By Elliot Worsell


WHILE the name Vargas is not uncommon in the sport of boxing, it means more to Emiliano Vargas than it means to most. It is, after all, not only his surname but, due to the achievements of his father, Fernando, the source of great pride, opportunity, and pressure; both a blessing and a curse.

Vargas, of course, will dispute this, and insist that being the son of a famous fighter can only be a good thing. Yet history, often a better gauge, would suggest otherwise. History would suggest that for every example of a successful famous fighting son, you will find another example of someone who failed to live up to expectations and ultimately crumbled beneath the pressure.

“The only pressure I put on myself is how I’m going to win,” Vargas told Boxing News ahead of his ninth pro fight on March 29 in Glendale. “I work too hard to lose and I truly give everything to this sport; my body, my mind, and my soul. For years I have done this. I had 130 amateur fights and was a seven-time national champion. I did everything as an amateur the right way. I saw how it should be done by my father, right? But now, as a professional, I understand what it takes to become a world champion.”

If that sounds at all like deflection, maybe it’s because it is; and maybe it has to be this way. But it also sounds incredibly mature and Vargas, at 19, does indeed speak with an assurance and composure that belies both his age and professional experience. He speaks like a man who has been here before and seen it all before. Which, in a sense, is not far from the truth.

“My father never really thought I would box,” he said. “He thought I’d pick it up and leave it alone. I was just the chubby kid who liked to eat.

“We opened a boxing gym and one thing led to another. A couple of amateur fights in I’m starting to take this really seriously and winning big tournaments. Now here we are.

“It’s a beautiful dynamic, man. I love my father to death. He never had a father so this is special for him. He’s kind of living through my eyes – how it would have been to have his father at fights, and to watch him cut weight. I know it’s big for him and it’s big for me, too. I love having that relationship with my father. There’s nothing better than winning with people that you love.”

Fernando Vargas

Fernando Vargas (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

If it wasn’t enough for Emiliano to be following in the footsteps of a famous father, remember that in the case of Fernando, a two-time world champion, he is looking to emulate someone who won his first world title at the tender age of 21. As hard as it is to believe now, when fighters are moved at a comparative snail’s pace, Vargas was barely of drinking age when he knocked out heavy-handed Mexican Yori Boy Campas in seven rounds to win the IBF light-middleweight championship in 1998. He then successfully defended that belt the following year with victories over Howard Clarke (TKO 4), Raúl Márquez (TKO 11), Winky Wright (MD 12), and Ike Quartey (UD 12).

That’s not bad going for a man in his early thirties, let alone one in their early twenties, and Emiliano, Fernando’s youngest son, will be only too aware of the rate at which his father created a legacy.

“I’m on my own clock at the end of the day,” he said. “Me and my dad might bump heads about things, but I understand that with 14 or 15 fights, and with another year of getting ranked, we’ll be looking to fight for a world title in 2025. I know it’s around the corner. I’ve been a young kid dreaming about fighting for a world title and now it’s around the corner. I’m super excited about it and am ready to make show-stopping performances this whole year. I know the level I want to get to and I know I have to get past Nelson Hampton (his next opponent) to get there.

“I believe in three things: God, my hard work, and my God-given ability. I know that all three of those things are in line.”

If it’s tough for Emiliano to live up to his father’s reputation, spare a thought for what it must be like for Fernando. He, as a former fighter with sons, would have spent many years feeling conflicted; on the one hand eager for them to follow in his footsteps and continue the family tradition, and on the other, hoping they would instead use the comforts and privileges he had provided to do something else with their lives.

“In my first couple of spars I was busting dudes faces up and I saw the blood on my gloves and was like, ‘Yeah, I like this,’” recalled Vargas, 8-0 (7). “I have highlight reel knockouts in my amateur career and that’s with 10-ounce gloves and headgear. I just always knew the pros was the thing for me and it only confirmed it when I put on those eight-ounce gloves. I was like a kid with a new toy at the start but now I have simmered down. The knockouts will come regardless. If God wants it, he wants it. If not, we’ll go to a decision.”

Should he get past Nelson Hampton on Friday, and move his record to 9-0, Vargas aims to continue his impressive activity rate and fight a total of six or seven times in 2024. He also wants to gradually break free from his father’s shadow and, by 2025, find himself in position to fight for one of the world titles available in either the lightweight or super-lightweight division.

There, at either lightweight or super-lightweight, he could even one day bump into Shakur Stevenson, a fellow American with whom Vargas has already shared a ring, albeit only in sparring. Just 15 at the time, Vargas took from that experience plenty of confidence and left enough of an impression, he says, to ensure Stevenson not only remembers but respects the family name.

“Man, I’ll just put it to you like this: it takes a lot for a silver medallist and world champion at the time to be worried about the Vargas brothers,” Emiliano said. “That should tell you how the sparring went. It was great work. I just went in there with no respect. Every other fighter who was in there with him was giving him so much respect and running from this guy. But I went straight to him and put him on the ropes. I was going to work.

“But that’s old news. I’m focused on what’s on the horizon and what’s in the future. If in the future we’re in the same weight class, and in position to fight, let’s do it.

“I know that’s a fight people would probably want to see. But I also know I have to get my experience first. He knows about me, though. He knows about the Vargas brothers. You won’t be able to deny us. I’m coming for it all. Whether it’s the 135 division, or 140, I’m coming.”

Twenty-five years after his father was saying something similar on his path to his first world title, Emiliano Fernando Vargas is demanding to be respected and taken seriously. Better yet, he wants to be feared.