On Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles (Showtime 9 PM, ET/PT), Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez go at it again, and continue what has been the best modern-day rivalry in boxing. I know some folks are a bit squeamish about the thought of these two hooking up once again. Well, if you are, I suggest you go watch footage of Floyd Mayweather hitting the mitts or get ready for the World Cup and go see a bunch of guys flopping around on the grass as if they’ve been shot at.
What we’re gonna have here is a simple case of assault and battery committed by two of the most honest prizefighters you could ask for.
Will it be bloody and violent?
In fact, I suggest that the Staples Center- home of the NHL Kings- put up their Plexiglas so the fans don’t get splashed with crimson from either Vazquez or Marquez. And if you’re sitting ringside (which by the way, seats are very affordably priced at $250), well, my advice is to be prepared like you’re going to a Gallagher show. Pack a rain suit and bring a garbage bag with you.
Yeah, I know, to some of you, I sound like a bloodthirsty savage. Ya know what? You’re not far off. This is boxing, not the ballet. I know some pundits like to romanticize about “The Sweet Science” and the graceful art of self-defense. Me? I like a good ol’ fashioned slugfest. If I wanted to see art, I’d go to a museum. But since I want to see a real fight, I have absolutely no problems in these two gentlemen swapping leather once again.
In fact, I think it’s the only appropriate fight for either of these guys. And yes, I’m being completely serious. Here’s the bottom line; had Vazquez and Marquez engaged each other for the fourth time, a year or so after their historic trilogy, they would’ve been compensated better than they will be currently. But as Vazquez went through numerous surgeries to his detached retina in his right eye, this fight was shelved (and quite frankly, both men got a badly needed respite from the ring) and, unfortunately, as the months and years went on, the fight lost a little bit of value. But even then, this fight still represents the best payday out there for both men.
In many ways, this is a cash-out bout for both of them. A hard-earned 401K as they head toward the very twilight of their careers. And nobody can deny that these two have earned the right to cash in on their past work, with a sizable purse in their back pockets, as they walk away from their professional careers.
Some have asked if making these two go through it again is a form of cruelty. Well, as one boxing insider told me months ago, "Y’ know what’s cruel? Making either of those guys fight young guys like Celestino Caballero or ‘JuanMa’ Lopez to make half as much, instead of each other. Now, THAT’S cruel." He hit the nail right on the head. Yeah, both Vazquez and Marquez left large, irretrievable chunks of themselves at the Home Depot Center in March of 2008 and are now faded versions of themselves, which is exactly why this is a fair and evenly matched prizefight.
And another reason why we might have another barn burner.
After I saw the Un-Civil War that was waged between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales (the Mexican version of Ali vs. Frazier), I never thought another rivalry could ever surpass it. But in terms of sheer intensity and action, Vazquez-Marquez is the best rivalry of recent vintage. Yes, better than Bowe vs. Holyfield and superior to Gatti vs. Ward. For one simple reason, unlike those other duos, these two have never really had a lull in the action. Usually, in most trilogies, the second fight tails off a bit or one fighter will begin to exert complete control of the proceedings. But with Vazquez and Marquez, there has been a consistently violent ebb-and-flow where the action has only escalated through the three clashes.
It’s almost as if they haven’t had three fights, but really 25 rounds of sustained activity (Showtime, which has televised all three chapters, thought so much of it that they made a full-length documentary on the series and will be re-airing the fights this weekend in the lead-up to Saturday).
This rivalry began in March of 2007 at the Home Depot Center when Vazquez, defending his WBC junior featherweight title, floored Marquez early and, just when it seemed that he was about to impose his size and strength, had to call it quits on his stool because of damage to his nose that hampered his ability to breathe. Amazing that when you look back at it, people were actually questioning the courage and bravery of Vazquez. But those thoughts were put to rest five months later in Hidalgo, Texas when Vazquez gained revenge by overwhelming Marquez, walking through fire, his face cut up and with a mask of his own blood, to stop Marquez in seven.
Then came their third battle on the night of March 1st, 2008, that sent this rivalry into historical realms. Where the contest, a year earlier, was played in front of a rather sparse audience in Carson, this time around, the Home Depot Center was packed to the brim with nearly 8,000 fans in attendance. You just knew that something special was about to occur. Jack Nicholson had that feeling as he came out and sat ringside. You get this guy to show up at anything other than a Lakers game, you know it’s big.
This bout didn’t live up to its billing- it far exceeded it, as Marquez (who came in as the betting underdog) boxed and punched his way to an early lead, sending Vazquez to the canvas early. But Vazquez- who was believed to have suffered his detached retina sometime during this fight- came on strong in the late rounds, slowly walking down Marquez and slowing him down with hard body shots. By the 12th round, you knew the fight was in the balance and Vazquez came out with a sense of urgency that is rarely seen in any athletic competition. Sensing that he needed something dramatic, perhaps a knockdown, Vazquez came out of his corner from the very first second and barraged Marquez with a series of booming right hands. Marquez, knowing instinctively that he might have held a slim margin on the scorecards, valiantly stood up to the assault. I’m still not sure what was more amazing, Vazquez’s determination or Marquez’s resistance.
Just as it seemed that Marquez would survive the furious last round rally, one more right hand from Vazquez would send Marquez crashing to the corner, held up only by the ropes. It was ruled a knockdown by referee Pat Russell (correctly by the way) and a game Marquez was given the mandatory eight-count and survived the last frame…barely.
But that last second knockdown provided the necessary push that Vazquez needed on the scorecards as James Jen-Kin, who scored the round 10-8 for Vazquez, had him up by one solitary point. The fight had literally swung in the final five seconds of the fight.
What I can vividly recall is the buzz inside the venue after the fight. It seemed as though nobody left their seats for at least ten minutes after the verdict had been rendered. It’s as if they knew they had just witnessed something special and didn’t want to leave. Nights like this don’t come around often. It may be my favorite night ever covering a fight from ringside. It’s certainly among the best two or three fights I’ve ever seen live and in-person.
Now, coming into this weekend, both fighters are a bit of an unknown. While Marquez was able to get rid of Jose Mendoza in three rounds last May, Vazquez looked much shakier in stopping Angel Priolo in nine rounds this past October. I’ve had more than one reader express their concerns about this match-up and one even asked, if I’m such an advocate of this fight, why I was so opposed to the bout between Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones.
Simply put, it comes down to track record. The two Mexicans have a considerable history in making entertaining affairs with each other and everyone else. Hopkins and Jones do not, and what that pay-per-view event was back in April was an attempt at scamming the public based on both fighters past glories and reputations (which backfired, at least on Jones’ side as he basically walked away with zilch, if reports are to be believed). Boxing is a brutal business, and Vazquez and Marquez are hard men, who go in understanding the unforgiving nature of the sport they chose to participate in. They may not have much left in them, but rest assured, they will lay whatever they have left on the line this weekend. It’s what they do. They know no other way.
The only word of caution that I have regarding this is that, while the first three editions of Vazquez-Marquez have all been “Fight of the year” candidates, I do think it is asking a bit much for a fourth. You would hope that those in the corner of both gladiators have the good sense to realize this. The victory here is just getting to the fight and cashing in, in many respects. There’s no need to win the Purple Heart; these guys have shown that their courage comes in spades. If I’m working the corner of either boxer, I see my guy getting into some trouble, I have a quicker hook than Sparky Anderson in the ’70s.