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  • Writer's pictureCrawjo

Fight #29: Israel Vazquez vs. Rafael Marquez

Fight #29: Israel Vazquez vs. Rafael Marquez 3, March 1, 2008, Home Depot Center, Carson City, CA

There are some fighters that are just meant for each other, fighters who discover, at some point during their journeys through the world of fisticuffs, that there is another fighter out there who has a counter for all their strengths, a counter for all their counters, someone who is a portrait in a convex mirror, always looming up close or disappearing out of view, growing bigger or fading away. Such is the case with Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez.

Vazquez was a puncher and Marquez was a boxer. Okay, we've heard that story before. Vazquez wanted to fight on the inside, and Marquez was better at distance, moving his feet, pumping his jab. But Marquez also had a taste for blood, and when his opponent was hurt, he wanted the kill. That was dangerous against Vazquez, who had a tendency to reach another gear whenever he was hurt, and who loved to exchange on the inside. Marquez's jab had real hair on it, but it also set up a right hand that scored the fighter 37 knockouts in 41 career victories. Problem was, Vazquez had a brilliant left hook, short and devastating, that could counter that right hand whenever Marquez threw it. But yet again, when Marquez landed that right hand, it could make Vazquez, who tended to bleed from the scar tissue around his left and right eyes like a stuck turkey, vulnerable for a stoppage. With these two, nothing was ever given, nothing was ever inevitable. You just had to watch to see what would transpire.

Their first fight was in March of 2007, with Marquez moving up from bantamweight, where he was a unified champion, to super bantamweight, where Vazquez was the lineal and WBC titlist. As the fighter moving up in weight, Marquez found himself outgunned by Vazquez, and put down in the third round. But he got up off the canvas, broke Vazquez's nose and opened an ugly gash over his right eye that forced Vazquez to quit after the seventh round, telling trainer Freddie Roach, "I can't anymore."

The specter of giving up, the cardinal sin that no boxer is ever supposed to commit no matter the circumstances, seems to have motivated Vazquez for the rematch, where he came in stronger than before, survived another gash over his eye, and stopped Marquez in the sixth round after knocking him down and then following up with a flurry of punches, though many thought that stoppage was premature.

That set the stage for their third fight. Marquez, angry over his previous loss, trained harder than ever, conditioning himself by running miles up and down the mountains of Mexico and lifting weights to add muscle to his 5'5" frame, in the hope that he could compete with Vazquez on the inside and punch with his bigger opponent.

In boxing, the third fight of a trilogy is sometimes a letdown. Often by then the fighters have figured out all their advantages and disadvantages, and typically whoever wins the second fight cruises to another victory, having already solved the puzzle. This fight was different....almost. Marquez took command in the early rounds with a very strong jab. Often the jab is just a punch meant to distract the opponent, to flick into his face while you set him up for other shots. But on this night Marquez's jab had some sting on it. From the opening bell, it was snapping Vazquez's head back with regularity. For the first three rounds, Marquez controlled the fight with that jab, trying to stay on the outside, hopping in and out of range. It was a performance that required an incredible amount of energy, but Marquez looked up to the challenge. For the first 2 1/2 rounds, Marquez seemed hesitant to throw the right hand, knowing that Vazquez's left hook was sure to arrive on top of it. And indeed, towards the end of the third round, Vazquez caught Marquez with a hook that caused him to stumble backwards.

In the fourth round, despite the evident dangers, Marquez brought that right hand into play. A punch opened up the scar tissue over Vazquez's vulnerable left eye, and Marquez followed with a combination that put Vazquez on the canvas. The champion was up by the count of four, but Marquez, sensing an opening, followed his instincts and went in for the kill. It was a mistake. With his opponent taking the fight to the inside, Vazquez again hurt Marquez with a left hook, and the momentum of the fight began to turn.

After he put his man down in the fourth round, Marquez started abandoning the jab, and growing in confidence, became more willing to trade on the inside. This helped Vazquez back into the fight, and after losing the first four rounds, I gave four of the next five rounds to Vazquez. In those exchanges on the inside, Marquez started targeting the body of Vazquez, but a couple of punches strayed too low for referee Pat Russell's liking, and though most of the punches were borderline, after several warnings in Round 10 Russell deducted a point from Marquez for low blows.

Every round of this match was an absolute war, with constant give and take. For the first 10 or 11 rounds, both fighters had good moments in just about every round. In between rounds, another battle was occurring. Vazquez's cut man was desperately working to keep the blood out of Vazquez's eyes, as there were cuts above both eyes. For the first 11 rounds, the cut man did his job to perfection. Meanwhile, in the opposite corner of the ring, Marquez's left eye started swelling shut. Vazquez's trainer noticed this, and before the 11th round, instructed Vazquez to forget about the left hook (his biggest weapon in normal circumstances) and instead move to his right and throw right hands. Vazquez followed these instructions to perfection, and over the last two rounds, played target practice with Marquez's left eye, which was so badly swollen that Marquez simply couldn't see the punches coming.

Going into the 12th round, I had Marquez up by one point on my scorecard, but that advantage was erased as Vazquez bludgeoned Marquez all around the ring, hammering him with right hands over and over again, Marquez desperately trying to hang on for the final bell. With about 10 seconds left in the fight, Vazquez smashed Marquez into the turnbuckle, and Marquez had to grab onto the ropes to hang on. Anytime the ropes hold you up in boxing, that is considered a knockdown, and Pat Russell correctly recognized it, giving Vazquez a 10-8 round and the victory on my scorecard. As the fighters exchanged final blows just before the bell, Marquez hit Vazquez again over the left eye, and just as the bell rang, the cut that Vazquez's corner had been tending to all night finally opened up, spurting blood all over the ring. Unfortunately for Marquez, it came about one minute too late.

In the end, Vazquez retained his title with a split decision victory, marked by scores of 114-111 and 113-112, with one judge giving it to Marquez by a score of 114-111. Those close scores show that, if not for the point deducted for low blows in the 10th round and the knockdown in the final seconds of the 12th, Marquez would have won the fight. As it was, despite running up and down all those mountains, the fates had conspired against him and he took the loss.

These two would fight one more time, in 2010, with Marquez evening the rivalry with a third round knockout, the referee stopping it as Vazquez went on bended knee, blood pouring from both his eyes, a monstrous image of a nightmare wandering into reality. After that, Marquez fought four more times, and lost three of them, two by knockout, before retiring in 2013. Vazquez never fought again after the fourth fight, finishing his career with a record of 44-5, with two of the losses coming against Marquez. Six years after his retirement, Vazquez had surgery to remove one of the eyes that Marquez had so badly damaged in their four fights.

Man, boxing.

Here is a video of some of the fight:

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