Rafael Marquez won world titles at bantamweight and junior featherweight in the early to mid-2000s, but he is best remembered for his four-fight series with Israel Vazquez.
Marquez was born in Mexico City in March 1975. He was introduced to boxing as a six-year-old, along with elder brother and future four-weight world champion Juan Manuel.
“My dad taught me, he took me to train in the Deportiva in Iztapalapa,” Marquez told RingTV.com, through translator Paul Landeros. “There wasn’t any facilities to train back then.”
Both brothers also learned from legendary coach Arturo “Cuyo” Hernandez, who managed and trained 12 world champions including Alexis Arguello, Ruben Olivares and Carlos Zarate. Hernandez was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013.
Marquez recalls, “When I arrived from primary school at 3:00 p.m., he made us practice the jab for one week or two, so we perfected it. It didn’t matter if it took us one month, he taught us all the punches this way.”
Eager to enter the paid ranks, Marquez turned professional at 20 years old. Incredibly, he would take on former WBC 118-pound titlist Victor Rabanales in his debut assuming, incorrectly, that the bout was an exhibition. The grizzled veteran stopped Marquez in eight rounds.
Marquez rebounded by rattling off 12 consecutive wins, 11 of which came by knockout. He quickly built a reputation as a skilled, heavy-handed fighter who could be hurt himself. It was a habit which would make him one of the most exciting fighters of his era.
After losing to Genaro Garcia in the fall of 2000, Marquez got himself back in the win column before facing former champion Mark Johnson. He made the most of the opportunity, edging the American by split decision. With a huge victory under his belt, Marquez had finally emerged from the shadow of his older brother.
Four months later, Marquez left no room for doubt when he stopped Johnson in the eighth round of their rematch.
In February 2002, Marquez met yet another talented American. Tim Austin was a long-reigning IBF bantamweight titleholder who would be making the 11th defense of his title against the hot young Mexican contender. Entering the eighth round, Austin was slightly ahead on the cards but Marquez closed the show to win his first world championship.
He believes this a career-best win that will live long in the memory.
“(Austin) was a southpaw, he won an Olympic medal, he was undefeated back then and he was knocking out all his opponents,” Marquez explained. “When I received the offer to fight him I was recently married, so I asked (trainer/manager) Nacho Beristain for money to get a house. The very same day I asked him for money, he called me to offer me the fight with Tim. Maybe he wanted to be sure I was going to pay him (laughs). I even took him out of the ring. Round 8 was amazing.”
Over the next three-and-a-half years, Marquez cemented his place as the best bantamweight in the world. He made seven defenses of his title, beating the likes of Heriberto Ruiz (TKO 3), Mauricio Pastrana (UD 12 and TKO 8) and Silence Mabuza (TKO 4 and RTD 9) before moving up to the junior featherweight division.
Awaiting him there was WBC titleholder Israel Vazquez and one of the great modern rivalries began on March 3, 2007. In an all-action encounter, Marquez recovered from a third-round knockdown to win THE RING and WBC 122-pound titles. He broke Vazquez’s nose and forced his brave compatriot to remain on the stool after seven rounds.
Looking back, Marquez feels it was his proudest moment, “When I won the WBC title that is number one,” he said. “For me, that belt was the best. That was my dream since (I was a) kid.”
Marquez lost the rematch by sixth-round stoppage and the rubber match by split decision. Both encounters were terrific wars that were named THE RING Fights of the Year for 2007 and 2008. In truth, the two men had beaten the fight out of each other. Still, despite being semi-active, they agreed to a fourth encounter in May 2010.
Vazquez looked a shadow of himself, capitulating in the third round, and this incredible rivalry – one of Mexico’s finest – was tied at 2-2.
“He was an elite fighter,” acknowledged Marquez. ” I was motivated for the challenge and was aware he was difficult. He was one of the best. All the rounds were fabulous; he threw bombs, but I always prepared well. I trained for four month as I knew what I was facing.”
Marquez remained active for over three more years, winning only two of his last six fights. He lost in two world title challenges; by eighth-round stoppage to Juan Manuel Lopez at featherweight, and then to Toshiaki Nishioka in a bid to regain his old WBC 122-pound belt.
After Marquez was stopped by fringe-contender Efrain Esquivias in September 2013, he accepted that he could no longer cut it at the highest level. He walked away with a record of (41-9, 37 knockouts).
Having taken on so many of his contemporaries there are still two fighters that Marquez wished he could have met.
“Jhonny Gonzalez and Abner Mares,” he revealed. “I was still fighting and Jhonny began to train with Nacho. I wanted to fight him but we had different commitments so we couldn’t settle anything. It is something I wanted to do but couldn’t and now I regret it. I feel we have unfinished business. I would like to have a farewell fight with him.”
Marquez, now 42 years old, is married and has three sons. He owns his own gym called Si Gym Marquez, in the Iztacalco municipal of Mexico City. He works as a boxing TV analyst for a cable TV network and has a real estate business.
The former champion graciously took time to speak to RingTV.com about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
Mark Johnson: In our first bout in Corpus Christi in 2001, he was very explosive and I was not able to see his jab. I managed to defeat him by split decision.
Israel Vazquez: I didn’t fight many boxers with good defensive skills. Maybe the best one was Israel Vazquez but I smashed it with my jab.
Vazquez: In four fights, I was able to send him to the canvas two times.
Johnson: I was not able the see his combinations, even the six-punch combinations. It was a surprise. He was announced as the winner and I immediately walked to his corner to request a rematch. He instantly said, ‘No.’ On my way to the locker room, I was told that there was a mistake, that someone read the cards wrong and that I was the winner. Then, (Johnson) came to me and asked me for the rematch. I replied ‘Yes’ and defeated him in eight rounds.
Johnson: He was the fastest fighter I faced in all senses. I was not able to reach him.
Heriberto Ruiz: I beat him in the third round, but “El Cuate” has an outstanding counter attack. He looked for my hands, he made feints, he was studying me to get some space to get me.
Mauricio Pastrana: Pastrana from Colombia. I did everything to knock him out. I even dislocated his shoulder with punches, but I defeated him by decision.
Vazquez: He punched harder than everyone I ever faced. Mark Johnson was powerful too.
Tim Austin: He won the bronze medal in Barcelona 1992. He was IBF champion also. He was fast, southpaw and he hit hard. I fought with him in 2003 at Caesars Palace. I defeated him in eight rounds.
Vazquez: A smart fighter. He had a lot of power, he gave everything he had inside the ring. If you took him down, he would get up. Very strong physically and emotionally. He always went forwards. He never gave a backwards step. Strength, power, intelligence, he had it all.
RingTV.com would like to thank Victor Silva and Paul Landeros for their help translating and coordinating this feature.
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