Pro Boxer and Olympian Antonio Vargas shares how his Christian faith elevated him to national championships and world titles
By: John Sotomayor
Exceeding all expectations, Antonio Vargas’ career as a boxer is storybook. A troubled youngster struggling with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Antonio overcame his adversity by learning to box. At age 9, he had immediate success, which escalated over the years. By 2014, he had achieved every junior boxing title, including the Silver Gloves. 2015, his first year boxing as an adult, was a banner year. It began with national championships at the Golden Gloves and culminated with gold at the Pan American Games. In 2016, Antonio achieved the pinnacle of international success: a shot at gold in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“Going to the Olympics has been the highlight of my life,” said Antonio. “Being an Olympian is something that will stay with me forever.”
Humbly, Antonio gives all glory to God.
“Growing up, I was aware of God, but I did not have a relationship with him,” Antonio said. “At 12, I begin to develop one. By 16, I made the decision Jesus is the way.”
At an early age, Antonio was a bit of a troublemaker at school, due to ADHD. His teacher and principal in Houston, Texas, where Antonio was born, held a meeting with his parents and told them: “Your kid is out of control.” Antonio could never stay still. The school officials recommended his parents put him on medication to keep him calm. Antonio’s father agreed to the terms to appease the school, but never put Antonio on medication that he felt would do more harm than good.
Instead, Antonio’s father decided to enroll his son, then 9, in boxing to keep him occupied and burn energy. At first, it was merely a fun activity for Antonio. He enjoyed the competition, and it kept him focused. Still at 9 he won his first championship belt at Ringside World, a four-day national competition held in Kansas City. That gave him the confidence and desire to pursue boxing as more than a hobby. He loved the thrill of winning tournaments.
At the age of 12, Antonio’s family moved to Kissimmee, FL. Like Jesus, at age 12 Antonio had a religious epiphany. Antonio’s family always believed in God, but they did not push religion on him. Antonio’s coach at the time, a devout Christian man who trained him from age 12 to 18, introduced Antonio to a deeper relationship with God.
Under his coach’s guidance, Antonio studied the Bible. After experiencing who God is and how he works in our lives, Antonio wanted to learn more. Knowing that God gave his only son for our salvation led Antonio to his decision to serve God in everything he does.
At age 16, Antonio accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and was baptized in Kissimmee by full immersion by Pastor Dave at Greater Harvest Christian Church. “From that point on, I knew my purpose was to use my talent in boxing to further glorify his message in everything I do,” Antonio said.
Applying Jesus’ message to all of his actions led Antonio down a solid, well-disciplined path, free from the pitfalls of life.
“I want to be pleasing to God before any man,” Antonio said regarding how he remains grounded and fights temptation. “That is how I think in order to serve God wholeheartedly.”
To Antonio, living as Jesus taught – to love your neighbors as you love yourself – and thus giving his life to Christ has made the biggest impact on him.
“I have never done drugs or even smoked a cigarette,” Antonio said. “I don’t party. I have never lost my senses under the influence of any artificial substance. Giving my life to Christ keeps me disciplined and grounded.”
He channels all his energy toward the goal of improving his boxing. His daily goal is simply to be better than he was the day before.
One of the greatest contests a youthful boxer (age 8 – 15) can win is the Silver Gloves. If you win the Silver Gloves, you are on your way and catch the attention of major coaches. Antonio won back-to-back-to-back national titles in the Silver Gloves.
In 2015, Antonio was undefeated for the entire year. He held the number 1 rank as the 2015 national champion. He beat the top fighters in his weight class in the United States. Afterward, he won the state Golden Gloves, then advanced to the national Golden Gloves, which he also won.
To qualify for the 2015 Pan American Games, Antonio won gold in four different countries, beating the best boxers from Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Venezuela. In the Pan American Games, he fought another four countries: Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and Cuba in the semi-finals. Antonio won the Gold Medal in the 2015 Pan American Games, the pinnacle of his career thus far.
A vision by world champion boxer, Agami, foretold that one day up and coming world champion boxer, Antonio Vargas, would train with Tito Ocasio, owner of John 3:16 and 17 Boxing Club and Gym in Ocala.
He shared this vision with Tito, his coach, saying, “God told me to tell you, Tito, that you will start training Antonio.”
Tito refused to accept this prophecy, replying that Antonio, at the time the recent gold medalist at the Pan American Games, was training with Dalel. A week later, Dalel asked Tito to help train Antonio as a secondary coach. Tito had experience training up-and-comers to world status, whereas Dalel had none. Tito took this as a sign. He believed that Agami’s prophecy was close.
Agami replied, “No, Tito. God told me that you will be his head coach.”
Again, Tito refused to accept this. Shortly after, an incident occurred between Dalel and Antonio, which led to the decision for Dalel to step aside as head coach and opened the door for Tito to step in. Everything was amicable, as Dalel is now Antonio’s father-in-law. Antonio recently married Dalel’s daughter. Melodie, who also boxes and was the person who introduced Antonio to Dalel.
Tito began training Antonio in late 2016. Agami’s vision had come true after all.
“Now I am with Tito, and he is a strong believer in Christ,” said Antonio. “We had the same vision – to become world champions, but with the main objective which was to give all glory to Christ.”
Antonio has known Tito since he was roughly 14. He sparred with Tito’s son, Jose. Antonio knew of Tito’s reputation, having trained several world champions. “I know God led me to him, and I truly believe Tito can take me to the next level.”
To prepare mentally and spiritually for the next level Antonio says having a strong faith in God is the answer. “Going into the ring, fear is alleviated when I know I enter with God’s grace and protection,” Antonio said. “My faith gives me confidence I will persevere.”
USA Boxing wanted Antonio to retain amateur status for another four years and compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Antonio considered it, but competing in the Olympics requires a great deal of traveling and being away from home. He decided to go pro. He signed with Top Rank, the nation’s premiere fighter promotions company for boxing including all weight divisions and titles, in January 2017, then fought his professional debut in Palm Bay, Florida on February 25th against Jonathan De La Paz, where he won by a knockout in 1:48 minutes of the first round.
Antonio faces his future with the determination and grace of a confident man, wise beyond his 20 years.
“I will reach many people through boxing, so that will be my platform to spread the gospel and good news of Jesus Christ,” Antonio said. “God is opening new doors for me.”
Favorite Scripture? John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Who do you relate to most in the Bible? Paul – how Jesus came to him and turned his life around. How he served God.
Favorite Musician? Kim Walker, worship singer
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