From Colombia to Canada, Samuel Vargas fights for a better life
One by one, the opponents fell as Samuel Vargas climbed the professional ranks. Each fight showed a little more. He was a little lighter on his feet, a little more snap in the jab, a little more head movement.
A blip in 2013 only seemed to motivate the young fighter more as he rallied to knock off five straight opponents and reclaim his spot as Canada’s top super welterweight.
Then the Errol Spence fight on PBC happened.
Without quite admitting it, Vargas knew the fight was a long shot as best, an impossible challenge at worst. On 14 days’ notice, he began cutting weight, draining his body of the energy needed for his hard-hitting, forward-moving style. The faster, sharper Spence defeated him soundly in just four rounds.
“I took a fight that was good for me and my team money wise,” said Vargas. “It is what it is, you win some and lose some. I put myself in a better place in life so that I could keep boxing.”
It’s an odd admission from a professional fighter, taking an almost unwinnable fight on short notice because the money was right. We’d never hear the top fighters admit such a thing, but those fighters rarely make for a good story anyways.
On 11 August, Vargas returns to the ring in Toronto against Mexican journeyman Ulises Jimenez in search of redemption. Like how Vargas was brought in to lose to Spence, Jiminez has been brought in with the intention of making Vargas look good. This is part of the game, fighting opponents who give you the opportunity to work on new skills with little threat of losing.
To sit down and think about it outside the scope of boxing, it makes sense. A young man with a son he’s trying to support jumps at an opportunity to improve his family’s situation. It almost would seem silly not to. In a sport where fighters are so protective of their records, Vargas proved a throwback to a different age, where fighters would fight frequently with little regard for their records.
He fights for the money to help his family and the pride it brings to the Colombian community. He competes because he loves it, the one thing that kept him out of trouble when he arrived in Canada at 15, bitter and alone in a strangle land.
It’s always interesting to ask a fighter where their desire to fight comes from, or where they get their mental strength. Answers are usually the same, something about being born with it or overcame traumatic events along the line.
As Vargas explains his story, there’s really no need to ask the question. He came from a tough place and survived; it made him stronger.
“My dad, working five jobs, seeing all the things he went through; my mom bringing me up here. I've seen all these people in my life being mentally strong and positive,” Vargas said. “I feel like I took to that.”
Born in 1989, Vargas spent the first 15 years of his life in Colombia. His father worked five jobs and tried to be a good dad when he could. Vargas’s mother knew they had to leave Colombia to find a better life. After a brief stay in New York City, they moved to the Toronto suburb city of Mississauga.
“I was blessed to have food,” Vargas said, humbly. “Being poor down there, kids grow up with no parents and no food. I didn't have all the things that kids have now or even what my son has, but what matters most I had a father figure and a mother figure. Those are the things that made me into who I am. We didn't have a lot of nice things but I had a bicycle and a basketball. It was a very humble upbringing.”
For months they slept on the floor of a friend’s apartment, carpet gnawing at their face. Eventually they could afford a mattress; you don’t know the comfort of a mattress until you don’t have one. Then they got an apartment. Then they got a car.
School was difficult as well. Vargas entered the school with almost no knowledge of the English language, alone again in a strange place.
“I was the only Colombian in the school, it was just me and a Mexican buddy,” Vargas said with a chuckle. “You have no way but to learn English.”
After getting into fights at school and having the streets call his name, Vargas’s mother enrolled him in a local boxing gym. It taught him discipline, helped him mature and gave him something to keep him occupied.
Only 12 fights into his amateur career, he made the decision to turn pro. He went undefeated in 17 straight bouts, making him one of Canada’s most highly touted prospects. Although the Spence bout was an admitted setback, Tuesday night provides the opportunity to continue his redemption tour. A win puts him back in the running for another opportunity at a big opponent. He’s hoping that a victory will earn him a spot on the 11 September PBC card in Toronto.
It almost seems like a movie. A young man and his mother move to Canada to try and escape their impoverished life in Colombia, struggling to find their footing early on. To try and avoid trouble, the young man enrols in the boxing gym, learns discipline and becomes one of the country’s top boxers.
Of course, any good movie needs a conclusion. Vargas continues to search for his big opportunity, a chance to prove he’s a world-class competitor. A win Tuesday night will push him closer to the big chance he craves.