The battle of QUEZ needs to be recognized

Jul 31, 2007 3:51 AM

The 2007 fight of the year, interrupted in March when Israel Vazquez couldn’t breathe through a broken nose, resumes Saturday against Rafael Marquez. As good as the rematch between two of the best Mexican boxers figures to be, it is in a way a TV prelim.

Boxing fans get another Mexican standoff as far as television is concerned. In a real sense, the continuation of a fight of the year isn’t even the main event Saturday night. But only in an historical sense.

As far as now is concerned, Marquez and Vazquez is THE matchup. It’s a shame that it has to compete for attention with "The War for 4" in Rosemont, Ill.

While Showtime viewers get to watch Marquez-Vazquez II for the price of a subscription, you’ll have to go to the pay-per-view piggy bank to see perhaps the most popular Mexican fighter as he heads for the sunset of a brilliant career. Erik Morales, El Terrible, who hasn’t been so good losing his last three starts, will try to become the first Mexican to win titles in four weight divisions when he challenges tough but limited David Diaz for the WBC "interim" lightweight title in Rosemont.

Morales, coming off two stoppages by Manny Pacquiao — the last a three-round blowout — and a desultory 12-round performance when outpointed by Zahir Raheem, is pick ”˜em with Diaz. This shows how much El Terrible has slipped in bettors’ minds. Two years ago, after beating Pacquiao, he’d have been 15/1 against Diaz. But that was then and this is now. Diaz has more than the homecourt advantage, being from Chicago, not very far from Rosemont.

"No way I’m going to lose in front of my fans," says Diaz.

The tough southpaw won his "title" almost a year ago against Jose Armando Santa Cruz, who is hardly in the same league as most of the Morales opponents. El Terrible had terrific trilogies with Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera since winning his first title 10 years ago by sending Daniel Zaragoza into retirement. He has beaten such champions as Junior Jones, Wayne McCullough, Carlos Hernandez, Jesus Chavez, Kevin Kelley and on and on it goes.

Diaz has a record of 32-1-1 with only 17 knockouts. The blemishes are a draw with Ramazan Palyani and a stoppage by Kendall Holt. His greatest victories came in 1996, in the Olympic Trials and then the Boxoff, when he simply ran Zab Judah out of the ring. He did that twice, even though Judah was faster, punched much harder and infinitely more talented. Diaz swarms and never stops trying.

"The perfect style for me," said Morales.

I agree. Each is -115 and it may be a clever lure to get our money. However, if I bet on this I’d have to go with Morales. Erik is a couple of months younger than Diaz and wants "to prove I am still a top-level fighter."

Marquez and Vazquez have nothing to prove. Their brilliant seven-round exhibition last March came to an unsatisfactory ending when Vazquez, after promising he was ready to die in defense of his 122-pound title, remained on his stool, unable to breathe. Maybe that’s why Marquez is such a surprisingly heavy favorite at -290 compared to Vazquez’s +230.

Marquez, except for one right hand that dropped him, was ahead 65-63 on two official cards. A third had it 64-64 and he seemed the quicker, more accurate puncher. Vazquez pulled out that one big punch and there’s always the chance he could do it again, But Marquez, one of the top fighters pound for pound under the brilliant training of Nacho Beristain (who also handles featherweight champ and big brother Juan Manuel Marquez), has shown resiliency in the past.

Marquez won the bantamweight title against big-punching Tim Austin after first getting hurt. He won two fights with Marc Johnson, who like Austin, a top 10 pound for pound. Vazquez has been a 122-pounder for 10 years. Marquez just moved there after clearing out the bantamweights.

In March on the tale of the tape, he seemsed not only faster, but bigger. Marquez is an inch shorter than Vazquez, but has an inch longer reach. He figures to win and I’d never bet against him, but laying almost 3/1 against Vazquez is not my idea of a good time.