Interview by Mark G. Butcher in Macao: Saturday’s ‘Ring of Gold’ promotion may be notable for featuring three Olympic gold medal winners turned hot prospects, but the consensus fight of the night at the Venetian Resort’s Cotai Arena will feature IBF lightweight champion Miguel Vazquez defending his title for the sixth time against tough Russian mandatory challenger Denis Shakifov. And Vazquez feels this is his time to shine.
The 27-year-old Mexican, widely regarded as the number one 135-pounder in the world, remains one of the most underappreciated yet dangerous fighters in the sport. Contenders blessed with common sense tend to steer clear of the clever boxer-puncher from Guadalajara. Vazquez cut a relaxed figure at the final pre-fight press conference and graciously took time to speak to SecondsOut before showcasing his skills to a multi-million Asian TV audience and on HBO2 in the US (broadcast starts 5pm ET/PT).
Currently riding a 12-fight win streak, Vazquez (pictured left) arguably faces his toughest test as a champion against relentless Russian southpaw Shafikov, 33-0-1 (17). The two fighters have already been acquainted.
“I have seen videos of him,” said Vazquez, a tough, awkwardly mobile fighter and hurtful body puncher. “About a year or so ago we also sparred. So I know Shafikov is a very strong fighter, but one thing is for sure - I’m here to win. He was a little heavier when we sparred so he did feel strong. It will be hard but a good fight.”
Shafikov be warned. Vazquez has never lost a fight at his natural lightweight limit - despite starting his career as a smallish welterweight - defeating the likes of a then-hot Breidis Prescott (w pts 10), unbeaten Leonardo Zappavigna (w pts 12) and perennial contender Ammeth Diaz (w pts 12). “Thank god, it is not very hard to make the weight,” he said. “I have no problems and I am in good shape.”
In his formative years, the tall, rangy Vazquez was nicknamed ‘Titere’ (which means puppet in Spanish), due to his uncompromising, hands high style. “I was first called ‘Titere’ in the gym when I was just 15 years old. I didn’t like it at first, but I’ve got used to it.” Unlike his opponents who often find his unique fighting style unfathomable. The champion will enjoy significant height and reach advantages against the unbeaten Shafikov.
It takes something special to beat Vazquez, 33-3 (13), whose only career defeats came between the ages of 19-21, via decision, against heavier, pound-for-pound fighters Canelo Alvarez and Timothy Bradley. The Mexican has always been matched tough and even lost a split decision to Alvarez on his debut. Has credit eluded him like he eludes punches?
“I’ve been kind of turned off (as a fighter),” admitted Vazquez, who won the vacant IBF crown by decisioning South Korean hardman Ji-Hoon Kim in August 2010. “I do feel I haven’t got the credit and this was probably a product of the old company I was working with. After this fight, when I win, I hope I’m headed for bigger and better things.”
A unification bout with Scotland’s WBO champion Ricky Burns was mooted last year, but unfortunately failed to materialize.
“There were a lot of rumours going around that I was sick, but the truth is they (Burns’ UK promoter Matchroom) made me an offer that I did not feel was a fair one and I said no,” said Vazquez. “But if we could come to a good agreement I would definitely be willing to fight him (or anyone) anywhere. As long as the money is good.”
In the prime of his career, Vazquez appears a fighter completely at ease with himself and the challenge ahead.
“You can expect a Miguel who is more prepared and relaxed than ever before,” said the champion. “Knowing that the future could be great. But fighting completely without pressure.”