Dad’s a former world champion boxer. Mom’s the no-nonsense, stand-by-your-man CEO of the family. Add to the mix a rags-to-riches success story, ample expressions of Christian faith, four adorable kids and father-in-law who drives everyone nuts.
The conceit of “Welcome to Los Vargas” sounds like a domestic comedy, but it’s an unscripted series revolving around the family of Fernando Vargas that is set to bow Jan. 26 on Mun2, Telemundo’s sibling cable network.
Mun2 has high hopes that “Los Vargas” can become a Latin flavored, PG-rated spin on “The Osbournes.” Vargas has a high profile in the Latino community and his story of becoming a three-time world boxing champ after a wayward youth is well known.
Vargas and his wife Martha were previously featured on several episodes of Mun2’s hit “I Love Jenni” reality show revolving around the late singer Jenni Rivera.
“Los Vargas” was lensed last summer at the family’s home in North Las Vegas. It focuses on the domestic antics of the couple’s three sons and daughter (Fernando Jr., Amado, Emiliano and China) and Martha’s father, Alfredo.
Over lunch during the Television Critics Assn. gathering Saturday, Fernando and Martha explained the motivation for turning the cameras on their family life. (Fernando had a salad; Martha had a BLT and sweet potato fries, about half of which were eaten by Fernando.)
“I say he’s not officially retired because he still fights with me,” Martha jokes.
The couple believes their story will resonate with viewers because of the adversity they have overcome in their 20-year relationship. They met as teenagers in Oxnard, Calif. in the mid-1990s. (When Fernando saw Martha walking down the street, he attracted her attention with the mating call of the low rider: activating the hydraulic pump to make his Thunderbird bounce as he drove down the street.)
Martha got pregnant with their first child at age 14. Fernando’s boxing career took off, but so did his former manager with most of his earnings.
Along the way the marriage was severely tested by infidelity, boxing groupies, a severe illness that threatened the life of their daughter and Fernando’s aborted comeback attempt. The pair credit the strength of their bond and their faith for carrying them through the worst times. The family is active in Victory Outreach, a megachurch with national reach that could have a “Duck Dynasty” like effect on “Los Vargas” ratings.
“God is the glue,” Martha says. “Our family is his championship bout.”
Today, oldest son Fernando Jr. is a college-bound honors student and the elder Vargas and Martha are pouring their energy into running a gym, Feroz Fight Factory, that aims to help underprivileged kids from going down the wrong path.
Vargas’ boxing career started at the age of 10 while he was being held in juvenile hall.
“If it wasn’t for boxing I would be another statistic in jail for life,” Vargas says.
The Vargas’ transformation into reality TV stars has been steered by manager Pete Salgado, who also repped Rivera. Martha wans’t keen on letting cameras into her life until Rivera (who died in 2012) urged her to share her story as an example to other mothers.
“I knew that people loved (Fernando) and I knew that they had a good story tell as a family,” Salgado says. “You don’t often see television tell the redemption part of an athlete’s story. It’s about humility and the rebuilding of a family.”