VAZQUEZ-MARQUEZ III: SOMEHOW, BETTER YET

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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.

Vazquez-Marquez.

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 III: SOMEHOW, BETTER YET

March 1, 2008, Carson, Calif.

It is among the most vivid memories in my 37 years covering fights: A few minutes after 12 of the best and most brutal rounds I had ever witnessed, I walked into the dressing room of Rafael Marquez, whose rubber match with Israel Vazquez had been decided by the 12th and final round, and by a single point on the cards.

I found it odd that Marquez sat in an otherwise empty room. His wounds of war were plain to see, but instead focusing on the bruises and welts and blood, my eyes locked with his.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen as heartbroken a fighter.

“Gran campeon,” I said to him.

“Si,” he responded, “Pero no … “

Motioning with both hands, Marquez held his thumbs and index fingers about an inch apart and ran them from his belly button to his sides.

He was indicating that he had no championship belt, which still belonged to his rival. That was all that was important to him at the moment. And at the moment, it was destroying him.

What I should’ve said to him was, “It doesn’t matter. This fight won’t be remembered by who won and who lost. The really great fights never are.”

But I sensed he didn’t want to hear it, and I left him alone.

Time has spoken for me.

Three fights in 363 days, and before the 12th and final round of the third fight, which was the best of all, the 8,104 fans at the Home Depot Center stood and screamed.

The bout remained in the balance, but most weren’t cheering in support of one fighter or the other. They were simply saying thank you.

In the first three minutes, and in every subsequent round, Vazquez and Marquez challenged each other, move for move and man to man, as they had done in every second of the previous fights. Given what they had been through, there could be no other way.

“I knew from the first second of the first round that I was involved in something special,” said veteran official Pat Russell, who refereed the bout. (Russell worked as a judge for Vazquez-Marquez I.)

Vazquez moved forward and Marquez, seeking distance, pumped his left hand. There wasn’t a breakthrough until the fourth, when Marquez struck with a pair of rights. Vazquez, who had dropped Marquez in both of the previous fights, crashed to the canvas, and to no one’s surprise, that made him fight back only harder. Before the bell, he staggered Marquez, instantly creating a candidate for Round of the Year.

As the middle rounds mounted, every punch became more significant. Every jab was purposeful; every right cross was perfectly straight; and every hook had knockdown potential.

“They were setting each other up,” Russell said. “So much was technical and subtle.”

It was boxing at its highest level and a rubber match to remember. But how would it end?

Vazquez suffered cuts over both eyes, and Marquez’s vision was impaired by swelling under his left eye. Down the stretch, the difference was largely Vazquez’s ability to score with his right, which to that point had not been a primary weapon.

“We kept telling him, ‘Throw your jab, move right, and throw the overhand right. He can’t see it,'” Vazquez’s manager, Frank Espinoza, told “The Ring’s” Ivan Goldman.

In the 10th, Marquez lost a point for punching low, and the momentum clearly belonged to Vazquez. But it was still a very close fight, and SHOWTIME analyst Al Bernstein, amazed by what he was watching, spoke for much of the audience when he said, “I almost don’t care how they score this fight.”

As if it were necessary (as if it were possible!), Vazquez and Marquez punctuated their trilogy by giving us one final round of drama.

“When the bell [for round 12] rang,” recalled Russell, “Vazquez went to work, pounding Marquez in a corner and going after him with a ferocity I hadn’t seen before.”

Marquez was stunned only 12 seconds into the round. He dutifully sponged punches until, with six seconds remaining, Vazquez drove him into a neutral corner with a huge right. Stepping backward and about to fall, Marquez reached with his right hand and grabbed the top rope for support. Russell correctly ruled a knockdown, and by the time his mandatory count was over, so was the fight.

As it turned out, the point deduction in the 10th, and Vazquez’s 10-8 round in the 12th, determined the outcome: Vazquez by split decision.

Again they had combined to produce the Fight of the Year.

Two years later, Vazquez and Marquez would fight for a fourth time, with the latter winning on cuts via third-round TKO. It didn’t really matter–except for the fact that Marquez’s victory evened the score at two fights apiece.

Fair, no? After all, after four fights, 28 rounds, four knockdowns, a career’s worth of cuts and bruises, and thousands of punches, there was virtually nothing to choose between them.

With the Vazquez-Marquez rivalry, the results fade with time, but the memories will forever endure.

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