PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - November 08, 2016 
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Story by John DiSanto
Photos by Darryl Cobb Jr. /


Samuel Vargas, 25-2-1, 13 KOs, is hard at work in Miami training for his big opportunity against two-division champion Danny Garcia, 32-0, 18 KOs, which scheduled for Saturday night in Philadelphia.  Vargas was plucked from a list of potential foes and grabbed the chance to fight Garcia in the champion’s 10-round, non-title, homecoming bout at the Liacouras Center. 

Vargas knows that a win against the undefeated Garcia would be a life-changer, and a chance to make his bones with boxing fans on one night.  However, Vargas also knows that he is expected to come to North Philly to lose, and allow Garcia to keep his already-scheduled welterweight title unification fight with Keith Thurman on track for March 4, 2017. 

But Vargas doesn’t plan to stick to the script. 

“I’m going there to explode everyone’s plans and to make my name known,” Vargas said. 

A win on Saturday night for the Toronto-based Colombian would certainly shake up the welterweight division.  Few give Vargas much of a chance, but he embraces the underdog role.

“I’ve been an underdog my whole life,” Vargas said.  “I just keep persisting, keep my will and keep working hard.  If you work hard and you have faith and you believe, things will eventually happen.  We’re ready for a tough fight.  We know who Danny is.  Two division world champion.  He cleaned out the division at 140 pounds.  He hits hard, but we’re ready for all of that.  We’re going to be there to take the win.” 

Garcia is fighting in Philly for the first time since 2010.  He’s also co-promoting the fight, and perhaps, looking ahead to the Thurman bout.  If these factors pull Danny’s attention away from the actual fight, it would be a boost for Vargas.  A distracted Garcia would be Vargas’ biggest advantage. 

“It really comes down to how mentally strong he is,” Vargas said about Garcia.  “I think the media is playing a big role.  It could be a distraction for him, or it could not.  The media makes it seem like he’s just going to fight Keith Thurman.  I think that’s beneficial for me.  I have to concentrate on my fight and Danny has to concentrate on whatever the media is telling him about Keith Thurman.  Although I think he’s a smart guy and he’s isn’t going to look past me.  I’m a legitimate guy and I’m going to be there, and I’m going to take the win.” 

If you read most accounts of the pre-fight build up, you’d agree with Vargas.  Every article spends more time on Garcia’s bout with Thurman than Saturday night’s ten-rounder.  If Garcia isn’t looking past Vargas, the media sure is. 

“It doesn’t really bother me,” Vargas said.  “It gives me incentive.  It gives me incentive to spoil his plans.  I want to make my name known and let them know that I’m here.”

By Vargas’ side is head trainer Billy Briscoe, an old-school Philadelphia strategist who thinks his man has a good chance to upset the apple cart, but knows that his opinion is in the minority.   

“Sam is a smart guy,” Briscoe said.  “We know we’re going in the shark tank, but what they don’t realize is that we’re not a guppy.  We’re a shark too.  So when the time comes, we’ll be ready.” 

Briscoe grew up in the Philly gyms and has even logged much time with Danny Garcia. 

“I know Danny better than 95% of the people,” Briscoe said.  “I probably know Danny better than he knows himself.  But it doesn’t really matter if I know him or not because the game plan that we’re using would defeat him whether I knew him or if I saw him on tape.” 

Neither Briscoe nor Vargas were willing to discuss that game plan.  A fight strategy is always guarded like gold bricks at Fort Knox, and only a few scraps of true data is usually shared. 

“He has a lot of weapons,” Briscoe said of Garcia.  “He’s cleverly awkward with his techniques.  He does certain things that are awkward, but he’s made them part of his arsenal.  It’s effective.  Crooked punches are harder to see coming.  Everyone says the shortest distance between two points is the straight line, but you train for the straight lines.  You don’t train for the crooked ones.  We train for the crooked ones as well.  He’s got a few tricks up his sleeve, but Sam’s not a slouch.  They may not know him because he ain’t been exposed in the mainstream media, but the best secrets are the secrets best kept.” 

Briscoe too sees Danny’s full plate leading up to the fight as an advantage for Vargas, but he is not just depending on a distracted Garcia come Saturday. 

“All the pressure is on him,” Briscoe said about Garcia.  “It’s his house.  He’s the co-promoter.  He’s got the Thurman thing looming over his head.  Personally I don’t think Danny’s dumb enough to underestimate anybody.  I think he’s matured into an intelligent fighter.  I don’t think he’s going to underestimate anybody, but now the media is putting undue pressure on him.  He’s got a lot of pressure on him.  The only pressure we have is to find a way to win.

“He’s got to wear a lot of hats,” Briscoe continued.  “But we’re preparing for the best Danny possible.  We’re preparing for the King Kong Danny.  If a spider monkey Danny shows up, that’s better for us.  If the King Kong Danny shows up, we’re ready for that too.” 

Most believe that it will be the King Kong Danny across the ring on Saturday night, working hard to keep the Thurman fight on the calendar. 

“I never get the easy assignments,” Briscoe said.  “I always get the mission almost impossible, but the key word to that is almost.  Every fighter is beatable.  There’s more to Danny than meets the eye, but he’s a man and any man is beatable.  We’re working on some things to neutralize his strengths and capitalize on his weaknesses.” 

“I feel good,” Vargas said.  “Training camp is good.  I feel sharp, I feel strong.  So I expect great results.  I have to be smart that night and cautious at all times.  We know he’s going to come for the knockout.  We know that already.” 

“Sam’s prepared to go a hard ten,” Briscoe said.  “We don’t expect to knock Danny out.  If the knockout comes, it comes.  We’re prepared to go a hard ten and find a way to win.  We either Find a way or make a way.” 

Garcia vs. Vargas will be televised by Spike TV, with two additional 10-rounders broadcast live.  Six more fights will play out for the ringside fans, and the entire card, promoted by Kings Promotions and Swift Promotions, looks like an excellent preview of the Philadelphia area’s next generation of boxing stars. 

The scheduled nationally televised co-feature pits Wilmington’s Omar Douglas, 17-0, 12 KOs, in the biggest test of his career, against former champion Javier Fortuna, 30-1-1, 22 KOs, in a 10-round junior lightweight bout.  Douglas has looked promising thus far, but the Dominican southpaw will give a true assessment of the undefeated prospect’s skills. 

“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time,” Douglas said.  “My career is at its highest point right now, and I’m making the necessary steps to become world champion.  This is just a step to becoming world champion.  I’m making the necessary steps at 17-0.  Some fighters aren’t willing to take the risks.  But I’m here and I’m willing to take the risks to be great.” 

The other televised bout is a junior middleweight meeting between Maryland’s Jarrett Hurd, 18-0, 12 KOs, and Romanian Ionut Dan Ion, 35-3, 18 KOs.  This fight figures to be another stern test for another young rising star (Hurd). 

Philadelphian Milton Santiago, 15-0, 3 KOs, grew up watching Danny Garcia train in the same gym.  On Saturday, he’ll fight an 8-round junior welterweight bout on Garcia’s show. 

“It’s the first time in my career I’ve been on a big card like this,” Santiago said.  “So it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and I thank God every day for it.  I’m blessed.  I’ve been training in the same gym as him (Garcia) since I was about five, six years old.  I used to run around and hit the bag when he was men’s division (amateur), and I always looked up to him.  So this is awesome.” 

In another 8-rounder, Delaware middleweight Kyrone Davis, 10-1, 4 KOs, returns after his first professional defeat.  Davis battled back well in that fight, but still lost a squeaker.  He took the loss hard, but has a high-profile opportunity to get back to the win column on Saturday. 

Each of the three scheduled six-rounders on the card features a rising Philadelphian - junior lightweight Antonio Dubose, 8-1-1, 2 KOs, junior welterweight Naim Nelson, 13-2, 1 KO, and junior lightweight Thomas (TJ) Velasquez, 5-0, 4 KOs.  Dubose and Velasquez are young fighters in their first few years in the pro ranks.  Nelson is a bit more experienced, but all three are a nice cross section of Philly’s next wave of top fighters.    

In the only four-rounder, Joseph Serrano makes his pro debut against Danny Garcia’s cousin, Jeffery Torres, 1-0, 1 KO. 

Garcia is serving as the “big brother” to much of the talent on this card, and this was all part of his plan for his homecoming show. 

“That’s another reason I’m happy,” Garcia said about the fight card.  “The young guys get to fight in their hometown too.  I open up a lot of doors for young fighters in Philly.  Little Milton Santiago, Omar Douglas, Tommy Velasquez.  There’s a couple other guys on there too.  My cousin Jeffery Torres.  He’s from Connecticut, but his family is from Philadelphia.  It’s going to be exciting.  It feels good.” 




John DiSanto - Philadelphia - November 08, 2016