ISRAEL VAZQUEZ AND RAFAEL MARQUEZ: BOXING AT ITS BEST
FROM SHOWTIME BOXING ANALYST STEVE FARHOOD
You can be sure a ring rivalry is special when the intensity of the competition overshadows the significance of the results.
… When the names of the fighters are bonded by what they gave us and what they took from each other.
… When possession of the pairing belongs not to the fans or the fighters, but to history.
Robinson-LaMotta. Pep-Saddler. Ali-Frazier. Barrera-Morales. Gatti-Ward.
Distinguished and accomplished lighter-weight champions, Vazquez and Marquez fought four times from March 2007 to May 2010. The first three bouts were world title fights, and with the fourth bout anticlimactic and lacking in what made the matchup unforgettable, Vazquez-Marquez is remembered mostly as a trilogy.
Vazquez-Marquez shared characteristics with the two lasting trilogies that preceded it. Like Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward (2002-2003), the three fights were jammed into a single year and were fought in one division (junior welterweight).
And like Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales (2000-2004), Vazquez-Marquez pitted Mexican rivals and world titlists against each other.
What separated Vazquez-Marquez were the changes in momentum, not only from fight to fight, but from round to round, and the utter unpredictability of each outcome.
“As the Vazquez-Marquez fights played out,” said SHOWTIME analyst Al Bernstein, who worked all four fights, “it became obvious to me that it was actually an honor to be ringside chronicling these events. With that honor came responsibility, the kind that can weigh heavily on your psyche.
“These two amazing boxers were doing extraordinary things in the ring. We wanted to do justice to that by not skewing the story in any way, and certainly not by overshadowing it.
“We all knew the first fight would be great, and it more than lived up to expectations. The second fight was exciting, and when fight three came, I didn’t think they could top numbers one and two, but they did just that. It’s one of the top five fights I’ve ever announced or seen. The ebb and flow was tremendous, and you almost felt it didn’t matter who ended up getting the decision because they both had been so great.
“I can’t admire two boxers more than these two men.”
VAZQUEZ-MARQUEZ I: ONE NEVER NOSE
March 3, 2007, Carson, Calif.
If Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez had fought only once …
If their battle in March 2007, contested for the WBC super bantamweight title, had been all they gave us …
If they were remembered separately, instead of together …
If all of that, we would’ve been more than satisfied. After all, Vazquez-Marquez I was a unanimous selection as Fight of the Year.
On that glorious night, the fans at the Home Depot Center (now the StubHub Center) numbered 5,155. In hindsight, or due to lack of foresight, the attendance should’ve been 51,550.
Fortunately, the bout was broadcast on SHOWTIME, so a much wider audience witnessed the very best boxing can be.
For those who were paying strict attention, there were signs that Vazquez-Marquez I was going to be memorable. The fighters had suffered three losses apiece, but were unbeaten in world title bouts; Vazquez was making the third defense of his second title reign at 122 pounds, and Marquez, ranked in the pound-for-pound top 10, was rising from bantamweight, where he had registered seven defenses of the IBF title.
Their trainers, Freddie Roach with Vazquez, Nacho Beristain with Marquez, were the best in the game.
The fighters were older, but not too old. (Vazquez was 29, Marquez 31.)
And at the risk of being redundant, both were Mexican warriors. Combine it all and we were guaranteed an explosion of artistic brutality.
“[These were] two guys who on their own were great fighters, but once you put them in the ring together, they made magic,” said boxing announcer Bernardo Osuna, then with Telefutura.
A great fight must include at least one plot twist, and Vazquez-Marquez I had a handful, the most significant coming in the first round. Marquez immediately established his jab as his key weapon, and at some point in the opening three minutes, Vazquez’s nose was broken. For those watching, the only hint was a trickle of blood from his nostril.
Sharp and focused, Marquez would never fight better. Given his sense of timing and mastery of technique, it was difficult to believe that to this point, and despite wins over outstanding champions like Mark Johnson and Tim Austin, he had been overshadowed by his older brother, multi-division titlist Juan Manuel Marquez.
(Two weeks later, in yet another battle of Mexican champions, Juan Manuel would outpoint the legendary Marco Antonio Barrera.)
With five seconds remaining in the first round, Marquez struck with a straight right, causing Vazquez to dip and almost fall.
Marquez also carried the second, but those anticipating a blowout were jarred back to their senses midway through the third. Seconds after Marquez scored with a flush three-punch combination, Vazquez answered with a hook. Boom! Marquez found himself on the floor, and at the bell, he returned to his corner shaking his head in disappointment.
If Vazquez was buoyed by the shift in momentum, it didn’t show. Marquez took the fourth, and when the challenger landed a jab to the tip of the nose in the fifth, Vazquez turned his back and walked toward the ropes.
What happened next epitomized the rivalry: Believing Vazquez was either badly hurt or even conceding defeat, Marquez moved in–and was met by a nine-punch barrage. Most of Vazquez’s punches missed, but his message was on target: Maybe I can’t breathe … Maybe I’m in excruciating pain … But I’m not done yet.
Sure enough, Vazquez took the sixth, starting quickly and maneuvering close enough to pound the body. His success, however, failed to fool Roach, who before the start of the seventh asked Vazquez if he wanted the fight stopped.
The answer he got: No.
But after the seventh–another strong round for Vazquez–the rest period played out very differently.
Vazquez: “I can’t breathe.”
Roach: “You sure?”
Vazquez: “Yes, I’m sure.”
Roach: “You want me to stop the fight?”
Vazquez: “I can’t breathe.”
Roach: “Want me to stop the fight?”
At first, such an ending was virtually incomprehensible. But within minutes, Vazquez’s nose was hideously swollen and grotesquely misshapen.
Just like that, Marquez, who was ahead on the cards, was the winner. But for fans and fighters alike, there was an instant sense that Vazquez’s surrender was more of a start than a finish.
“Would you like a rematch?” SHOWTIME reporter Jim Gray asked.
“I would like one as quickly as possible,” Vazquez responded.
Vazquez-Marquez had been too good not to do it again. Too good, in fact, not to do it again soon.