Occasionally De La Hoya can be roused to public confrontation. When Vargas was training for Raul Marquez, an Olympic teammate of De La Hoya's, the Golden Boy offered up his camp to Marquez. Then, having heard Vargas was making a public appearance, De La Hoya and Marquez showed up at the Big Bear restaurant where he was signing autographs and sat down, provoking a profane outburst from Vargas. De La Hoya feigned surprise at finding Vargas there, laughed and called him a "celebrity stalker."
And so it's gone, until the fight simply had to be made. Last year, after De La Hoya turned 28, long past the time he thought he would have retired, Vargas had disappeared from his plans. There was the matter of avenging the losses to Trinidad and Mosley—"an ego thing," he explains—and that was it. "I mean, why am I still doing this? I ask myself that question every day. You get aches and pains, you start to not train enough rounds, you don't get motivated enough—it does become dangerous."
The only reason he's doing this, he reluctantly admits, is that Vargas forced his hand. "Getting under my skin like that, I guess he did a good job, getting this fight." Hearing this, Vargas beams.
Were you wondering, by the way, how all tins started? That's kind of the punch line. Nobody really knows. "Took advantage of him?" De La Hoya guesses. "Beat him up or something? I don't know."
Vargas says the source of the feud is secret, to be unveiled in Las Vegas, when he finally confronts De La Hoya. "I want him to be a man, admit it in the ring," he says.
Most people in the know agree that it started with some silliness in 1995, when Vargas was invited to De La Hoya's camp to spar. Vargas was surprised that De La Hoya didn't pay more attention to him, offer more support. Supposedly that hurt bloomed into hatred one morning when, during roadwork, Vargas slipped on an icy patch, and De La Hoya trundled by, laughing at the sight.
"He never knew that kid would grow up to be Fernando Vargas," says Fernando Vargas.
That's a flimsy premise for a feud, but there's an underlying sociology that supports it in the Hispanic community that constitutes their fan base. Like Aragon and Salas before them, there is enough racial distinction between these two Mexican-Americans to provide separate rooting interests.
"Within any immigrant culture," opines Arum, "you have two competing factions: those trying to assimilate and take advantage of the adopted culture, and those trying to maintain their heritage. So you've got Oscar, with his Latin Grammy nomination, playing golf, belonging to the group that's running for office. And Vargas, representing the barrio, saying Oscar's not a real Mexican."
Indeed, as much as De La Hoya tries to cross over, Vargas burrows deeper into his peoples' history, wearing Mexican flags and Aztec symbols. So their fans are allowed in on the feud—actively fuel it, in fact, and perhaps provide the real impetus to sustaining it—those who prefer the slick, multicultural flash of De La Hoya, and those who insist on the old-fashioned warrior spirit of Vargas. Fitting neatly into this sociology is the fact that the two fighters have defined themselves likewise in the ring.