Jessie Vargas is focused on Antonio DeMarco, not Manny Pacquiao
MACAU – Jessie Vargas has heard all of the talk. As the junior welterweight standout prepares for a tough title defense against Antonio DeMarco, rumors of possibly being a future opponent for Manny Pacquiao have surrounded him on fight week.
The temptation to look ahead of Saturday night’s fight to a bout with one of the sport’s few major attractions must be great, but it’s one that Vargas has managed to keep in check. He says he’s “dreamed” of fighting Pacquiao in the past, but knows he must stay awake and alert for the rest of the weekend to avoid trouble caused by looking too far ahead.
“I’m focused 110 percent on Antonio DeMarco,” Vargas said showdown with the former WBC lightweight titleholder, which will be a supporting undercard bout to Pacquiao’s match against New Yorker Chris Algeiri.
“I’m not looking ahead because he’s a great champion and I do give the fighters the respect that I deserve. But it doesn’t mean anything. I’m going to pick him apart. It’s going to open bigger and better opportunities but for now I’m just going to focus on him.”
Vargas (25-0, 9 knockouts), a 25-year-old Las Vegas resident, is wrapping up an eventful year that saw him defeat Khabib Allakhverdiev to win the WBA’s “regular” title, plus add former four-division world champion Roy Jones Jr. as trainer and Angel Heredia as a conditioning coach.
Vargas added Jones to his camp shortly after his title defense against Anton Novikov in August, and the two set out to tighten up his form.
“He’s perfecting my skills, perfecting my technique, perfecting my way of looking at the game,” said Vargas. “Roy is one of the greatest and still going strong and he’s giving me the knowledge he has which I’m very thankful for the time he’s giving me because he doesn’t have a lot of it. He’s a busy man.”
One criticism Jones had of Vargas was that his fights were too close and he hadn’t shown steady improvement. The pair had spent close to two months together making adjustments.
“(I) just taught him how to look cute doing it, that’s all. Look good while you’re doing it, that’s half the battle,” said Jones, who won titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight, and is still campaigning at age 45 in hopes of winning another at cruiserweight.
Jones will work Vargas’ corner in the first televised fight of the night before changing into commentator attire to call the remaining fights for HBO pay-per-view.
DeMarco (31-3-1, 23 KOs), of Los Mochis, Mexico, has won three straight in his home country since losing the WBC lightweight title in one-sided fashion to Adrien Broner in 2012. He too added a trainer in Freddie Roach, who will have triple duty with Pacquiao and Zou Shiming also fighting significant bouts.
DeMarco, 28, traveled to the Philippines to train alongside Pacquiao, sparring with fighters like 2012 U.S. Olympian Jose Ramirez and welterweight Mike Jones. A week and a half into training, he discovered that his 13-year-old sister had developed bone cancer in her shoulder. She’s currently undergoing chemotherapy, and DeMarco has dedicated his performance to her.
“I fight for the life of my sister. It’s for her that I’m going in the ring,” said DeMarco.
“We’re in a do-or-die situation, we’re in there with a good opponent,” said Roach. “But our good opponent, a lot of people thought he may have lost his last couple of fights and maybe got gifts, so we’re ready and we’re gonna put pressure on this guy and use our power. I think it’s going to be a good fight but it’s a very even, competitive fight.”
Roach, who is a six-time Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year, had questions about Jones’ preparedness as a trainer as the two head into their first battle together.
“Most great fighters don’t do well training because they expect the fighter to be as good as them and to pick up things as fast as them,” said Roach. “Maybe they don’t have the patience. See, I wasn’t that good so I have patience.”
Vargas is entering this fight knowing he is on the doorstep of great opportunities should he get past his most experienced foe to date. DeMarco is nobody’s tuneup opponent, and Vargas must keep a mega-fight mentality to get past this newest obstacle.
“You’re going to be seeing a lot of new things,” said Vargas. “The main thing is to continue to improve and not to stay on the same level. I want to give the fans a better Jessie Vargas each fight that comes along and a better Jessie Vargas.
“Antonio DeMarco said I get tired and that really bothered me. I saw that as disrespect. We’re gonna come in strong, we’re gonna start strong and we’re gonna finish even stronger. If he reaches the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th round, I’m gonna pick it up. I’m gonna look at him and tell him ‘Do I look tired?'”
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.