"This is going to be the fight of the year." - Israel Vazquez
"I will give my life if necessary to win this fight." - Rafael Marquez
I've tried to hold myself off from hyping it too much. Six days away from fight night, I can't do it any longer. On Saturday, March 3rd, Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez will go head-to-head in what is, on paper, the fight of the year.
No other matchup has as much potential for vigor and all-out warfare as this one. Mayweather and Oscar? Forget it. Hopkins and Wright? Not a chance. Barrera and Rafael's brother, Juan Manuel? That might be the only one that stands a real chance, but even so, Barrera's not the dynamite attraction he once was, and Juan Manuel will likely be more than happy to engage his legendary counterpart in a scientific affair.
Vazquez and this Marquez don't sound like they're going to go that route, and if the histories of both men are any indication, they absolutely will not.
Vaquez hasn't gone the distance in his last three fights, and has 30 knockouts among his 41 career wins. He hasn't lost since 2002, when he fell to Oscar Larios, a loss he avenged with emphasis in 2005 with a third-round knockout. Vazquez came out on top on the undercards of two big fight nights in 2006, pounding Ivan Hernandez below Hopkins and Tarver, and dramatically slaying Jhonny Gonzalez with a stirring KO comeback underneath Barrera/Juarez II. It was his fight with Gonzalez -- a warrior's effort that saw Vazquez outboxed by a masterful performance from Gonzalez until his powerful punching took the fight over, scoring a 10th round knockout for the defending WBC champion -- that stole the show that night and fully announced Vazquez as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, and undoubtedly the top dog at 122 pounds.
Meanwhile, Rafael Marquez fought just once in 2006, defeating Silence Mabuza for the second time in August. No one on earth with a half a brain disputes Marquez as the ruler at 118, but everyone also agreed that it was time for Marquez to move up in weight. He has been undefeated since a 2000 loss to Genaro Garcia. Of Marquez's 36 wins, 32 have come by knockout, and of his 39 career fights, he has gone the distance just four times.
The hope for Marquez moving up was that we'd see him fight Vazquez, and similarly, the hope was that Vazquez would be incentive for Marquez to make the jump. And in an increasingly rare occurence, it has happened. The boxing fans have gotten exactly what they want to see.
There was no one left at 118 that Marquez could beat and impress anyone. It would have been, "Yeah, we know -- what now?" And for Vazquez, there were challenges out there, but none more intriguing than Marquez.
It's not totally a boxer versus a puncher, but Vazquez will be the favorite for the time being if this fight becomes a brawl, which it likely will. Marquez is the better boxer of the two, but Vazquez has big power and has been fighting at 122 for a long time, while Marquez has been dominating at 118. Marquez can also punch, but will his power survive the weight jump? We've seen it happen before. Ricky Hatton was nowhere near as strong at 147 compared to his exploits at 140, for a recent and glaring example. Then again, Miguel Cotto's punch stayed vicious on the same jump, and this one is four pounds instead of seven.
Let's assume -- and it's not a crazy assumption -- that Marquez and Vazquez really go toe-to-toe. For Vazquez, it's a given. He has one thing in mind every fight, which is fighting. He never stops coming at his opponent, and he doesn't relent once he finds an effective attack. And you can just ask Jhonny Gonzalez if Vazquez knows how to call an audible and adjust in the middle of a fight.
Marquez may well be best served to move and box, but I honestly don't see that happening. I'm almost positive he will stand in there and mix it up with Vazquez, perhaps to his own doom. He is a proud fighter, and he's going to want to prove his mettle.
After years and years of being attractions notable to mostly just the hardcore boxing fan, Marquez and Vazquez get their shot at headlining a Showtime card this Saturday. Neither man will want to let this opportunity disappoint. The super bantamweight division doesn't get a lot of chances like this. It is the biggest fight of either man's career.
And let's say we get a decisive winner this Saturday. Where does that guy go next? I don't know, but I'm not worried about it. In six days, two of the best boxers in the world will lace up their gloves and climb into the ring. There's not a better fight on the docket, and any boxing fan that lets this one pass him or her by is a fool.