Marquez is about more than an amazing series
Rafael Marquez might be defined by his epic series against Israel Vazquez, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A scintillating rivalry is one way to establish an enduring legacy.
The success of Marquez’s older brother, Juan Manuel Marquez, also might overshadow the accomplishments of Rafael to some degree. The elder Marquez’s two close fights against Manny Pacquiao established him as a star and eventually led to a megafight against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Let there be no doubt, though: Rafael Marquez, one of the biggest punchers in boxing, is more than just one half of a legendary rivalry and the brother of star. He’s a two-time bantamweight champion with seven successful defenses and had a 5-0 record against Mark Johnson, Tim Austin and Silence Mabuza before he stepped into the ring with Vazquez.
The two meet for a fourth time Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Showtime.
“He’s had some things working against him,” said Gary Shaw, Marquez’s promoter. “He’s fought in a smaller weight class, which is more difficult to promote. He’s the younger brother of a very good fighter. He could’ve had 30 defenses at bantamweight and probably wouldn’t receive the recognition he deserves.
“Israel Vazquez came into his life and defined who he was, though. He’ll even the score (on Saturday) and I really believe this: He’ll go into the Hall of Fame before his older brother.”
Marquez (38-5, 34 knockouts) had an inauspicious professional debut, losing to former bantamweight titleholder Victor Rabanales by an eighth-round knockout in 1995.
Daniel Zaragoza, Marquez’s new trainer, learned soon afterward that the young fighter had the ability to become something special. A single sparring session was enough to convince the four-time titleholder and Hall of Famer.
“He was something like 8-1, with eight knockouts [actually seven],” Zaragoza said through a translator. “I knew he would be a hell of a fighter because I sparred with him. I knew right away. He boxed very nicely but his power was something out of the ordinary.
“He has unbelievable power.”
Johnson, Austin and Mabuza would attest to that.
Marquez was 25-3 (with 24 knockouts) but only a big-punching prospect and a clear underdog when he met the gifted Johnson in 2001 in Corpus Christi, Texas. The young man surprised many by winning a split decision with the help of Johnson, who lost two points for holding.
However, it was the rematch that led many observers to believe the ever-improving Marquez could become an elite fighter. He broke down his still-effective veteran opponent before knocking him out in the eighth round in a bantamweight title eliminator.
Two fights later, against 118-pound titleholder and then-unbeaten Tim Austin, Marquez again was an underdog. And, again, he surprised the world. He was losing on points to a better boxer but rallied to stop the champion and win his first major belt.
Marquez would successfully defend the title seven times, the last two against Mabuza, and climb into pound-for-pound consideration before agreeing to meet tough little brawler Israel Vazquez on March 3, 2007 in Carson, Calif.
“I think people forget he was on the pound-for-pound lists,” Zaragoza said.
Of course, Marquez didn’t know exactly what he was getting into when he agreed to fight his fellow Mexican. He knew only that Vazquez was a two-time titleholder and a tough, big-punching little man, similar to himself in many ways.
However, it didn’t take long for him to realize that the two had unusual chemistry in the ring.
“I realized in the first fight that this was going to be something special,” Marquez said through a translator. “I remember putting my combinations together against him. Our styles matched very well. Then he put a lot of good combinations on me.
“I thought, ‘This is going to be a war.’ And it was.”
Marquez won a thrilling first fight (and THE RING championship) by TKO even though he went down and was behind on the scorecards – 67-65, 67-65 and 66-66 – when Vazquez retired on his stool after the seventh round because of a badly broken nose.
Vazquez came back to score a brutal sixth-round knockout that August and won a razor-thin split decision in another give-and-take brawl the following March, each fight somehow becoming more gripping than its predecessor.
Bill Caplan, a publicist who has worked in boxing for a half century, said he’s never seen a better trilogy. Thus, the names of both fighters are etched in boxing lore.
“Who would remember Micky Ward without Arturo Gatti?” Shaw said. “He’d be just an Irish fighter from the Boston area. Ward was a B-minus fighter; Rafael is a better fighter. The point is that everyone remembers that trilogy.”
Marquez, 35 and nearing the end of this career, is pleased to be a part of something special even if it’s the first thing people think of when they think of him.
At the same time, he’s confident that knowledgeable boxing fans know what he did B.V., Before Vazquez. They remember his victories over Johnson and Austin. They remember his seven defenses. They remember that he was on pound-for-pound lists until recently, having falling off only because of inactivity.
They know how good he has been.
“I think it’s an overall thing,” he said, referring to his legacy. “I think I will be remembered for the Vazquez trilogy and fourth fight. They’ve been good, well-matched fights. I have a long career behind, though.
“I think people will identify me by my whole career, not just by these fights.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]