By Matthew Hurley: The news that Israel Vazquez was cleared to fight by the California State Athletic Commission after undergoing surgery for a detached retina came as a relief. After his epic third fight with Rafael Marquez, both fighters were riding a wave of public and media adulation. Their trilogy, with Marquez taking fight one, RTD 7 and Vazquez taking fights two and three, TKO 6, W 12, ranks among the great fistic three fight series in the history of boxing.
But after the brutality of their third encounter both super bantamweights went on a much-needed sabbatical. So violent were their three bouts, fought back-to-back-to-back over a one-year period that many wondered if either man would ever be the same again. After giving so much of themselves over twenty-five scintillating rounds the concern remains, what does either man have left?
Marquez returned to the ring under the radar in Mexico after a 14 month long layoff on May 23rd, stopping Jose Francisco Mendoza in the third round.
An obvious interested observer offered his evaluation of Marquez’s performance.
“He looked good,” Vazquez told reporter Felipe Leon. “A bit slower but we have to remember he’s been inactive as long as I have.”
Vazquez’s conciliatory tone seems to indicate that his wars in the ring with Marquez have endeared him to his rival. And Marquez, despite his belief that he deserved the one point decision that went Vazquez’s way in fight three, has been effusive in his praise for his tormenter as well.
The two men are more akin to Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, whose savage trilogy was also fought in succession through 2002 and 2003, than to the three-fight war waged between Mexican rivals Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera fought through 2000 and 2004. (Incidentally, two out of the three bouts in all three trilogies were voted ‘Fight of the Year’.) Where Gatti and Ward not only expressed praise for one another and became good friends after the final bell rang at the end of each of their 10 round non-title bouts, Morales and Barrera didn’t like each other from the get go and their mutual disdain boiled over into hatred after Barrera took the third fight by a razor thin majority decision.
“He’s a fucking asshole,” Morales told HBO before that third encounter with his arch-rival. When the decision went to Barrera, Morales threw a water bottle at him as Marco waved two fingers at the Morales camp indicating his apparent superiority in taking two of the three fights on the scorecards.
Ward retired after the third bout with Gatti and then started playing golf with him. He eventually even worked his rival’s corner.
“He’s a great guy,” Micky told me a while back at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium as he readied two young amateurs he trains for a tournament. “When you’re in fights like that your respect grows round by round. That last fight we ended up in hospital beds side by side. There’s a bond there.”
Marquez and Vazquez have both moved out of the super bantamweight division in which they battered each other up to one hundred and twenty-six pounds and would seem to be on a collision course for a fourth bout. Talk about old school. But the reasoning behind yet another descent into hell might have more to do with that aforementioned concern that neither is the same fighter he was before this all began.
No one wants to see either Marquez or Vazquez become a name on the ledger of a young fighter coming up. Neither deserves such an ignominious fate, but then that usually happens in boxing. It is seemingly inevitable.
However, a fourth fight in their diminished capacity not only represents the best payday out there for both fighters but all but guarantees another glorious night for boxing fans.
But perhaps it’s a bit too soon to assume that Marquez and Vazquez are damaged goods. Even wounded warriors can surprise. Vazquez hasn’t even fought yet and Marquez is only recently shaking off the ring rust.
The idea of a fourth bout is on the minds of both fighters but Vazquez has thrown out other names as well.
His manager Frank Espinoza recently said, “Will there be a fourth fight against Marquez? Or a first fight with Puerto Rican star Juan Manuel Lopez? We don’t know, but we’ll be taking it one step at a time.”
The hard hitting and rapidly progressing Lopez represents one of those young guns who may or may not have too much ammunition for the comebacking Vasquez. Yet so enthused by his medical clearance is Vazquez that he seems to be champing at the bit to just get back in the ring against anyone.
“It all depends on my team,” he says on his official website. “Juan Manuel Lopez has wanted to fight me since my last fight with Marquez. I would have liked to have fought him then but that’s when I suffered my injury.”
He goes on to add, “Now I think I would like to fight Marquez the fourth time before Lopez. Not out of fear but because I think it’s the easier fight to make.”
It’s also the fight that will make him the most money and would continue a rivalry now celebrated by boxing fans.
The fact is both Marquez and Vazquez are made for each other. As they continue on with their careers after somehow emerging from the rubble of their first three encounters, they deserve one last big payday for their efforts – and that would come against each other. The clock is ticking on both of them. Why not thirty-six more minutes against each other? They should be used to hell by now.
June 11, 2009