Vazquez-Marquez ‘must see’

February 26, 2008 3:16 AM
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The only guarantee in next Saturday’s big fight, based on previous form, is that it will be must-see. Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, do not know how to otherwise engage.

These two junior featherweights — superbantamweights, if you prefer — met in two of the best fights of 2007, or of any year. The rematch was better than the original, when Marquez, the longtime bantamweight champion moved up four pounds to 122. While absorbing some ferocious blows, he busted up Vazquez’s nose so badly the champion, unable to breathe, had to gasp his surrender after many hellacious rounds.

The rematch was even better when Vazquez, while absorbing some more hellacious blows, opened a one-inch gash beneath Marquez’s right eye. He then jolted him with hook after hook until Referee Guadaloupe Garcia’s intervention in the sixth round. It was the fight of the year in most places, and the resumption of the series after the 13 rounds last year promises more of the same.

The rubber match is set for the Home Depot Center in Carson (CA), the site of Marquez’s thrilling but aborted victory last March. After a second-round uppercut painfully re-arranged Vazquez’s nose, and after his family saw his face following the loss, the son of a Mexico City undertaker almost retired.

Instead, despite advice from trainer Freddie Roach to take some time off, he ordered the immediate rematch. Roach is gone now, and Vazquez is the 17-10 favorite to take the 2-1 lead in the family feud.

Should he win, and should Marquez’s big brother, Juan Manuel, upset Manny Pacquiao at 130 pounds on March 15, it would not be surprising to see another Marquez-Vazquez match.

It’s why I have a lean to him after being the first kid on my block to believe that Rafael Marquez was one of the best fighters in the world. I still have him No. 7 on my pound-for-pound list, right behind Vazquez.

Rafael got my attention by first outpointing Mark Johnson, then knocking out perhaps the best flyweight in history in a rematch. He finally moved up to bantamweight where he dethroned another of my pound-for-pound giants, Tim Austin, via a knockout.

Vazquez has never been too difficult to hit, and there’s no question that even in the second fight Marquez was outboxing him for long stretches. But Marquez is the smaller man here, and while better defensively than his rival, his chin is not believed to be of granite.

Do not get me wrong. Despite the lack of defense on occasion, these are wonderfully skilled fighters — they just seem happier when they are playing offense.

At 32, Rafael Marquez may be on the downslope of his 37-4 career (33 knockouts). At 30, Vazquez (42-4 with 31 stoppages) should be at his peak.

Yes, I have a lean toward Vazquez, but almost no result, save for a dull fight, will shock me. Plus, I can not in good faith root against either man. Vazquez’s toddling son, Israel Jr., has hemophilia and has had to be rushed at least a dozen times to a hospital to get coagulants administered.

Also, Vazquez is one of those blue-collar guys I love. Between championship defenses, he usually can be found sweeping hair from the floor of his wife’s South Gate, (CA), salon (he met getting a haircut there and then continued getting haircuts until they married — like Samson and Delilah in reverse.)

On the other hand, how can I go against Nacho Beristain, who trains both Marquez boys. Beristain is unquestionably one of the great trainers in history and he makes the +140 or so buyback look attractive.

Friday, ShoBox will air an IBF featherweight title bout in which Robert Guerrero is the 6-1 favorite — a bit high for my taste, but certainly deserved — over Jason Litzau.