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Published: Tuesday, 11/5/2002

Vargas, Garcia eye Olympics

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Toledo's Devin Vargas, left, is USA Boxing's No. 2-ranked heavyweight and has been working out with the top-ranked amateur super heavyweight, George Garcia. Toledo's Devin Vargas, left, is USA Boxing's No. 2-ranked heavyweight and has been working out with the top-ranked amateur super heavyweight, George Garcia.
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It's kind of hard to miss, that 1988 Buick Century that's half gray, half rust.

A bit of advice; don't mess with its occupants if you see it tooling around town.

The driver, Toledo's Devin Vargas, is USA Boxing's No. 2 ranked heavyweight. The passenger, George Garcia from Phoenix, is the country's top-ranked amateur super heavyweight.

Both 20-year-olds are leading candidates to land spots on the U.S. Olympic boxing team for the 2004 Athens Games. Two weeks ago, and for the second time since January, Garcia made a trip to Toledo to train with the friend he first met at the 2001 U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs.

He certainly didn't come to ride in the Buick.

“When we approach a stoplight, people don't even try to hide it,” Garcia said. “They just look at us and laugh.”

One day, both fighters will likely laugh all the way to the bank when they cash lucrative professional paychecks. Now, assuming it makes it to the light, they ride in the car that once belonged to Vargas' grandmother.

“The first week I was here, we ran out of gas four times,” Garcia said. “The passenger door doesn't open either. It's just like a date. I've got to wait until he comes around and opens the door for me.”

If it's not the gas-poor rust-bucket, the laughter from bystanders might have something to do with the black wool hats that feature pull-down ear flaps with strings that tie underneath the chin, purchased by the boxers last month in Milwaukee, where both won titles at the American Boxing Classic.

They've worn the Russian-style hats everywhere except for a punk rock concert.

“We didn't want to get jumped,” Garcia said.

That's pretty unlikely. Garcia is 5-9, 240. Vargas is 6-3, 190. The pair have spent the past two weeks pounding the pavement and each other.

“We run together, we work out together,” Vargas said. “Hopefully, I'm helping him out with my speed. I know there's no one in my weight class that can give me that kind of a workout. With George, I'm used to getting hit hard and having a guy leaning on you that's heavy.

“We're still friends, even when we spar. But we know we have to get down to business sometimes. The bell at the gym will ring when there's 30 seconds left and we go toe-to-toe.”

On Friday, the pair knocked heads while knocking heads at the Glass City Boxing Gym on Suder Avenue.

“He head-butted me, but he didn't think he did,” Vargas said.

Responded Garcia: “I didn't do it on purpose. He head-butted me first. He didn't tell you that, did he?”

Back and forth it goes, bobbing and weaving, two who would like nothing more than to be together in Greece less than two years from now.

“For both of us, it's a dream to go to the Olympics,” Garcia said. “To go together, that would be really cool.”

Until then, there's other work to be done. Vargas leaves Thursday for London without his buddy. He'll represent America in a meet against England that doesn't include super heavyweights.

Come late January or early February, the Toledoan will make his first trip to Garcia's Arizona home as both boxers prepare for the U.S. Championships scheduled for March in Colorado Springs.

Sometime too, Garcia said, he'll return to Toledo, where he and his friend can wear their ugly hats and ride in that one-of-a-kind automobile that has generated so much laughter inside and out.

A point of reference; if you do happen to see the easy-going pair sporting their unique combination of attire and four tires, just let it go. This is one tag-team with which you don't want to pick a fight.

Said Garcia, with a laugh: “We talk about that all the time. If they only knew ... if they only knew.”



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