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Published: Monday, 2/5/2001

Toledo's Vargas is on his way to top

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Teenager Devin Vargas will take on the No. 1-rated heavyweight in Colorado Springs, Colo. in mid-March. Teenager Devin Vargas will take on the No. 1-rated heavyweight in Colorado Springs, Colo. in mid-March.
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Devin Vargas is climbing the charts these days faster than the latest musical release from Madonna.

The 19-year-old freshman communications major at the University of Toledo is rated the second-best amateur heavyweight boxer in the country.

USA Boxing released its quarterly computer rankings last month and the June graduate of Start High School trails only Anthony Stewart of Chicago on the squared circle's Who's Who list.

“It's a big motivation to go from not being ranked (early last year) to No. 2,” Vargas said.

Sort of like making the jump from singing in the shower to performing on the Grammy Awards.

“He's only 19?” Tom Mustin asked. “That's really good.”

Mustin should know what's good. The 54-year-old from Tacoma, Wash., was the head coach of the United States Olympic boxing team last year in Sydney, Australia. He also served as vice chairman of the International Boxing Committee in 2000.

A Vargas fight is something he hasn't seen yet, but Mustin has noticed the results. He's chairman of the USA amateur boxing ranking committee.

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“The ratings are based on where you place in the major tournaments,” Mustin said. “The big three are the U.S. Championships, the national Police Athletic League Championships and the national Golden Gloves tournament. Point totals are calculated by a computer based on where you finish in those tournaments.”

Vargas finished first in the Golden Gloves last May in Detroit and won the heavyweight crown in the USA-Ireland Dual in Connecticut last October. He was scheduled to fight in the PAL event in New Orleans just before Christmas, but came down with tonsillitis and had to withdraw.

The teenager will get a crack at Stewart and the No. 1 spot March 11-17 in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the nationally televised U.S. Championships. He is currently training under the direction of his father, Ray, and former national Golden Gloves champion Gil Yanez.

“Not just because he's my son, but right now he's the one to beat,” Ray Vargas said. “He's always been good, but to pick it up the way he has - the pressure doesn't seem to bother him. I've told him, the only one who can screw this up is himself.”

That may be true. Although he gives away some 10 years in age to Stewart, Vargas is the quicker fighter. If Vargas wins in Colorado or places in the top four, he'll go back there in April for the right to compete with the top three challengers in his weight class with the winner going to June's World Championships in Belfast, Ireland.

“It's crucial,” Devin said of the March tourney. “It'll make me or break me this year.”

For this year's rankings, perhaps.

But not for 2004 and that's the number Vargas is really watching.

That's the date of the next summer Olympics.

“That's my real goal,” Devin said. “I want to be there.”

Mustin knows that. He also knows that Vargas is in a great position to represent his city and country in Greece.

“If he stays focused, he'll be in a good spot for 2004,” Mustin said. “He's got to stay focused, stay in condition, keep an open mind and don't get the big head. A lot of times that's hard for younger people. But if he can do that, I'd say that at his age, he's on the right track to be an Olympian.”

Which would be the ultimate for the 6-3, 190-pounder, much better than his lofty ranking right now.

“I know Toledo's banking on me,” Devin said. “Now that they have a ranked fighter, I need to keep winning to prove to myself and everybody in Toledo that the Golden Gloves wasn't a fluke.

“When I win, I like the feeling that I did well for Toledo. I want to put Toledo on the boxing map.”

Thanks to Vargas, it's already No. 2 on the charts.



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