Comeback? Vargas never really left.

BY Rick Folstad ON July 23, 2003
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Fernando Vargas calls it his comeback, though he never really left the fight game as much as he was temporarily tossed out of it.

Following his devastating loss to Oscar De La Hoya 10 months ago, Vargas tested positive for steroids, which probably didn’t lift a lot of spirits in what must have already been a somber Vargas camp.

The former junior-middleweight champion of the world claims he didn’t realize he was taking steroids when some guy in his camp slipped him a pill and told him to swallow.

Heads rolled in the aftermath of the "steroid scandal" and Vargas was fined $100,000 and suspended for nine months.

You have to wonder what the guy told Vargas when he handed him the pill, and why Vargas took it.

"Pssssst. C’mere, Ferocious. Try one of these little suckers. No, no, not the pink one, the tiny blue one. The one with the X on it. Yeah, that one. Throw that little puppy down your gullet and see what happens. That’s it. Yeah, there you go.

You’re gonna feel great, but it may take a few weeks. Illegal? Naw, it’s perfectly harmless. It’s a vitamin supplement. Oh yeah, you might shrink a little."

Despite the pill story, Vargas took responsibility for the steroids, paid the fine and served out his suspension. He’s been praised for how he faced up to the scandal, but he really had no choice. Besides, no one forced him to choke down the pill, if that’s what really happened.

So now Vargas (22-2, 20 KOs) will start his comeback Saturday night on HBO against Fitz Vanderpool (24-4-4, 13 KOs) at the sold-out Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, a city quickly becoming a new mecca for boxing west of the Mississippi River.

Vanderpool, who was born in Trinidad and fights out of Canada, isn’t given much of a chance in the fight. But that‘s how it usually goes when a former world champion is starting a comeback. He takes on second-tier fighters, someone who will look good on cable TV, but won’t look too good. Of course, that’ s how upsets are born.

Vargas and the promoters are calling it a comeback, though with most fighters today, 10 months between fights isn’t a layoff as much as its considered an active career.

"It’s been nine months since my suspension and over those nine months, we really took it upon ourselves to clean the plate and really review and look upon who is good for the team," Vargas told USA Today. "Everything is a learning process.

We learned a lot about steroids because I was ignorant of the fact that things were given to me in pill form. I’ve turned the page on that chapter of my life."

To help him turn the page and maybe run interference between him and any well-meaning pill pushers, Vargas brought in top trainer Buddy McGirt.

Vanderpool, meanwhile, has settled into the role of spoiler, claiming he ’s working on his big knockout punch, the one few people have actually witnessed. According to Vanderpool, it’s not a Vargas comeback fight, it’s Vanderpool’s coming out party.

Finally, there‘s the theory by some that Vargas, at 25, has already peaked, that he’s a tired, worn-out fighter who sustained too much damage in his losses to De la Hoya and Felix Trinidad.

That’s why this fight isn’t a comeback fight or a coming-out party. It’s a test, and that‘s why it might be the most important fight of Vargas’ career.

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