Sometimes you just know, you know? I couldn’t have been on the phone for more than 45 seconds, a minute at the most, and I knew. I’m not talking about Trinidad’s boxing ability, the professional career of the young man remains to be written, and while his fantastic amateur pedigree, a phenomenal 198 wins and a mere 12 losses suggests he is destined for success, in those initial moments, I found myself far more engrossed and enveloped by the character of this young man – I just knew there was something different.
At 16 years old, just one month shy of his 17th birthday, Trinidad Vargas stands with the world at his feet. You’d forgive him for being confident to the point of conceit– I mean, Vargas’ amateur record is astounding and speaks for itself; Two-time Junior Olympics gold medallist, 2018’s USA Boxing’s Junior Boxer of the Year and Vargas also held the no.1 position in no less than six different weight classes. The truth of the matter though is that Vargas' demeanour is one of natural humility, instantly dispelling even the slightest notion of arrogance or self-importance. Is it because Vargas lacks confidence? Don’t be foolish - When our conversation came around to the mere suggestion of fear and if turning over to the professional game as a teenager frightened him at all, Vargas dismissed the idea immediately - “Fear is probably the last thing that comes to mind when I’m thinking about this pro stuff. The only person I fear is God – That’s the only person I fear. If you bleed blood like me, I can’t fear you!”.
Image: Trinidad Vargas - Facebook
Confidence is easily cultivated through the familiarity of success, but what gives a 16-year-old such assurance and depth of self-belief? For Vargas, it’s a plethora of entities, but throughout our conversation there was a recurring theme that I couldn’t help but feel held the key – Nick Vargas, Trinidad’s father. Nick was a boxer himself back in the day and competed at a national level. Speaking with Trinidad, it’s plain to see that Nick, along with the rest of the Vargas family, form the cornerstone on which Trinidad is building himself as a fighter and also as a man. When I probed about Trinidad’s initial foray into boxing, he divulged it was his father who lit the fire within him – “My Dad used to be a boxer and he taught me some things here and there. I was playing soccer and doing boxing and my Dad showed me a little more about boxing and I just fell in love with the sport. Ever since then boxing has been my number one passion… In the beginning of my career, I was skeptical about it. I saw all these kids winning national titles and I didn’t win my first one until I was 13. Once I won that one, my Dad used to tell me ‘You’ve won a national title. So, fight like you’ve won a national title!’, after that I basically took off and he started giving me more confidence and I started winning a couple more and now I’ve got like 20 titles… You know what, he got me to where I am right now – All I had to do was listen. He would tell me ‘All you’ve got to do is listen and I can take you to the next level. Listen, stay focused and I will get you to where you need to be’ and sure enough, here I am, possibly making my pro debut this summer.”
Image: Trinidad Vargas - Facebook
There is something quite fascinating about talking to Trinidad – Of course, you’re aware that you’re talking to a highly decorated prospect who is looking to do damage as a professional, but I also had to remind myself he is only 16. I don’t intend “only 16” to be patronising or condescending, on the contrary, Trinidad speaks concisely, confidently, and with a level of consideration that not many 16-year-olds can that I had to remind myself. I tentatively put it to Trinidad that some pros will surely consider him “just a kid” – “I wouldn’t consider myself as just a kid. I consider myself as a coming up in the highest level – I feel like I can make noise in the pro ranks!”.
We spoke for a while and touched on a range of subjects, the obvious topics being the transition to the pro game, and why now? Was Trinidad tempted to aim for the 2024 Olympics? What are the push and pull factors in play? It seems perfectly reasonable to wonder if maybe, just maybe, something had pushed Trinidad too soon. Surely, he could aim for the Olympics and then turn pro? and even then, he would still only be 21. But with every question I asked, there was an answer – and not just answers for the sake of answers - There was an assurance in Trinidad’s responses that no decision was ever rushed, that each change was intentional and strategic. The Olympics are four years away, Trinidad sees himself fighting in and around world level by that point. When we talked about Trinidad’s partnership with Javiel Centeno in Sweatbox Gym in Florida, Trinidad told me that he had done his due diligence – Of course, the decision-making process started out with a consultation with his father, some additional support from good friend and 4-0 prospect Xander Zayas before visiting Centeno’s gym himself and feeling that the connection was right.
Another key decision for Team Vargas was in who would manage Trinidad. It was never talked about, but surely a commodity as hot as Trinidad would have attracted attention from promoters and managers far and wide? Team Vargas felt that the highly-acclaimed, Peter Kahn, was the man to put at the helm of Trinidad's career. Kahn has spoken openly in the media that he feels Trinidad's style is more suited to the pros, and while he expects Trinidad to make some noise, Kahn is well-aware that time is on their side - "Trinidad is going to be an exciting professional to watch. Soon to be 17 years old, we're in no rush as to how we move him forward in his career. We're going to take it slow and let him gain the experience that will serve to be invaluable as he matures."
The overwhelming impression I took was that Team Vargas know what they are doing and more importantly they know why they are doing it.
Image: Trinidad Vargas - Facebook
When I first heard about Trinidad, immediately I wanted to reach out and see if we could talk to him – Who wouldn’t? A record of 198-12, national honours, international honours, USA Boxing Junior Boxer of the Year, two-time junior Olympics medallist. Trinidad looks destined for success. But analysing his credentials and speculating about what the future holds for him in the ring seemed almost too simple. If his amateur record and self-assurance are anything to go by, boxing journalists will write reams about Trinidad for years to come. Pundits will analyse his performances in minute detail and with acute precision. Crowds will marvel at his brutal artistry. There’s every chance that I have been fortunate enough to spend time talking with a future world champion and one of boxing’s stars of tomorrow and yet, while knowing that all of those predictions may come true, I couldn’t shift that feeling that Trinidad’s true value lies not in his gloves, but in his character.
“I do feel young, but I’ve always had an adult mindset and I always set the bar high for myself. I’m just starting. Once I signed with Peter Kahn, I was excited, don’t get me wrong, but after that I was like ‘Man, there’s more things to come so I’ve got to keep working to get to those things’… I try to keep it all right in the middle, I try to keep a balance. I don’t want to go too over my head but at the same time I don’t want to be sounding too nervous or soft. I try to keep it right in the middle at a moderate mindset. Everybody really wants to go out there and win, that’s obvious, but at the same time, you don’t want to say it too much to where you jinx yourself and get knocked out. I try to keep it at a moderate mindset.”
Poised. Self-assured. Intentional. Skilled. Dangerous. The Trinidad Vargas story looks set to be an exhilarating one.
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