THEN unbeaten 21-year-old ‘Ferocious’ Fernando Vargas entered the bout having stopped all of his previous 17 opponents and was making the third defence of the IBF belt he won almost exactly one year previous against Luis Ramon Campas to become the youngest man to win a ‘world’ light-middleweight title.
Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright would prove to be his younger opponents’ hardest test to date, bringing to the ring a water-tight defence, great balance, accurate punching and a far greater level of experience with a 41 fight ledger (39-2) that was analogous to a world tour.
The fight was a thrilling one, full of action with both boxers willing to trade punches under the lights of the Chinook Winds Casino Convention Center in Lincoln City, Oregon.
It was very much nip and tuck in the first six rounds, with Vargas notably winning the first and fourth rounds with his faster, sharper punching and Wright taking the second and sixth rounds by controlling the pace with his jab and work-rate.
The ebb-and-flow of the fight was, perhaps, best reflected by the tenth and eleventh rounds; the former won by the fighting heart of Vargas forcing Wright back over the last minute and the latter seeing the challenger take the round by drilling a couple of stiff right hands through a tiring Vargas’ defences.
The final round saw Fernando finish like a champion, scoring with a right to the head, then left to the body, before his momentum was halted by a slip. Conversely, ‘Winky’ was content enough with his evening’s work to raise his arms in victory about 10 seconds from the end when he may have been better off working with the outcome of the gripping battle about to be settled by the three scorers at ringside.
Judges Debra Barnes and Jim Howard scored the bout 116-122 and 115-113 for Vargas, respectively, with judge Dave Hess seeing the fight a draw with a score of 114-114, ensuring that Vargas would retain his belts as winner by a majority decision.
The decision did not constitute daylight-robbery by any means, but Debra Barnes’ 116-112 verdict in favour of Vargas certainly seems too wide given the ultra-competitive nature of the fight. Make no mistake, this was a close fight that still divides opinion to this day, but the scoring of the contest is very much open to interpretation. It is simply a case of what each individual scorer of the fight prefers with regards to winning rounds; the more powerful, eye-catching punches of the champion or the accurate and steady work produced by the challenger.
Wright was disappointed and left to reflect on a fight that he felt he ‘‘dominated’’ and ‘‘won’’, but, despite defeat, ‘Winky’ could console himself with the knowledge that his fellow- Americans – Vargas in particular – now knew who he was.
Following this encounter, Vargas would successfully defend his title twice more before being stopped in the twelfth, and final, round of a multiple-knockdown toe-to-toe war with the talented and then unbeaten Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad in December of 2000. ‘Winky’, meanwhile, would go on a 13 fight unbeaten run spanning more than seven years, which included two decision victories over Shane Mosley and a unanimous decision win over Vargas’ conqueror Felix Trinidad, before Bernard Hopkins defeated him in 2007.