LOS ANGELES Fernando Vargas was dominant from the beginning before stopping Fitz Vanderpool at 2:36 of the sixth round of their junior middleweight bout Saturday night.
There were no knockdowns, although Vanderpool hit the canvas four times on what were ruled slips.
The final two came in the sixth round before Vargas cornered Vanderpool and was punching his defenseless opponent at will before referee Marty Denken stopped the fight.
Vargas was the clear winner of every round, leading on the judges' scorecards by 50-45, 50-45 and 50-44 in the first five rounds of the bout, scheduled for 10 rounds.
The Associated Press had Vargas leading 50-45.
Vanderpool threw 316 punches, but landed only 44, and none appeared to do more than minimal damage.
Vargas threw 243 punches, landing 125 many of which were solid blows.
Shortly after Denken stopped the bout and with the capacity crowd of 6,700 at the Grand Olympic Auditorium roaring its approval, Vargas stood on the ring ropes pointing to the fans and yelling, ''I love you guys.''
''It was hard to hold back in front of the crowd,'' Vargas said. ''I needed to work on what I've been working on in the gym the body.
''I'm 25, what's the rush? I need to be a better fighter, I need to be a hungrier fighter. I'm my own worst critic I'll go home and look at the tape. There was a little rust.''
Vargas was fighting for the first time since being stopped in the 11th round of his grudge match against Oscar De La Hoya last September in Las Vegas with the WBC, WBA and IBF junior middleweight championship belts at stake.
Vargas later tested positive for steroids and received a nine-month suspension and $100,000 fine. He has maintained his innocence, saying he thought he was taking nutritional supplements.
It was also the first fight in Southern California for Vargas since he made his professional debut in his hometown of Oxnard 5 1/2 years ago. Vargas is rated as the No. 3 challenger to De La Hoya by the WBC behind Vanderpool and Shane Mosley.
Both Vanderpool and his trainer, Jimmy Montoya, thought the bout was stopped too soon.
''I thought I was wearing him down, closing the gap,'' Vanderpool said. ''But I'm not going to give any excuses.''
Vanderpool, who was born in Trinidad and moved to Canada at age 4, was fighting his first big-name opponent. He entered the ring ranked as the No. 1 WBC junior middleweight contender while Vargas was ranked third.
But Vargas was a prohibitive favorite, and clearly the superior fighter on this night.
''For a guy who was off nine months, he did very well,'' said Buddy McGirt, hired three months ago as Vargas' co-trainer. ''I told him, 'Don't worry about the knockout, just wear him down.'''
That's just what Vargas did.
De La Hoya and Mosley will fight Sept. 13 in Las Vegas. If all goes according to plan, Vargas hopes to challenge De La Hoya again next spring and become a world champion for the third time.
The 35-year-old Vanderpool entered having lost just once in his previous 17 fights while Vargas had been beaten in two of his last four by Felix Trinidad and De La Hoya.
''He's been fighting the best,'' Montoya said.
Vargas weighed 156 pounds, and Vanderpool the junior middleweight maximum of 154. The contract called for the fighters to come in at a maximum of 157.
Vargas entered the ring to a standing ovation while Vanderpool was booed during pre-fight introductions.
Earlier in the program, Manny Pacquio of The Philippines retained his IBF junior featherweight championship by stopping Emanuel Lucero of Mexico City at 48 seconds of the third round.
Pacquio landed a right-left combination that left Lucero staggering and out on his feet. Referee Jose Cobain quickly stepped in and stopped the bout, scheduled for 12 rounds.
Pacquio, 121 1/4 pounds, raised his record to 37-3-1 with 29 knockouts. Lucero, 120 pounds, dropped to 21-1-1 with 12 knockouts.
Both fighters are 24, Neither was close to going down before the sudden ending.
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