Roy Jones Jr., the former longtime pound-for-pound king, four-division titleholder and future Hall of Famer, did not know Jessie Vargas personally, but he had seen him fight in his role as a commentator for HBO, which televised Vargas' last two fights.
Jones watched Vargas eke out a debatable decision against Khabib Allakhverdiev in April to win a secondary junior welterweight world title and again in a tough, competitive decision win against Anton Novikov in his first defense in August.
About a month after facing Novikov, Vargas attended an event at Jones' new gym outside of Las Vegas and they talked. Jones, a believer in Vargas' potential, figured he could show Vargas a few things in the gym. Maybe give him a few pointers that could help his boxing technique.
"I seen him fight the last two fights but both times he just squeaked by," Jones said. "I was like, 'You didn't show no improvement so come by my gym and at least let me teach you how to [throw a left] hook.
"I said, 'I want to see you get better. I want you to be dominant.' I said, 'You should come by the gym and let me teach you how to hook and then go back to your trainer. I don't want to try to take you away from nobody. Matter of fact, your trainer can come with you, but come by and let me teach you how to hook.'"
Unknown to Jones at the time, Vargas' trainer, Ismael Salas, just one of the trainers Vargas has had during his career -- Robert Alcazar and Roger Mayweather have also trained him -- had accepted a job training boxers in England. Salas had worked with Vargas for only two fights but asked him if he wanted to come with him to England to continue training. Vargas, who lives in Las Vegas, was more comfortable training at home, so they amicably parted ways, leaving Vargas in the market for another cornerman.
"So Jessie came to the gym the next day and he brought his dad with him. I didn't know if he was his trainer or who he was at first," said Jones, learning later that Vargas and Salas had split. "The first day he kind of liked it, I guess, and he came back the next day and said, 'Why don't you just train me?'"
Knowing Vargas was in need of a trainer, Jones wanted to help. But he keeps a busy schedule. In addition to his own boxing career -- he is long past his prime but has won five fights in a row and holds out hope for a cruiserweight world title shot -- the 45-year-old Jones does a lot of traveling for appearances and also has his work for HBO. So he gave Vargas a choice.
"I told him I'm on the go a lot and I have a busy schedule so some days I can't get to the gym, so I got to get my guy to record your sparring and send it to me so I can break it down," Jones said. "I said, 'If you're willing to work with that I'm cool with it'."
Vargas was fine with it and Jones accepted the offer. The two did spend plenty of time working in the gym together over the past two months and Jones said Vargas was very receptive to what he has been teaching him.
They both hope he can put it all together when the 25-year-old Vargas (25-0, 9 KOs) makes his second title defense against dangerous former lightweight titlist Antonio DeMarco (31-3-1, 23 KOs), 28, a southpaw from Mexico, on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) on the Manny Pacquiao-Chris Algieri undercard at the Venetian Macao's Cotai Arena in Macau, China.
Vargas said working with Jones has been a great experience.
"We met for the first time at his gym for a fundraiser and right out of the blue he said he would like to give me tips on how to throw punches with much more power," Vargas said. "So I took him up on his offer and the very next day, in his gym in Las Vegas, he showed me a couple of things. I was intrigued by his method of teaching. That's when I asked him if he would train me. He accepted and I am very excited to be working with Roy. He has so much to teach me.
"He knows all about power. Who can ever forget Roy's big hook? His in-ring positioning is the best and that is what he is teaching me."
When Top Rank's Bob Arum, Vargas' promoter, heard that Vargas would be working with Jones, he thought it was a great idea.
"I was overjoyed," Arum said. "Roy doesn't have experience as a trainer but I know he is a tremendous communicator and part of being a trainer is being able to communicate with your fighters and get them to understand what they should be doing. And we all know Roy understands the sport and the technical nature of it. He's been doing it his whole life. But can he communicate? I believe he can.
"Jessie is crazy about the improvements he has made based on what Roy has been teaching him. According to Jessie, Roy has given him techniques that have greatly increased his punching power and his punching accuracy."
Jones will be busy on Saturday. His plan is to work Vargas' corner in the opening bout of the HBO PPV telecast and then quickly change his clothes and head to ringside to call the remaining three televised bouts with Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman.
Jones works with a few other young fighters and also serves as an assistant to former light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal, but Vargas will be his first fighter in a world title fight, and he is excited.
He said he has not yet thought seriously about becoming a full-time trainer because he still has goals in his own boxing career, but training is something he said he enjoys.
"When I give myself to these guys I give them my all," Jones said. "I am enjoying working Jessie but I'm not going to commit to [full-time training] yet because I ain't through fighting yet, but I love it. The biggest thing it does for me when I am in there working with these guys is that it reminds me to do the things I am teaching these guys. And I can say Jessie has been an excellent student."
Jones would love to broadcast a fight, work a corner and fight on the same night.
"I want to do it. I'm the only person who can pull it off," Jones said. "I think about that.
"These are things no other fighter can do. It would be an event, and boxing needs events."
Jones will pull off two of them on Saturday with Vargas, who is happy to be part of it.
"It's a thrill to be trained by Roy Jones. He not only tells you about a certain move but can show it to you, too," said Vargas, a possible future Pacquiao opponent. "When you are a champion there are challenges and you have to keep improving yourself. I have a lot of stake in this fight. Manny [might move] down to 140 pounds I am told. He is on my radar for the biggest fight of all."
With the potential Jones believes Vargas has, a fight with any big name would be right up their alley.
"Jessie has a whole lot of potential and potential to be a super exciting fighter because he loves to fight," Jones said. "Now he's getting balance and power and he's a problem. Now he's a problem for everyone."