Junior welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas, a month away from the biggest fight of his career and deep into his training camp, changed trainers this week, parting ways with one future Hall of Famer, Roy Jones Jr., in favor of another, Erik Morales.
Vargas, training in his hometown of Las Vegas, is preparing to challenge former two-division titleholder Timothy Bradley Jr. for a vacant welterweight world title on June 27 (HBO) at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, and with Jones' schedule making him available only sporadically -- and he was about to miss two weeks of camp -- Vargas had little choice but to make the change.
He came up with Morales, the Mexican star and former four-division titleholder, who was involved in several epic fights during his 2000s heyday. Vargas and Morales have known each other for several years.
"I am very religious so I began to pray for the right person to train me," Vargas said. "Instantly, the name of Erik Morales came to me. I was able to track him down and he came right to our training camp in Las Vegas. I watched practically of all Erik's big fights -- the wars with Marco Antonio Barrera, the fights against Manny Pacquiao. Erik always fought hard and with all his heart. That's who I want in my corner, someone who will give me everything they have to beat Bradley."
Morales' last fight was in 2012, when he was knocked out in the fourth round challenging junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia after being allowed to fight despite having failed a drug test days before the bout. He has never trained a fighter for a bout the magnitude of Bradley-Vargas. But he is vastly experienced as a fighter, having grown up around the sport and become an all-time great.
"I've trained many fighters in Mexico, but Jessie is the best fighter I will be working with and this is the biggest fight, against Bradley," Morales said. "We will win this fight. Jessie will put on pressure with intelligence and mix it up using counterpunching. Bradley likes to go into his comfort zone in the ring. We will attack there too."
Vargas (26-0, 9 KOs), 26, claimed a secondary junior welterweight belt in April 2012 on the Pacquiao-Bradley II undercard by narrowly outpointing Khabib Allakhverdiev. Vargas defended the belt twice last year, outpointing unbeaten Anton Novikov in August and former lightweight titleholder Antonio DeMarco in November and is moving back up to welterweight, where he has had several fights.
Jones' only fight with Vargas was the DeMarco bout, but he only spent a total of about two weeks working with him in the gym. With Jones also missing chunks of this training camp, Vargas felt that he needed more attention going into such a big fight with Bradley. Vargas initially linked up with Jones after his previous trainer, Ismael Salas, accepted a job training boxers in England, and they parted amicably when he left Las Vegas.
Morales will be Vargas' fifth trainer in his seven-year career, having also been trained by Robert Alcazar and Roger Mayweather.
Bradley (31-1-1, 12 KOs), 31, of Palm Springs, California, is a former junior welterweight and welterweight titlist looking to get back on track against Vargas. Since an impressive performance in a split-decision win against Mexican star Juan Manuel Marquez in October 2013, Bradley is 0-1-1.
He lost a lopsided decision to Pacquiao in their April 2014 welterweight title rematch after having gotten a highly controversial split-decision win against Pacquiao in June 2012. In December, Bradley was held to a split draw against Diego Chaves in a fight most ringside observers thought Bradley clearly won.