Monday, March 04, 2024  |


Josue Vargas has a lot of motivation to throw at Jose Zepeda this Saturday

Josue Vargas easily beat Kendo Castaneda (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank)
Fighters Network

Josue Vargas always thought of himself as a self-motivator. The 5-foot-9, 23-year-old junior welterweight southpaw from Puerto Rico was the type who was usually turning off the lights at the gym as the last one out.

But lately, something, or someone, recently entered his life that’s changed everything. It’s created new heights of drive he didn’t think was possible.

When Vargas (19-1, 9 knockouts) takes on The Ring’s No. 3 140-pound ranked contender Jose Zepeda (34-2, 26 KOs) in a 10-round headliner this coming Saturday at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater, he’ll be fighting for two.

Legend Vargas has done that.

“I just had a son four months ago. He’s my first and that has matured me a lot, and the things I had going on, and I learned how to be humble,” said Vargas, who’s moved to Orlando, Florida, by his son’s mother. “I remember sitting there holding my son in my arms, talking to myself, and it was like a little me.

“I was talking to him, saying how I was going to make it, and that I was fighting for him, like my mom and my dad fought for me. I’m going to be the same father as my father was for me.”

What changed everything was when his infant Legend grabbed Josue’s index finger.

“I’m fighting for Legend and my family, and I’m fighting to get this house for my mother,” Josue said. “When I held my son the first time, it touched me. In boxing, there are a lot of tricks that you have to watch for. I got a little emotional when I held my son. No more tricks. No more games. I kept telling myself, it’s time to push harder.

“I’ve become a grown man and a father.”

Vargas-Zepeda replaces what was originally a show intended to headline WBO light heavyweight titlist Joe Smith Jr. (27-3, 21 KOs) making his first title defense against Russian Umar Salamov (26-1, 19 KOs). That was scuttled when Smith pulled out in mid-September due to COVID-19.

That moved Vargas into the headliner role. He’s riding a 13-fight winning streak since an unfortunate third-round disqualification upset loss to Samuel Santana in October 2016.

Zepeda, 32, is also a southpaw and he’s coming off a 10-round unanimous decision over Hank Lundy in May. But that came with a caveat of looking dull against the shopworn, though tough 37-year-old from Philadelphia. It opened up speculation that Zepeda was not himself after the blood war he survived against Ivan Baranchyk last October.

Zepeda was knocked down four times and he felled Baranchyk four times on the way to a fifth-round knockout. Zepeda-Baranchyk was universally voted 2020 “Fight of the Year” by the BWAA and Ring, among numerous other boxing outlets.

Vargas feels Zepeda is still carrying the weight of the Baranchyk beating with him.

“Jose Zepeda is a great fighter and I won’t take anything away from him, but my hand speed is too much for him,” Vargas said. “He’s slowed. After the Ivan Baranchyk fight, he looked like he was hesitating against Lundy. Zepeda had trouble against Lundy.

“I’m expecting a great fight. I believe that the Baranchyk fight did take something out of Zepeda. You have two southpaws in there and I’m the younger fighter, who can bully him when I want to. I get warmed up in the later rounds.”

Vargas feels Zepeda doesn’t possess the foot work nor hand speed he had a few years ago.

Then, there’s the added motivation of his newly born son.

“I think my son looks like me,” said Vargas, laughing. “I’ve changed his diapers, too, it’s the first thing I did. I have to learn everything when I have him alone. Little by little, I’m passing all of the initiations (of fatherhood).

“When Legend is six months old, I’m going to get a tattoo of his face on my left ribs. This way when I’m fighting, I’ll have him with me at all times, even in the ring.”

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/ since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.