Boxer Vargas one tough cookie

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:37 PM ET

Sam Vargas is a fighter with a reputation for being incredibly tough.

The kid’s taken some big shots in his pro boxing career, but he’s only been knocked out once, and that had nothing to do with boxing.

When the Mississauga fighter — who faces Montreal’s Manolis Plaitis for the vacant Canadian welterweight championship this Saturday at the Hershey Centre — was a young teenager, he was knocked out — put into a coma in fact. At the time, Vargas was living in his native Colombia with his dad and younger sister. A friend of his dad, a neighbour, came over one day with some croissants and soft drinks. All Vargas remembers after that was waking up in the hospital.

“There was something in the drink, a drug, maybe cocaine. I’m still not sure what it was,” said Vargas, who was 13 at the time. “But it put me in a coma for about a week.

“He emptied the whole house,” added Vargas, who, to this day, is astonished the guy did what he did. The man was well known in the neighbourhood, active in the local church.

“I used to play with his kids,” said Vargas. “His daughters were beautiful. He just went crazy.”

After that, it was decided that Vargas and his sister would join their mother in New York City, and get away from Colombia. In 2004, he and his mom moved on to Canada. His sister returned to Bogota to live with their dad.

“We lived in a shelter in Fort Erie for a while, and then a group brought up to Toronto,” he said.

To say that Vargas, 22, settled into a happy new life would be stretching the truth somewhat. Canada was certainly safer and offered stability, but the kid from the mean streets of Bogota often found himself getting into scraps at his school.

“I’d come home with imprints on my forehead or mashed up hands, and I’d get suspended” he said. “I always had this thing, I want to fight. I don’t know why. So my mom enrolled me in a gym.”

Now 8-0-1 as a pro, Vargas’s career is on the upswing, and if he defeats Plaitis on Saturday, his promotion team, Great Britain-based Hennessy Sports, is looking towards an NABA or NABF title bout in the not-so-distant future. But first Vargas has to get past Plaitis, which won’t be an easy task. With only one loss in 19 fights, and eight KOs, the slick-punching Plaitis, 26, is no slouch.

But Vargas has beaten the odds before. His win over another Montreal fighter, Ahmad Cheikho on Oct. 22 back at the Hershey Centre was an example of what makes this fighter tick. Cheikho, 6-3-2, nailed Vargas with at least three devastating shots in the fourth round of their brawl, before Vargas put the Lebanese-born fighter on to the canvas twice later in the round, en-route to a fifth round technical decision. American broadcaster Al Bernstein called it one of the best fights of the year.

“Sammy fights on pure heart,” said Don MacDonald, one of the promoter’s for Saturday’s Hershey Centre show. “Where he may lack in natural boxing ability, say compared to an Olympian, he makes up tenfold in heart.

“I would say probably THE toughest fighter I’ve ever seen,” MacDonald added. “Bryon Mackie (the former Canadian middleweight champ), made the comment, ‘When Ahmad Cheikho knocked Sammy down (in the second) the shot he hit Sammy with was a career-ending punch for any other fighter.’ But Sammy got up.”

How tough is Vargas? After he fought Tebor Brosch to a majority draw last February, a brawl between two Mississauga fighters, Vargas was diagnosed with a torn MCL, and underwent surgery.

“I fought him with one leg pretty much,” said Vargas. “The doctors were like, ‘You fought 10 rounds with this? You’re crazy.’”

There’s definitely a hard edge to Vargas, who has numerous tattoos over his body, including a picture of his two-year-old son Tiago. MacDonald considers him a modern-day Arturo Gatti — not a fighter with the most skill, but a brawler whose heart may take him on to world fame.

“He may never be as skilled as an Oscar De La Hoya, because of his limited amateur background, but he’ll always come to fight,” said MacDonald. “And for the person spending $30 on a ticket, they’re going to get their money’s worth.”

A few months ago, Vargas called his dad in Bogota, and heard some news about the neighbour who drugged and robbed them. The man had disappeared shortly after the robbery.

“My dad said he saw him begging in the street,” said Vargas.

So what did his dad do?

“He gave him some change,” said Vargas.

It’s probably a good thing that Sam wasn’t there.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

twitter@beezersun


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