Have You Filled Out Your Bracket?

Brook

FROM SHOWTIME BOXING ANALYST STEVE FARHOOD

This Saturday, welterweight titlist Kell Brook will make his first defense when he squares off with Jo Jo Dan in Sheffield, England. The bout will be aired on SHOWTIME BOXING INTERNATIONAL prior to that evening’s SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING telecast featuring Jhonny Gonzalez-Gary Russell Jr. and Jermell Charlo-Vanes Martirosyan.

The latter two bouts will take place in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Brook is coming off his impressive win over Shawn Porter, and in December, Dan edged Canadian Kevin Bizier in a rematch.

So where do Brook and Dan rate among the world’s best welters? I’m happily suffering from March Madness, so I thought it would be fun to create a 147-pound tournament without Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

Here are the brackets and results.

SWEET SIXTEEN

Timothy Bradley vs. Paulie Malignaggi: Distance fight. Fresher Bradley, the aggressor, pulls away late.

Keith Thurman vs. Devon Alexander: Thurman takes it with his big right hand.

Amir Khan-Andre Berto: Khan off the floor to win on points.

Juan Manuel Marquez-Lamont Peterson: Upset! Peterson proves stronger in battle of small welters.

Marcos Maidana-Jo Jo Dan: Fight is even on points when Maidana’s kayo power surfaces.

Kell Brook-Diego Chaves: It’s always close with Chaves. Brook by controversial split decision.

Danny Garcia-Brandon Rios: In first bout as full welter, Garcia wins slugfest. Best fight of first round.

Shawn Porter-Robert Guerrero: Blood everywhere! Porter squeaks by in foul-fest.

ELITE EIGHT

Bradley-Porter: Two short welters muscle each other. Bradley wins battle of attrition.

Thurman-Garcia: Thurman turns pure boxer and wins by decision.

Khan-Brook: Khan wins split decision in tactical battle of countrymen.

Peterson-Maidana: Peterson falls to second Argentine power-puncher. (The first was Lucas Matthysse.)

FINAL FOUR

Bradley-Maidana: The difference: Bradley’s indomitable will.

Thurman-Khan: Bad style matchup for Englishman. Thurman by kayo. 

FINAL

Bradley-Thurman: Thurman keeps it outside and wins on points.

Steve Farhood’s “Destructive Dozen”

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FROM SHOWTIME BOXING ANALYST STEVE FARHOOD

Jhonny Gonzalez’s first-round annihilation of Abner Mares in August 2013 was overwhelming evidence of the fact that he rates with boxing’s most destructive punchers.

Now the WBC featherweight titlist will defend against Gary Russell Jr. this Saturday on SHOWTIME.

My Destructive Dozen:

Javier Fortuna, 27-0-1 (20), junior lightweight: Perhaps premature to list here, but a personal fave. Especially dangerous in first round.

Gennady Golovkin, 32-0 (29), middleweight: Looked like Martin Murray was gonna be the first to last the distance in a title fight vs. Triple G, but noooooooo…

JHONNY GONZALEZ, 57-8 (48), featherweight: Check out YouTube vs. Hozumi Hasegawa, Roinet Caballero, and Jackson Asiku. The Mares fight was hardly his first highlight-reel kayo.

Wlad Klitschko, 63-3 (53), heavyweight: His right hand was rumored to have knocked down the Empire State Building. Good luck, Bryant Jennings.

Sergey Kovalev, 27-0-1 (24), light heavyweight: Just when it seemed Pascal was getting back in the fight … And who else knocks down Bernard Hopkins?

David Lemieux, 33-2 (31), middleweight: Let’s see if his legit power is sufficient when he moves up to championship level.

Marcos Maidana, 35-5 (31), welterweight: The Broner Owner has impressively carried his power from 140 to 147 pounds.

Lucas Matthysse, 36-3 (34), junior welterweight: Evidence: 1) Humberto Soto’s been down once in 75 bouts, courtesy of Matthysse; 2) What he did to Lamont Peterson; 3) He scored knockdowns in two of his three losses (vs. Devon Alexander and Zab Judah). Does Provodnikov fall next?

Adonis Stevenson, 25-1 (21), light heavyweight: Can it still be said that the southpaw with the huge left hand has kayoed a higher level of opponent than Krusher Kovalev?

Keith Thurman, 25-0 (21), welterweight: Don’t be fooled by his recent decision wins; he scored knockdowns in both of them. He needs to land his right hand only One Time.

Takashi Uchiyama, 22-0-1 (18): Has scored stoppages in eight of his 10 world title fights. Only criticism: He fights solely in his native Japan.

Nicholas Walters, 25-0 (21), featherweight: A combined five knockdowns of Vic Darchinyan and Nonito Donaire have won me over.

 

Middleweight: The Best American Prospects

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FROM SHOWTIME BOXING ANALYST STEVE FARHOOD

Tonight, Antoine Douglas headlines ShoBox: The New Generation from Westbury, N. Y.

This will be Douglas’ third appearance on ShoBox.

Douglas is 22-years-old, unbeaten, and among the most attractive U.S. prospects in the game.

Four promising home-grown middleweight prospects:

HUGO CENTENO, 24-years-old, 22-0, 1 NC: Has rebounded strongly from his disappointing performance against Julian Williams. Kayo of James De La Rosa in December was eye-opening.

ANTOINE DOUGLAS, 22-years-old, 16-0-1: Exciting style. We’ll see if he learned from his draw with Michel Soro, a fight in which Douglas faded late.

TONY HARRISON, 24-years-old, 20-0: Many could argue he’s more of a junior middleweight. Has looked good in dispatching a string of faded veterans in Bronco McKart, Tyrone Brunson, Grady Brewer and Antwone Smith.

DOMINIC WADE, 24-years-old, 17-0: Heavy-handed puncher who looked good, but not outstanding, in most notable win, vs. Nick Brinson. Has already gotten off the floor to win (vs. Dashon Johnson).

ShoBox Preview: Some 0’s Have To Go

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FROM SHOWTIME BOXING ANALYST STEVE FARHOOD

About the only kind of fighter not seeing action on Friday’s smorgasbord edition of ShoBox is a Swedish meatball.

Included will be a nomadic lightweight who’ll be fighting in his sixth different country in six fights … and a pair of baby featherweights who’ve never fought outside of Texas.

There’ll be a super middleweight who won his last fight while on his knees … a lightweight from a country I’ll bet you never heard of … and in the main event, an exciting middleweight whose mother may be more entertaining than he is.

In all, we’ll see eight fighters, six of whom are unbeaten. The combined records: 105-3-4.

A fight-by-fight look:

Antoine Douglas-Thomas Lamanna, middleweights: Mama Douglas’ cameo was the highlight of Antoine’s last appearance on ShoBox, a draw with French veteran Michel Soro last July.

While I interviewed her between rounds, she showed as strong a jab as her son, and at least in the later rounds, a bit more energy.

That aside, Douglas, 16-0-1, is young (22) and refreshing. Naturally aggressive and quite promising. In Lamanna, 16-0, he faces a tall, tough kid from New Jersey who’s making a monstrous jump in class.

In other words, quintessential ShoBox: two unbeaten prospects who are willing to risk their fistic futures.

Ismael Barroso-Issouf Kinda, lightweights: Barroso’s five most recent fights have been in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, his native Venezuela and Panama. Now, the unbeaten and sharp-punching southpaw fights in the U.S.A. for the first time.

At 32, Barroso isn’t really a prospect. And he’s hasn’t yet done enough to have secured contender status. What he’ll gain from a win over the tough Kinda is invaluable American television exposure.

By the way, Kinda is from Long Island via Burkina Faso, which used to be Upper Volta.

If you can find that country on a map, you’ve probably traveled even more extensively than Barroso.

Jerry Odom-Andrew Hernandez, super middleweights: In January, the big-punching Odom was a sizzling and unbeaten prospect when he faced Hernandez, 8-0-1 with 1 ND, at Madison Square Garden.

Odom remains a sizzling prospect, but he’s no longer unbeaten.

In the fourth round, Odom was on the verge of scoring a stoppage when he threw punches while Hernandez was down.

Odom, 12-1 with 1 ND, was disqualified. This rematch is about one thing: cleansing his record, so he can move forward.

Anything less than a kayo win will be disappointing.

Pablo Cruz-Adam Lopez, featherweights: There are so many similarities between these two: both are Texans; both are unbeaten, but have fought squishy-soft opposition to date; both have low kayo percentages; both are six-round fighters jumping to eight.

They’ve even sparred together.

The difference?

Lopez has a much deeper amateur background. We’ll see if that’s neutralized by the fact that Cruz is the naturally bigger fighter.

Cruz, 11-0, marches forward, while Lopez, 9-0, counterpunches. This should be a good style matchup between young 126-pounders who are looking to begin to establish names and reps.

See you Friday night in Westbury, N.Y.!

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.

VAZQUEZ-MARQUEZ II: BLOOD, GUTS, AND LEFT HOOKS

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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 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.

 

 

VAZQUEZ-MARQUEZ I: ONE NEVER NOSE

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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 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?”

Vazquez: “Yes.”

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.