Ring is everything to brothers

Aug. 22 was Ivan Vergara’s 22nd birthday. He did not go to college after graduating from Vacaville High School in 2015 and is not planning to do so anytime soon. His part-time job is teaching a 90-minute boxing class four days a week that earns him just enough money to take his girlfriend to a movie.

Vergara cannot afford to leave the nest. He lives in his mother’s three-bedroom house with his grandmother and four brothers. His oldest brother has his girlfriend and their two sons under the same roof. His other three brothers share a bedroom, which is not where Felipe expected to be at the age of 23.

Felipe, who goes by the nickname of Bubba, is much like Ivan in that he has put the real world on hold. Ivan is a professional fighter with aspirations of fame and fortune in the ring. Bubba will be in his corner figuratively and literally to guide Ivan on his way to what they hope will be a world championship.

Felipe “Bubba” Vergara tapes Ivan’s hands before the Aug. 2 bout against Malikia Johnson in Sacramento. Ivan lost by unanimous decision to drop to 8-1 as a pro.

Ivan is a product of Al Lagardo and the Vacaville Police Activities League boxing program. Ivan continues to train with Lagardo at Georgie Duke Sports Center, but Bubba is at his brother’s side on fight night.

Or in his face. That was the case Aug. 2 when Ivan took his 8-0 record to Sacramento to battle Malikia Johnson (4-0-1). The two met in 2016 as amateurs in Vacaville on the Fiesta Days boxing card with Ivan winning by decision. The Aug. 2 fight was in Johnson’s backyard at the Doubletree by Hilton hotel.

Ivan admitted he started slow to gauge Johnson’s hand speed and power. Bubba implored Ivan to be more aggressive by putting his punches together instead of throwing just one at a time and stepping back. Ivan put himself in a precarious position by giving away the first two rounds in the six-round bout.

“I knew he needed a knockout,” Bubba lamented after Ivan lost by unanimous decision. “He could have pushed the action more (in the first two rounds). He could have been busier. We have to turn the page, but it’s not going away anytime soon. His undefeated record was taken away, but it’s not over.”

The brothers could not conceal their disappointment when the judges’ scores were announced. Two judges had it 59-55, meaning they believed Johnson won five rounds. The third had it 58-56 for Johnson. Swallowing the the loss was easier for Ivan and Bubba than accepting how anyone thought Johnson won five rounds.

“Toward the end of the third (round) and in the fourth, I thought I had control of the fight.,” Ivan said. “I was more aggressive. I pushed the action more. I landed the cleaner shots. I still feel like I won the fight.”

Ivan maintained his composure after leaving the ring and making his way through the crowd to his dressing room. By the time his family joined him, Ivan was sobbing with his head buried in his wrapped hands.

Anita not only grabbed a pair of scissors and began to cut the tape from her son’s hands. She also let everyone within earshot know “It’s not like Ivan hasn’t lost a fight before.” Ivan was 30-15 as an amateur.

The stakes were not as high in those days, however. Ivan believes he has what it takes to be a champion. So does Bubba, who was also an aspiring boxer until a detached retina knocked him out at age 16. Bubba refuses to turn his back on the sweet science because his dreams are now his brother’s to pursue.

“You could see there was something special in (Ivan). You could see the potential,” Bubba said. “This is what we’ve been doing since we were seven or eight years old. This is our life.”