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Vazquez-Marquez: Honoring a Brutal Rivalry

Photo: Tom Casino / Showtime

Photo: Tom Casino / Showtime

Ask yourself, how many times have you paid for a pay-per-view only to have the anticlimatic outcome lead to buyers’ remorse? That’s what makes exciting, competitive fights so special. The simple knowledge that you are witnessing something unique makes it that much more momentous.

The rivalry between fellow Mexican pugilists Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez most definitely falls under the category of being “special”. Over a course of three years and four fights, these two bantamweight warriors kept boxing fans on the edge of their seats as they went to war, and collected such honors as “round of the year” and “fight of the year” along the way, compliments of Ring Magazine. In an era of difficult negotiations and hand-picked opponents, Vazquez and Marquez showed us a glimpse of what the sport of boxing was like in a different age and the fans loved every round of it.

On March 3rd, 2007, the two met for the first time at The Home Depot Center in Carson, CA. Vazquez ended up losing the fight at the end of the seventh round despite knocking Marquez down in the third. Vazquez told his cornerman, Freddie Roach, that he could not go on due to breathing problems arising from a broken nose. As a result, Marquez was declared the winner, and awarded the WBC Super Bantamweight title.

Hungry for revenge, Vazquez challenged Marquez for the belt he had lost, and the rematch took place just five months later at the Dodge Arena in Hidalgo, TX. This time, however, Vazquez extracted his revenge, despite suffering cuts over both eyes, by getting a technical knockout after referee Jose Guadalupe Garcia stopped the fight in the sixth round. Despite criticism from both Showtime analyst Al Bernstein and Marquez that the fight stoppage was premature, the rematch was generally regarded as being even better than their first fight. In addition, it was named the Ring Magazine “Fight of the Year”, and round three was named “Round of the Year” for 2007.

The two met again for the third time seven months later, in March of 2008. This time around, the bout returned to The Home Depot Center, where the rivalry had begun a year earlier. Vazquez again prevailed in the rubber match to take the fight by split decision, despite being knocked down in the fourth round by hard right hand from Marquez. Marquez, however, was deducted one point for a low blown the tenth round, and knocked down by Vazquez in the final seconds of the fight when it was determined by the referee that the ropes were keeping Marquez from going down after a barrage of punches from Vazquez. Again, Ring Magazine showered the contest with accolades by naming it “Fight of the Year”, and awarding the fourth round as the “Round of the Year” for 2008.

In December of 2008, Vazquez was stripped of his WBC title due to an extended period of inactivity. The reason for such a prolonged absence? A detached retina he had suffered during his third fight with Marquez. Despite the setback, the former champion was medically cleared to resume training in May of 2009 after undergoing three surgeries.

The fourth and final meeting between the two took place on May 22nd, 2010 in Los Angeles at the Staples Center. This time around, Marquez scored a third-round TKO over a badly faded Vazquez to even the series at 2-2. Afterwards, Frank Espinoza, who was Vazquez’s longtime handler, stated that the Mexican star’s career was over.

To honor that rivalry that was as beautiful as it was brutal, Showtime began airing all four fights in the series, on March 3rd. In addition, all four fights will be available on “Showtime Anywhere” and “Showtime On Demand” beginning March 9th.

Hopefully, as you watch and relive these classic encounters, you’ll understand why boxing cannot simply be written off the landscape of American sports, as so much of the media has tried to do since the end of boxing’s “golden age”, when it was considered the number two sport in the country behind Baseball. Indeed, fighters and fights from every generation have produced moments that deserve recognition for their contribution to the sport. In the case Of Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, their devotion to their craft, their spirited rivalry, and their mutual respect as a result of that rivalry has proved to be invaluable to the sport of boxing as a whole.

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