Vazquez’s big heart thrills and worries his fans
Israel Vazquez suffered horrific lacerations around his eyes during his rubber match with Rafael Marquez. The severe punishment Vazquez often absorbs in his fights is cause for concern among his fans and members of the media going into his fourth fight with Marquez. Photo / Chris Cozzone/FightWireImages.
How much punishment can one man take? If you’re former junior featherweight champ Israel Vazquez, the answer is a lot. Vazquez’s willingness and ability to put his body through physical rigors that would break most human beings is what makes him special, even among prize fighters.
The indomitable fighting spirit of the 32-year-old veteran from Mexico City is what earned him THE RING’s 122-pound title and two Fight of the Year victories over Rafael Marquez in their instant-classic trilogy.
Vazquez’s mettle is the reason thousands of fans will fill Staples Center in Los Angeles to witness his fourth bout with Marquez on Saturday. It’s the reason hundreds of thousands of hardcore fans will tune into the broadcast on Showtime.
It’s also why many of those same fans are worried about Vazquez’s health.
As thrilled as they were by the first fight, which Vazquez lost when a severe nose injury prevented him from continuing after the seventh round, they remember reading about the radical surgery he needed to remove the twisted cartilage that blocked 90 percent of one nostril and 100 percent of the other.
The rematch, which Vazquez won by sixth-round stoppage, was awe inspiring. The rubber match, which he seized by summoning inhuman reserves to almost overwhelm Marquez in the 12th round and thus win the bout by a razor-thin split decision, was unbelievable.
But hardcore fans remember how bloody, bruised and badly lacerated Vazquez’s face was after those bouts. They remember that Vazquez sat out 2009 while his eyes were operated on three times to repair damaged retinas.
They know the Vazquez-Marquez trilogy was especially punishing to the participants because their 25 rounds were fought over the span on one year (March of 2007 to March of 2008). And they know that Vazquez (44-4, 32 knockouts) came out the worse for wear because, unlike Marquez (38-5, 34 KOs), he had engaged in brutal Fight of the Year candidates before their trilogy.
Which is why some fans, who normally relish a good action fight, are hoping the fourth bout is more of a boxing match than a slugfest. Those fans might want to skip watching Saturday’s showdown because a technical match is unlikely.
“Our styles make this fight,” Vazquez said through translator Ramiro Gonzalez at a recent media workout. “Our trilogy is as good or better than any in history because of the way we match up. Rafael and me were perfect to make great fights.”
Vazquez’s longtime manager Frank Espinoza doesn’t want to see his fighter absorb too much punishment but he expects another intense battle.
“All the strategy and game plans go out the window when these two guys get into the ring,” Espinoza said. “Once they start throwing punches, they go back to what they did for the first three fights.”
The question many fans are asking is should Vazquez, who looked extremely faded as he struggled to score a ninth-round KO of undersized journeyman Angel Priolo last September, engage in another barnburner? It’s a question many media members have asked Espinoza.
“I’ll be honest, I get tired of that question because it shouldn’t be the media’s focus going into this fight, in my opinion,” Espinoza told RingTV.com. “Fights like Vazquez-Marquez get people talking about boxing. They get people excited about the sport. Fights like the ones they gave us save boxing. We should be celebrating this great rivalry, but the question I’m asked several times by several writers is if I’m worried.
“My answer is ‘Not really.’ Fighters get hurt any time they step into the ring. It is what it is. These guys are warriors and this is boxing. There’s going to be punches exchanged and there’s going to be blood. The bottom line is that Vazquez wanted the fight, Marquez wanted the fight, and the money was there to make it happen.
“They couldn’t make as much money fighting anyone else in the featherweight division, and I wouldn’t let Israel fight the young guys, Juan Manuel Lopez or Yuriorkis Gamboa or the others. In Marquez, he’s got a rival who is at the same stage of his career. Both fighters have had a rest since the third fight and both have been cleared by the doctors and by the commission.”
Espinoza says he would have discussed retirement with Vazquez had the surgery on the fighter’s retinas not been a success.
One has to wonder whether Vazquez would have listened even if his sight were in jeopardy. Vazquez left Freddie Roach for current trainer Rudy Perez after Roach suggested he should consider hanging up his gloves following the first fight with Marquez.
When Vazquez was asked how much longer he wants to continue fighting at the media workout, he indicated that a fire still burns in his belly.
“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I don’t feel quite satisfied with my career yet. Maybe I’ve got one more year, maybe more. Thanks to the fans I know I’ve got one more fight with Marquez and I’m thankful for that.”
Beyond the $800,000 Espinoza says Vazquez will make, why would he be thankful for the prospect of another excruciating battle of attrition?
“That’s why we’re doing a fourth fight,” Vazquez said. “All those years of fighting was to get the recognition we finally received with our trilogy. We were both very good fighters before we fought each other but we weren’t recognized by all of the boxing world. We weren’t a part of history.”
Recognition and history aren’t worth it if the price is a fighter’s future health, according Willie Savannah, the manager of former unified lightweight titleholder Juan Diaz.
“I never want my any of my fighters to be in the so-called Fight of the Year,” Savannah told RingTV.com. “In the amateurs they give out trophies for different things at the tournaments and they have one called ‘Most Courageous.’ They give these awards out to kids who are 12, 13, 14 years old, which is crazy because to me all ‘Most Courageous’ means is ‘He took a real good ass kicking and came right back.’
“And that’s what ‘Fight of the Year’ means in the pros. They’re not going to give a Fight of the Year award for a technical fight where two guys are jabbing, bobbing and weaving and using feints and that sort of thing. No, they give Fight of the Year awards to all-out wars. Any fighter who is in too many Fights of the Year is going to be in bad shape mentally after his career is over. I fear that’s what will happen to Vazquez and Marquez.”
The ironic thing about Savannah’s statement is that Diaz, who is known for his exciting style, engaged in the Fight of the Year for 2009 when he was knocked out by lightweight champ Juan Manuel Marquez in the ninth round of their battle last February.
“I understand why fans want to see those kinds of fights,” Savannah said. “Marquez-Diaz was amazing, dramatic stuff to witness. But believe me, I was worried from the very beginning of that fight, even when Diaz was in control because Marquez is so good technically and has such a big heart. I was thinking ‘Oh my God, oh my God! Jab, baby, please, use your head, don’t try and match his Mexican heart.’ When it looked like we had a Fight of the Year on our hands, I knew we had a problem.
“It was a tremendous fight and I recognize it, but I still don’t like it. The networks like it, the promoters like it, and the fans like it, but I don’t because later on it tells on both of the fighters. And when two fighters have those kinds of fights two, three and four times, it really takes a toll. Look at Bobby Chacon and Bazooka Limon. They went at it four times, great fights, but look at the condition they are in now.
“Sometimes you don’t see the effects until many years later, but it only gets worse and worse. They never get better with time. And when they are in the nursing home and they can’t talk or see straight and they don’t even know who they are, these managers and trainers and promoters who put them into those fights are nowhere to be found.”
Espinoza is known for being one of the few managers who really cares for the well being of his fighters. He says he will not allow Vazquez to be seriously hurt on Saturday.
“There are going to be competent officials in and out of the ring and everyone will have their eye on Israel,” Espinoza said. “Nobody wants to see him badly hurt, especially me. I’m going to let him fight his fight, which means there will be blood. There will be some punishment, but I’m not going to watch him get pummeled and pounded unmercifully.
“Israel’s got an experienced corner with Rudy Perez and (cutman) Miguel Diaz. They’re not going to let him get chopped to pieces. I’ve told Diaz to call it off if he thinks Israel has sustained a cut or damage that seriously impedes his vision.”
If such a scenario becomes reality, the question that Espinoza will undoubtedly be asked after the fight is whether four bouts with Marquez is finally enough? Or with their series tied at 2-2, will there be pressure to do Vazquez-Marquez V?
When does the punishment end? It’s a question Savannah is already asking himself.
If Diaz upsets Marquez in their rematch, which is scheduled for July 31, the natural next step in the sport and the business of boxing is to make a rubber match between the two lightweight standouts. But if Marquez-Diaz II is as good as the first fight, Savannah is not so sure he wants a third fight to happen.
“I’m worried that Marquez-Diaz II will be Fight of the Year for 2010,” he said. “I can tell by how motivated Juan is right now that it’s going to be a fan-friendly fight, not a Savannah-friendly fight, and that’s my biggest fear.”