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August 20, 2005
Vargas Defeats Castillejo in Chicago
By Gary Dobry
Fernando Vargas is a fighter in transition, but appears not too sure which way to go. Vargas's new trainer, Danny Smith, had to remind Vargas between almost every round that their game plan was to box. Castillejo was the perfect opponent to box, too. No head movement, pretty much moved to his left the entire ten rounds directly into Vargas's right hand and, for whatever reason, would not fully extend his straight punches. When stunned by a right hand in the third round, Castillejo froze. Vargas followed with two hooks that floored the 37 year old Spaniard. Castillejo's showed all the signs of an aging fighter and Vargas, well... Vargas showed-up.
Even with a tailor-made opponent and a corner trying to enforce the well-rehearsed game plan, Vargas chose to employ a Kronk-style of fighting . Kronk-style is a fighter's style. Kronk fighters wrap their left arm around their waist and tuck their chin firmly between their right shoulder and parry-hand. It's a defense that defies you to come up the middle and makes your opponent look for angles, for openings. It sucks your opponent in, like a Venus fly-trap. A Kronk fighter is basically doing all, or most, of his defense with one arm/hand and his other hand is trained to counter any attempt to get a punch in. It makes your opponent fight you. It's a style which not only made the bout much closer than it had to be, but suggested to most that Vargas may be a bit confused why he chose Danny Smith to be in his corner and why his team chose Castillejo to be his opponent.
Vargas was supposed to work out the kinks with Castillejo. Vargas was supposed to be showing us what trainer Danny Smith was teaching him in the gym. Vargas was supposed to box Castillejo. He didn't.
Both fighters started slowly. In the first round Castillejo began to repeat a pattern he would repeat through all ten rounds, stepping to his left into Vargas's right hand. Vargas, in fact, seemed to catch the pattern quickly and ended the first round with a strong right hand rocking Castillejo.
In the second round, Vargas didn't throw much at all. It was like Vargas was over-thinking the situation. He wasn't boxing either. Vargas was fighting a defensive fight. In a Kronk stance Vargas picked-off Catillejo's shots like a good sparring partner would. Trainer Danny Smith reminded Vargas, between the second and third rounds, that he had to jab and follow-up those jabs with big right hands, like the one that ended the first round. But, Vargas was obviously having a hard time assuming the role of a boxer. It appeared very unnatural for him. He seemed to resolve this conflict by going Kronk and making a good defense his offense.
As for Castillejo, he continued to move to his left in the third round and displayed no head movement whatsoever. Vargas hit his stationary target with a right hand close to the end of the round that looked like it got more of Castilljeo's throat than it did his chin. Castilljeo's legs appeared shot and he froze after he took the punch. Castillejo was showing his age early in this fight. His legs appeared shot. Vargas floored the frozen Castillejo with two hooks to end the round.
In the mid rounds Vargas did do some good body-work by default, but Danny Smith's plan was for Vargas to box, to throw jabs and follow them with big right hands. This wasn't happening. Vargas , from a Kronk stance, was counter-punching Castillejo. The right hands were following big hooks to the body, not jabs.
The reason De La Hoya retained Mayweather Sr. to train him after the Trinidad fight was so he could master the Kronk-style art of in-fighting he taught Mayweather Jr. Vargas seemed to have taken a page from De La Hoya's training manual instead of adhering to Danny Smith's stick-and-move boxing strategy. Vargas was backing-up and counter-punching and Castillejo, at times, was getting the better of Vargas on the inside.
With Danny Smith's urging, Vargas did end the fight boxing - to the boos of an audience that came to see Vargas fight, not box, the way he did when he became the youngest fighter ever to win a title belt. The crowd on this day saw a Fernando Vargas that appeared to be not too sure how to execute new trainer Danny Smith's game plan. Regardless, Vargas still won the 10-rounder by unanimous decision.
Maybe a new game plan isn't the answer for Vargas. The old game plan was working for him. Sometimes, in boxing, they just move fighters along too fast. One might recall the boxing lesson De La Hoya gave Trinidad. De La Hoya boxed the fight of his life and the judges were unimpressed and his fans were let down. Taking the fight out of Fernando Vargas and making him a boxer won't help him beat a De La Hoya. Maybe Vargas should take another page from De La Hoya's book and get back to what he does best, fighting.