. He's liable to quit. You got him,'' Vargas trainer Eduardo Garcia told Vargas after the round.
Not quite, it turned out. De La Hoya began moving more and using his left jab, then finding the range with his right hand in the middle rounds.
Still, Vargas pressed on and was winning the 10th round until, with just a few seconds left in the round, De La Hoya hit him with a left hook that caused his legs to wobble.
The punch seemed to take everything out of Vargas, though he remained on his feet and stumbled to his corner.
Vargas left the ring without talking, and went to the hospital for what doctors said would be a precautionary CT scan.
``At first I thought he was too strong for me,'' De La Hoya said. ``But when I was turning and he was missing I knew he would get tired. I thought he got tired about the seventh round.''
Vargas was a 2-1 underdog, but De La Hoya had conceded before the fight that his opponent was bigger and stronger than he was. It looked like that was the case when Vargas caught De La Hoya with a right hand that raised a bruise on De La Hoya's right cheek in the first round and ended it with De La Hoya pinned on the ropes.
De La Hoya, though, came back in the second round to use his jab well and keep Vargas off him. The fight then became one of ebb and flow, with each fighter trying to impose his will on the other.
De La Hoya earned at least $14 million for the work, but it was clear that this fight meant much more than that. Vargas had expressed his intense dislike for De La Hoya for years and had vowed to beat him and send him into retirement.
``He talked a lot of stuff about me that I didn't like,'' De La Hoya said. ``I had to teach him a lesson.''
Vargas saw the fight as a grudge match against a fellow Southern California fighter whose success he has always had to follow in his young career.
Vargas came into the ring with legendary Mexican champion Julio Cesar Chavez by his side, whispering in his ear. Vargas had dedicated the fight to Chavez, who lost twice to De La Hoya.
But it was De La Hoya reaching out to the Mexican fans afterward.
``This was for the Mexican people,'' De La Hoya said.
De La Hoya was ahead 96-94 on two ringside scorecards after 10 rounds, and behind 97-94 on a third.
By this time, though, the 24-year-old Vargas was on shaky legs and blood was flowing down his face from a cut beneath his right eye. It proved to be a handy target for the left hand of De La Hoya.
``I'm sorry, I know it sounds brutal but when I see blood I want more,'' De La Hoya said.
Punch stats showed De La Hoya landed 281 punches to 227 for Vargas, although Vargas landed more power punches.
De La Hoya, who was fighting for the first time in 15 months and only the second time at 154 pounds, improved to 35-2 with 28 knockouts. Vargas fell to 22-2.
Did anyone watch this fight?!?! It was the best fight of the year! And the best IMO performance by Oscar in AWHILE! He still has the heart of a champion and the footspeed of a teenager!