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 II: BLOOD, GUTS, AND LEFT HOOKS
August 4, 2007, Hidalgo, Texas
The first and second Vazquez-Marquez fights were bridged by five months. That seems an eternity when you consider that Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta dueled twice in three weeks, but it’s a relatively quick turnaround by the standards of the modern era.
Especially when you consider how brutal and demanding the first fight had been.
This time Marquez was the defending WBC super bantamweight titlist. That prompted Vazquez to make a change; he switched trainers, from Freddie Roach to Mexico’s Rudy Perez.
Among the points of contention: Roach felt Vazquez needed more recovery time before trading for a second time with Marquez.
In hindsight, it wasn’t going to matter whether Vazquez and Marquez fought yesterday, today, or tomorrow, or whether they clashed once, twice, or 200 times. In each and every contest, they were going to test each other to the very core.
Such was the nature of the rivalry: two proud and humble champions who both needed each other and needed to beat each other.
Fought before a disappointingly sparse crowd at the Dodge Arena, the second bout had the same I-hit-you, you-hit-me rhythm of the initial meeting. Vazquez was particularly animated in the first round, fully aware of his need to crowd Marquez. And once again, Marquez opened with brilliant use of his left hand, firing up and down, to head and body.
Marquez took round one, and Vazquez carried the second, stunning Marquez with a hook just before the bell.
In the third, ferocious fighting and first-class boxing combined to create the Round of the Year.
“Non-stop! Incredible action! Unbelievable! No letup whatsoever!” is how an impassioned SHOWTIME blow-by-blow announcer Steve Albert called it.
Thirty-five seconds in, Vazquez staggered Marquez when he was quicker to the trigger with a hook. Marquez stumbled backward and held, and then instantly–and characteristically–punched right back.
The round ended with an extended toe-to-toe exchange, and while Vazquez had an edge, it came with a price: a long cut over his right eye.
“The third round might have been the best in a world championship fight since the 10th round of Jose Luis Castillo-Diego Corrales I,” wrote Don Stewart in “The Ring.”
The fourth was close, with Marquez marked as well, showing a small cut and discoloration under his right eye. More significantly, there had been a subtle shift: The legs of Marquez were a bit unsteady.
In the fifth, Vazquez displayed one more wound: a cut over the left eye. Blood poured out, and it was clear that barring a 180-degree turn, a TKO victory for Marquez was not only likely, but perhaps imminent.
Surprise, surprise: It didn’t quite turn out that way.
Only 20 seconds into the sixth, Vazquez released a textbook combination–hook to the body, right uppercut, hook to the chin. Boom! Marquez crashed and jumped right back up, pacing as referee Guadalupe Garcia issued the mandatory count. The champion seemed okay, but that changed after Vazquez followed with 50 punches.
If Vazquez didn’t end it here, there probably wasn’t going to be a second chance.
When Marquez involuntarily took two backward steps along the ropes and Vazquez jumped in with a right, the referee called a halt that some believed was premature.
The end had come almost as suddenly as in the first fight.
“After the first knockdown, [Marquez] was in bad shape,” Garcia told SHOWTIME reporter Jim Gray. “It was very dangerous to keep the fight going.”
“I was still throwing punches,” Marquez complained. “I don’t know why he stopped the fight.”
Soaked in his own blood, Vazquez had regained the title. The focus, however, was already on something else.
“We want him to give us the third fight,” Marquez said.
“I want the third fight,” echoed Vazquez.
Indeed, a third fight there would be.
It was fate. And it turned out to be fantastic.