Fernando “El Feroz” Vargas is a former three-time light middle weight boxing world champion that was known for his ferocity in the ring (El Feroz mean The Ferocious). Known for his quick and aggressive style of boxing, he was the type of fighter to trade blows in the middle of the ring and pick apart an opponent’s defense so quickly, a half a second of confusion would find a fighter on the mat. Of his 26 career wins, 22 of those were knockouts. He amassed a huge fan base, mostly Latinos, thanks to his passion in the ring and his pride for his Mexican-American culture. Really, who has Aztec dancers precede his entry into the ring? Even in his five losses, the heart he showed stick with fans until this day. Seriously, he has a bunch of fan-made tribute videos on YouTube.
Since Vargas, now 36, retired from boxing in 2007, his energy is spent being a husband to his wife Martha and father to his four children — Fernando “Papas” Jr. (17), Amado (12), Emiliano (8) and Mibella “China” (6). He also recently opened a gym in Las Vegas called El Feroz Factory. So even though he’s no longer training, doing press conferences and getting in the ring to battle the best fighters in the world, his life is still crazy busy — and he wants you to see it.
On Sunday, January 26, his reality show Welcome to Los Vargas, will debut on Mun2 (you’ll be able to watch episodes online too at mun2.tv/vargas). We caught up with Fernando and Martha in Los Angeles to talk about the new show, life after boxing and how his kids love beating him up in video games.
Why did you guys decide to do the show?
Fernando: I think we have a story to tell. We’ve been in this relationship… we’ve been together since were kids. We were kids having kids but we’ve been together 20 years this year. And I think reality TV right now is nothing but drama. We want to inspire people and show them that if you have faith in God and faith in yourself, that you’ll be able to last in a relationship. I think that my kids are dynamic and my wife has been with me through the good, the bad and the ugly. She’s been with me since she was 15, know what I mean? I just feel like people are really going to identify with us. And then we have my father-in-law that lives with us too. It’s very Latino to have a father-in-law, to have a tio (uncle) or tia (aunt), a grandpa or abuelita (grandmother) at the house living with you. It’s going to be a lot of laughs and I think people are going to enjoy it.
So how did you guys meet, 20 years ago?
Martha: He was cruising with his friend and he pulled over and he asked me three things: If those were my eyes, if I was Mexican and if I spoke Spanish.
Fernando: And the rest is history!
Were you cruising looking for parties or what?
Martha: I was walking, going to the mall. He was driving.
Fernando: It was me and my best friend, we were going to get a burrito at Tacos de Mexico on Xavier in Oxnard, everybody knows where that’s at. I saw this beautiful woman and I pulled over. She wouldn’t give me her phone number but I gave her mine and she called!
And you were 17, before the boxing career even started?
Fernando: Well, I was an amateur, winning national titles. But she didn’t know who I was. We ended up falling in love and 20 years later, here we are.
Martha: He had amnesia for a while that he was married….
Fernando: Well, I got hit in the head once… and it made me forget a lot of things… But now it’s coming back! All my memory is coming back!
You ever had to step to some fools for trying to holler at Martha?
Fernando: Nah… everybody knew what was up. You don’t want to do that! Hands off!
Was there ever a concern about having the kids on TV?
Martha: We talked about it as a family. We were honest to ourselves and to our kids. We have an awesome manager and we talked about the pros and cons but I feel it’s important for Latinos to be looked at this way. It’s a big responsibility to have the family there but it’s also an opportunity to show his success outside of the ring. People sometimes say that success is only through your career. But I feel like if you think my husband was successful in the ring, that’s why I want to show our family, show him as a father too. We were young and we made mistakes but overall with our faith and communication, I think it’s important for families to know, not just a Latino family, but every other family, that we can be relatable to them and they can be relatable to us. And it’s important to have positive stuff on TV.
Has Fernando always been a jokester?
Martha: All his life! That’s what kept me. I think that’s what always kept us together. We’re best friends. We laugh a lot.
Fernando: We love to laugh. You’re going to see a lot of laughs on our show because we love to laugh. I just feel that life is too short to not laugh.
Martha: It’s too precious to be upset.
Fernando: We joke a lot. I’ll do anything to make her smile. I think that’s what kept our relationship so fresh. I don’t feel like I’ve been with her long. She’s my best friend, she’s my rib, I tell her everything she tells me everything, it’s a beautiful thing.
What about during his career and around fight time, was Fernando a lot more serious?
Martha: Well, being with a fighter, you have to understand the fighter. I always describe him as bi-polar. Because they’re training and they isolate themselves for three months. Then they go into the ring and they’re trying to win, their confidence is up and it’s the old sport of gladiators. Then once he steps out the ring, he’s loving, he’s back to being dad, the husband. After doing all that, it’s like “how do you do that? You have to be bi-polar!” But I tell him, once he steps out that ring, you’re not El Feroz no more. You’re Fernando, my husband and your kids’ dad. He’s done good balancing that personality. Sometimes El Feroz wants to come into the family and I have to kick him out!
So you were able to just turn it off when you got home?
Fernando: You know, I’ve been a fighter most my life, since I was 10 years old until I was 29, that’s 19 years. But when you’re a fighter, you’re a fighter until the day they put you six feet underground. I’m always going to be that fighter. I don’t know any other way. There’s times when my son tries to wake me up in the morning, shaking me like “Dad… dad” and I get up real [fast, with my fists clenched] and he’s like “Dad, why do you get up like you’re gonna hit me or you’re gonna punch me? All you want to do is fight.” And I have to explain to him, “Son, that’s what your dad is. That’s what I am. I’m a fighter.” That’s just me, but now I’m happily retired and I have a different objective and that’s to train fighters in the boxing ring. In one of the episodes you’ll see me training a Feroz sparring partner that beat a well-known name out there that people know. You gotta tune in!
Have you guys already seen most of the episodes of your show?
Martha: We’ve seen a few so far.
Fernando: Just a couple. I’m blessed to be one of the executive producers of the show, so if there’s something we don’t like… I don’t want my family to be looked upon as a circus, ya know? We have a great manager that helped us get that. We’re able to be us but at the same time if something may look a little bad, “yeah, I don’t want that on.”
So there’s possibly some footage that you filmed where you’re like… “hmm, I don’t know about that.”
Martha: Actually, there’s some moments we decided would be better because that’s the reality of it. The people are going to see a side that’s real. We’ve made a decision to let a lot of that in. And I think that it’s for good. So hopefully you guys will be able to relate, as a father, as a brother, as a husband… it’s not just the fighter now. You’re going to see him as yourself. We’re no different than anyone else, we all have the same problems. That’s why we thought it was important to leave those life situations in the show.
So then Junior is okay with you guys calling him Papas on national TV?
Martha: He doesn’t really like it but that what we call him!
Fernando: He doesn’t really like it but that’s not something he can take away! You are Papas and I’m gonna call you Papas and the more you tell me not to say it, the more I’m gonna say it! He’s Papas, I’m Prieto, Emi I call my man, I call my daughter Chinita, everybody has a nickname. My tio called me Prieto when I was a kid, because I was prieto (dark-skinned), just like his dad. It’s how we are as a family, Latinos have nicknames for all their kids.
Martha: All the kids have nicknames, we don’t call each other by our names.
You recently opened a new gym in Las Vegas.
Fernando: Yup, El Feroz Factory
Martha: We opened it close to two months ago.
Fernando: We opened it in North Las Vegas where it’s considered “the hood.” Why? Because that’s where all the diamonds in the rough are at.
Martha: That’s where it’s needed. My husband felt like out of all Las Vegas, that’s where it was needed. That area didn’t have a gym. Our raza, our culture, was wanting a gym so bad so we felt like it was the perfect area. And he’s always there! Sometimes I’m like “go home!” and he’s like “No!” He’s there like ALL DAY!
Fernando: I love it. I love being in the gym and being able to pad with people. I can teach them things that I was taught by my jefe, Eduardo Garcia, show them the things that was taught to me.
Martha: We’re also working on getting tutoring for the kids there because a lot of parents work two to three jobs and the kids’ academics are not great. I feel like we inherited kids. We have a bunch of kids at El Feroz Factory. We talk to them and sometimes their moms come in there broken like, “I don’t know what to do with this kid, he’s having problems.” So it’s just not a gym, we also counsel them, we’ve been through stuff like that, we know what they’re going through. So if we could give them attention, I think it’s great, we’re all helping each other out.
Are the Garcias involved with the show or gym in anyway?
Fernando: Well, Garcia, my jefe, will be in one episode. There’s a situation where I stop by and talk to him with one of my kids. You’ll be able to see how much I care for Garcia and how much I love him. I never had a father, my father was never around. So I thank the Lord that he put such a great man in front of me to teach me and for me to learn. I was able to learn a lot from him. If it wasn’t for him… he took the time to train me, to counsel me, to give me advice. I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Since you grew up without a father, how does that affect how you father your children?
Fernando: Well, in one of the episodes you’ll see. My biological comes around and there’s certain things that happened, real life situations… you guys are gonna trip out —
Martha: — You will feel Fernando’s heartbeat. You will know how he feels in that moment. It’s a very sensitive subject for him but he opens up to his fans so you guys can understand the past. It’s like going to fill in the pieces that boxing didn’t show. It’s a side that he’s giving to his fans for always being there and supportive, so hopefully for somebody else if they’re going through what Fernando went through. I think it’s great. For him to even allow that to be shown, I think it’s amazing.
Do you watch any of your old fights?
Fernando: Not really. But when people make tribute videos I look at them and I’m humbled by them. And they say things like “Never Forget El Feroz,” it’s a beautiful thing.
Do the kids watch them?
Martha: Oh, the kids love them. My youngest ones are always like, “How come I wasn’t at the fights?” The oldest, Papas, has always been there and Amado. Emiliano came later. But they do watch them and they love it. When they play video games, they fight to be their dad.
Do they ever come bragging like, “I beat you up in the video game!”
Fernando: One of them will come and say, “Dad, I knocked you out and you didn’t get up!” And I said, “I always got up.” Look at my fights, I always got up! Nobody ever counted to 10. TKO is a different thing, but even when they stopped the fight, I always got up. So that guy on there, that didn’t get up? That’s not me!
Martha: The kids know how to pick at him. It starts a big ole thing!
Fernando, you were tweeting about having another baby in 2014.
Martha: No! That was a joke. He was kidding. No.
So you guys are done?
Fernando: If she says we’re done, then I guess we’re done.
Martha: No. We got my dad, and that’s like having another kid, so we’re good.
Fernando: I was playing, thinking about this year maybe we’ll have another baby.
Martha: You better stop joking because people will take it serious!
I think one of the things people will notice about you on the show… you aren’t as “small” as you used to be.
Martha: Well, he’s retired, now he eats!
Fernando: I’m retired, man. People always ask, “What happened?” I’m like, “Man, I ate!” I was bigger too. Believe me I was bigger, but I’ve lost a lot of weight. But I’m happily retired so I don’t have to be running around or whatever. But I’m still in the gym, running, working out. I run about two miles then I do the bags with the kids. I’m eating right. I’ve lost a lot of weight compared to where I was but I’m still a work in progress.