March 3 -- Home Depot Center, Carson, CA
Winner: Rafael Marquez RTD-7
I remember watching this fight with two friends of mine, BLH's own Brent Brookhouse, and Brent's wife. Myself and Brent are boxing fans, obviously, one of my friends became a boxing fan mostly due to living with me, and the other friend and Brent's wife couldn't have cared less, really. But five jaws dropped watching this fight. And it wasn't even the best that these two would do this year.
When you think of the great modern rivalries in boxing, the first two that spring to mind, at least for me, are Barrera-Morales and Gatti-Ward. The vitriolic hatred and superior boxing of Barrera-Morales made that one better for me than the bombastic, almost loving slugfests of Gatti-Ward. And, now, we have Vazquez-Marquez, which is like putting the aforementioned rivalries into a big pot and stirring them up until it comes out just right.
Two excellent, powerful boxers with heart for days, pinpoint accuracy, and a stand-pat willingness to trade bombs in the center of the ring. It's not that these two lack defensive ability, like Gatti and Ward often did over their careers, and generally abandoned against one another. It's that they're both so good offensively that it makes it hard for anything to get stopped. They stood, toe-to-toe, landing bone-rattling shots on March 3 in Carson, California, on the first (and nearly last) Showtime Championship Boxing card of the year that was worth watching.
After Vic Darchinyan routinely picked overmatched Victor Burgos apart on the undercard, we got to the main event. I hadn't been so excited for a fight in a long, long time. Said Vazquez, "This is going to be the fight of the year." Marquez remarked, "I will give my life if necessary to win this fight."
There are fights that get the hype and then don't deliver. This one had no chance of not delivering the goods. On paper, it was a perfect matchup for drama and excitement in the boxing ring. Vazquez, the reigning WBC super bantamweight champion, was set to defend his title for the third time, having destroyed tough guy Oscar Larios in December 2005 to win the crown after vacating the IBF's version of the belt. He had beaten up Ivan Hernandez in his first defense, then scored a sensational comeback TKO of bantamweight titlist Jhonny Gonzalez in September 2006, stealing the show on the undercard of Barrera-Juarez II.
Yet he remained -- and remains -- a virtual unknown past the diehard sect of boxing fans. Perhaps even more unknown is Rafael Marquez, the IBF bantamweight champion since 2003, when he beat then-undefeated Tim Austin via TKO in the eighth round of a fight he was losing on all three official scorecards, though it was tight. His line of defenses went like this: Mauricio Pastrana (UD-12), Peter Frissina (TKO-2), Heriberto Ruiz (TKO-8), Ricardo Vargas (UD-12), Silence Mabuza (TKO-4), Silence Mabuza again (RTD-9). Having dominated the 118-pound ranks, it was time to step up and face a new challenge.
Though regarded by many of us as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, Marquez, like big brother Juan Manuel, was nobody in the mainstream. To have these two fighters headline a Saturday night on which there was competition from HBO (Cotto-Urkal, Miranda-Green) was a bold move by Showtime, and their loyalty to these two men was perhaps the only thing the network did right all year.
It is a match made in puglistic heaven, Vazquez versus Marquez. The deft boxing skills and somewhat deceptive thump of Marquez against the unbendable will and crushing left hook of Vazquez, a punch which may be pound-for-pound the best of its kind in the sport.
And my God, did these two men come to fight.
The show was promoted poorly and attendance wasn't exactly ideal, but it didn't matter. The people who did show up knew what to expect, and they got it. Within the first round, Vazquez's nose was bloodied, and Marquez was picking him apart with superior technical skill, his shots landing with authority. Upstairs, downstairs, jabs and hooks -- everything was working for Rafael Marquez.
The second was more of the same. The round was clearly in Marquez's favor, as he smoked a vicious right to the jaw early in the round, and landed another one late in the frame. Both shots could have been knockout punches. During the round, my mind drifted back to Vazquez-Gonzalez, when it was Gonzalez outboxing Vazquez, beating him to the punch and winning handily.
Then, it happened. Early in the third round, Marquez badly hurt the champion, and Vazquez took a step back. Smelling blood, Rafael made his move. As the challenger looked to call it a night early, he was nailed on the button with a monster of a counter left hook, and he hit the mat. Marquez rallied to his feet, and now, for sure, the fight was on.
They squared their shoulders, and they got down to business. Two warriors, unleashing hell on the other, Marquez still shaken up from the knockdown but staying on his feet, Vazquez knowing for certain now that not only could he hurt Marquez, he could knock him out. When a KO puncher like Vazquez scores a knockdown, it's bad news for the opponent. As they traded to the bell, we suddenly had ourselves an even fight.
Marquez regrouped with another textbook round in the fourth, scoring with the better, harder shots. Something appeared off about Vazquez as the blood continued to pour from his nose. Marquez started working the jab, and Vazquez seemed desperate. Though he wasn't quite dominating the action, Marquez was definitely controlling it past the third round knockdown and ensuing brawl. Combinations landed and Marquez took another round.
The fifth was a dominant round from Marquez, his best of the fight. Every time Vazquez scored, Marquez responded. Combo from Vazquez? Combo from Marquez. A stinging right from the champ? A brutal uppercut from the challenger. Another hard right landed from Marquez, and Vazquez was hurt -- or was he? Vazquez suddenly opened up with huge shots, most of it missing, but clearly looking for the knockout. Though he had stepped away from Marquez, he started punching at him as soon as the challenger approached. Vazquez said after the round he was thumbed, but we'll never know.
Vazquez started firing double left hooks in the sixth, using his best punch to try to swing the fight back in his favor, or at least onto neutral ground. Even with the knockdown (a round that Marquez was winning, in my view), Marquez was winning this fight, unquestionably. Vazquez's nose was still leaking, and he was getting hurt every round. The jab was neutralizing much of his power, as Marquez continued to beat him to the punch and take Israel out of his game. Though he'd rallied before, none would argue Jhonny Gonzalez as a better fighter than Rafael Marquez.
I thought Vazquez took both the sixth and seventh rounds, though he was in pain and getting a little wild. The left hook shook Marquez again in the seventh, and then Vazquez went to the body. Marquez responded with more outstanding combinations, and was willing to meet Vazquez in the center any time the champion got the idea to slug it out.
No holding, no clinching, no lulls in the action. At 122 pounds, these two men were putting on a power punching clinic that would make every heavyweight in the world look bad. If you could watch these two fight and say to yourself, "Aw, they ain't big enough," then no offense, but you're off your nut.
And, then... it ended. Vazquez retired in his corner after the seventh round, complaining of being unable to breathe. The bloodied nose in the first round turned out to be broken. He had fought that hard, and knocked down one of the best fighters in the world, with a badly injured nose that wouldn't allow him to breathe.
And like I said before, it wasn't even the best they would do. When the broadcast went off the air, I knew we'd only just begun.
#20 | #19 | #18 | #17 | #16
#15 | #14 | #13 | #12 | #11
#10 | #09 | #08 | #07 | #06
#05 | #04