Surviving the Ground

Luis Vargas online

Seven minutes away from completing the goal he had set out for himself eight years ago, Luis Vargas, a skinny little kid from San Jose had one last opponent to get through; the No.1 ranked wrestler Ruben Garcia.

Exhausted from his semifinal match, he walked onto the mat and strapped his headgear on and waited for the opening whistle. In a winner take all bout Vargas had to dig deep if he was to get through Garcia. Quickly jumping to a 4-0 lead, his intensity rose. Vargas knew he was close, but he knew better than to let his emotions take over. After a quick response by Garcia to cut the lead in half, Vargas took over the rest of the match. Winning the State Championship on a takedown, Vargas had reached the glory, but his road wasn’t always dominant.

“I was like a five feet little kid, skin and bones,” Vargas said. Growing up in San Jose was difficult for Vargas, he was picked on and bullied a lot growing up. “Growing up for me was really tough and rough for me. I was a tiny little kid. In sixth grade, I was like 100 pounds.”

As he looked for a way to fit in, he turned to sports. For Vargas, football and wrestling became his outlet.

He joined the local pop-warner football team, but his lack of athleticism made it difficult for him to find success. Walking around school one day, he stumbled upon the wrestling room and was amused by it because he realized that unlike in football, wrestling was just one-on-one. He also saw the opportunity to compete against opponents the same size as him.

“I was intrigued by it because I like the concept that you have to go up against someone your own size,” Vargas said.

At this time his older brother was, wrestling for the Willow Glen High School team which made it easier for him to dive into wrestling. In 7th-grade he decided to make the jump into wrestling but had trouble finding success in the early coming.

“I just started doing it. Trust me I was so bad, I was so little and skinny that I was really bad from the get-go,” Vargas said.

He would attend every team practice and right after those he’d walk to Willow Glen High and watch his older brothers wrestling team practice. By observing, he began picking up moves and some pointers from members of the team. Eventually, after showing up every day after his practices finished, he was allowed to join the Willow Glen High School wrestling team practices.

Going into his junior year in high school, the wrestling program was going through coaching changes which according to Vargas brought excitement into the program. Having now committed himself fully to wrestling he began training seriously. He practiced twice a day along with a strict diet and a rigorous training regimen that included running three to four miles a day.

With that commitment, he finally began to see the fruits of his labor. Having found success with his new coach and teammates, he knew his senior year was going to be better but a lot tougher.

Being named captain of the wrestling team his senior year, Vargas knew the only way to get them better was to lead by example.

“I came out wrestling senior year, you know I was really good, so much better than the previous years and I was like the team captain, you know I was the one that everyone looked up to so I had to keep pushing and get better,” Vargas said.

As his senior season was coming to a close, his wrestling coach spoke to him about continuing his wrestling career at the collegiate level.

Vargas was informed about the Santa Ana College wrestling program and the success that it was having at the time. His coach suggested the move to Santa Ana to further develop his skills; at 17 years old he packed his bags and made the move to Southern California.

When he got to SAC, he noticed that this was the best wrestling team he ever participated on. They had State Champions and Dual State Champions on the team which in his eyes set the tone for the season. He recalled going into practice every night and getting his butt kick. His second year at SAC was starting on the wrong foot. Being beaten out for the 141 pounds spot in the 2010 season, he was listed as the sub-in wrestler.

READ MORE:  Top 5 Boba Shops in Santa Ana

When the team was competing in a tournament there was a match at the 184-pound division, and The Dons did not have a man at that weight class, Vargas took it upon himself to ask the coach and see if he would be allowed to wrestle on such short notice while giving up 40 pounds difference. Coach Vince Silva agreed. To many shocked eyes in the stands, Vargas stood his ground and competed. He would lose the match 8-4, but the coach noticed his skill and potential.

It became clear to him that with some work in the offseason he had a good shot at winning the following year. He snuck into regionals and state after one of his teammates had to quit, so he moved up to 174-pound weight class but fell short of his goal placing 7th in the state.

Shortly after that, with family problems arising, he decided to move back to the Bay Area and help out. On his move back home he took up a job at his old wrestling grounds of Willow Glen and became an assistant coach for five years.

During his tenure at Willow Glen High School, he would take his students into the local MMA gym to cross train. At the same time, he would train a couple of guys three times a week. That’s when the itch to compete returned.

After cornering a fighter, he realized that MMA was something he could be successful at, so he made the jump and scheduled his first amateur fight for World MMA Entertainment.

Vargas was pushed to the limit for three rounds ultimately getting the decision over J.J. Okanovich. He would accumulate a record of six wins with two losses for his amateur career in two years. In 2016 he signed on to Bellator MMA for a fight against the man he previously beat in J.J. But like in the past, it initially didn’t come out the way he wanted. “I felt rushed like I was ready but not entirely,” said Vargas. He would lose to Okanovich by submission due to an armbar in the second round.

Vargas’ next bout would have the same result against Juan Cardenas as he would lose by submission due to a rear naked choke in the first round. Having lost his two fights in Bellator MMA, he was let go, but his dream did not die.

His next two fights would be victories as both would come by knock out. On May 11, 2018 he would walk into the Combate Americas cage and once again would lose to submission due to a triangle choke. To Vargas, something wasn’t right. His whole game was the ground, and he was having a hard problem finding success there. He recalled the promise he made to his wrestling coach after the 2010 season “I told him I’m coming back to get you that championship” said Vargas.  At the same time, he wanted to refine his skills on the ground — what better way than to knockout two birds with one stone.

Returning to SAC, he knew he had to set the tone for the year. “I have an opportunity to go back and finish what I started; not many people can say they have that shot.

Vargas went to regionals in 2018 and took first place then went to state and pulled the upset on the number one seed in the finals. After finally winning his championship, and finally being able to eat regular food, he moved back home with one goal in mind, get back in the cage and fight.

“I’m gearing up to fight again; I’m doing two-a-days, running every day and about to start my nutrition program” Vargas said.

Leave a Reply