First Jab Belongs to Vargas


As an early, symbolic swipe at Oscar De La Hoya, the Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker camp is planning to send stablemate Fernando Vargas--a frequent De La Hoya critic--at the head of Whitaker’s entourage into the ring for Saturday night’s bout, carrying Whitaker’s World Boxing Council welterweight belt.

“That’s the first person we want Oscar to see,” said one Whitaker camp member.

Vargas, the 19-year-old Oxnard welterweight who has positioned himself to win over those in the Southern California Latino community turned off by De La Hoya, also sparred with Whitaker before and after Vargas’ professional debut last month in Oxnard.

This is not the same Whitaker who was knocked down twice, looked old, and needed an 11th-round knockout to beat unheralded Diobelys Hurtado in January, Vargas argued.


“Oh, man, you should see him, dancing around the same way as he used to, boxing the same way,” Vargas said Wednesday. “I was really surprised--his legs, his agility. . . . I consider myself a quick fighter, and it took me a while to catch him.

“De La Hoya right now is thinking he’s pretty much invincible. He’s thinking that ‘Sweet Pea’ is done with. But De La Hoya’s been knocked down in a lighter weight class, and everybody knows he has a suspect chin.

“I’m not saying ‘Sweet Pea’ is a big puncher, but he has power, and he’s been at welterweight for years now and De La Hoya’s been fighting little short guys. If De La Hoya thinks he’s going to have an easy night, he could get clipped and it could be over real soon.”


Vargas, a 1996 Olympian scheduled to fight again on the undercard of the April 26 George Foreman-Lou Savarese bout at Madison Square Garden in New York, took some shots at De La Hoya’s effort to put money into the East L.A. community with the Oscar De La Hoya Youth Center at the site of the old Resurrection Gym.

“Now he’s trying to do all this, all that, helping the community--but that’s too late,” Vargas said. “You didn’t do it before when you should have. He could give a million dollars to every bum in East L.A., but if you don’t do it at the right time, it’s not going to help you.

“He says he wants to help the community, the kids, but come on now, everybody knows that’s fake. If he would have been for real from the beginning, the people would have been with him. But he wasn’t for real, and I feel that I am.”



Whitaker co-trainer Lou Duva, who yelled at De La Hoya promoter Bob Arum only once during an endless media conference at Caesars Palace, tried to capture the essence of his fighter in a rambling speech.

“Legs? Watch the legs on this guy,” Duva said. “Moves? Watch the moves on this guy. Punch? Left and right, I’d say the guy is naturally amphibious.”

Whitaker, who wore stereo headphones for most of the media conference and made it clear that he was far more interested in the music than the speechifying, did have the line of the day:

“This isn’t any rock concert--this is the Academy Awards, and I figure between about 8 or 8:30 [on Saturday night], I’ll be picking up my Oscar.”