Real fight fans know that the bestthings come in small packages. The highly-anticipated contest at Home Depot Center in Carson, CA between the premier 118-pounder, Rafael Marquez, and The Man at 122, Israel Vazquez, was seen as a possible Fight of the Year candidate as soon as the contracts were signed.
For the seven full rounds it lasted on Showtime Championship Boxing, these jockey-sized battlers didn’t disappoint. Yet the showdown fell short of the lofty expectations we had for it. The now 41-4 (30) super bantam Vazquez opted not to come out for the eighth, losing his WBC belt to Marquez.
Through seven, judges Dave Moretti and Patrick Russell had Marquez up 67-65, and Jack Reiss had it even at 66-66. There was no question that Rafael had the edge, but Israel was competitive and demonstrated the kind of punching power that can alter the fight with a single punch.
Vazquez is traditionally associated with toughness and bravery, so his retiring in his corner was as shocking as when Kostya Tszyu did the same against Ricky Hatton in 2005. In a post-fight interview with Showtimes’s Jim Gray, he said his nose had been broken as early as the second, and his breathing became increasingly hard with each round.
In an attempt to protect his fighter’s reputation and pride, Vazquez’s trainer Freddy Roach claimed that he, not his fighter, had thrown in the towel. No matter. Vazquez has given boxing far more than he has taken. And while fight fans may be disappointed with the outcome, it suggests that none of us are Superman—and even he shrank when confronted with Kryptonite. “Magnifico” simply met his match in this Nacho Beristain product who, at least offensively, is close to perfection.
Now 37-3 (33), Marquez might be on the cusp of super stardom. The 31-year-old punches so hard, exhibits such physical prowess even at this higher weight class, he could conceivably campaign at featherweight and go for a belt in his third division. (His brother, Juan Manuel, has moved up to 130 to face Marco Antonio Barrera. So there’s no worry of their pulling a Klitschko and tying up the division.) Or Rafael could stay where he is and make tremendous fights against any number of fighters—Daniel Ponce De Leon, Celestino Caballero, Somsak Sithchatchawa, et al.
Marquez and Vazquez’s styles meshed well from the get-go. But Rafael was slightly better. His combinations—which he threw more of—looked a tad crisper, harder, reaching their desired target more often. The first round concluded with a straight right on the button that backed Israel up and gave him something to think about between rounds.
The second was also Marquez’s. His jab was stiff and accurate and regularly came in twos. He set up most of his combinations with the left, but threw just enough lead rights to keep Vazquez off balance.
It was more of the same in the third. Midway through the session, Rafael backed his man up with fierce hooks and uppercuts on the inside. Looking to finish him, he charged in headlong but was met with a left hook that was so fast and short he never saw it—neither did the rest of us watching, not until the slow-motion replay revealed what had happened. It was actually an uppercut-hook hybrid, a signature punch of the Mexican craftsman.
Marquez got up before the count of three but looked unsteady. Not possessing the greatest of his chins—three of his losses have come by knockout, and he has seen the canvas numerous other times—Rafael compensates with a champion’s pride and high altitude conditioning that would humble a mountain goat. Besides, in boxing as in life, it’s not whether you fall but how you pick yourself up off the canvas.
He quickly collected himself and arguably won the second half of the round. But it was a 10-8 round for Israel, and a reminder that this other Mexico City native could lose most of the battles and still win the war.
Marquez looked good in the fourth. The fifth was a brutal round of trading, where they both had a blistering work rate. Commentator Steve Albert suggested we might have another Corrales-Castillo I in the making. “Something special is happening!” he said.
Just before the 10-second warning, though, Marquez threw two hard jabs; the second one distorted Israel’s features as if it had been thrown by Sonny Liston. Vazquez responded strangely: he turned his back to Marquez, moved towards the ropes, and bent down touching his nose. Al Bernstein said he might be bluffing. No, it was the involuntary response of a wounded animal.
Rafael rushed in to end it, but his big shots missed, and Israel fought back gamely for the remaining seconds.
Just as unlikely as this occurrence was how Vazquez opened the sixth; charging out of his corner like a hopped up greyhound. I had him winning the round. When he kept it on the inside, he had most of his good moments. When on the outside, Marquez was in charge, using his superior reach and speed to great effect.
Before the seventh, Roach implored his fighter to go to the body. The trainer believed they were sapping the other man’s strength and would tell in the late rounds. But it was that signature uppercut-hook upstairs that downed Rafael in the third, which kept Marquez honest. The shot stopped Marquez in his tracks and had him briefly chastened. It was another decent round for Vazquez, meaning it was close and could’ve gone either way.
Upon reviewing the round, I noticed Israel was blowing through his nose, trying to clear it. His mouth was more open than usual, aching for oxygen. In real time, I didn’t pay much mind. All I thought was, “Another five rounds of this stuff, and I’ve just witnessed a classic.”
It was not to be.
Just as the boxing gods bequeathed us with this (potential) dream fight between the best of the bantams, the time has come that that they do the same for us with flyweights. And no one would complain—nay, the majority would insist!—that Vic Darchinyan be in one corner. At now 28-0 (22), the IBF fly beltholder has a wicked punch and unholy strength. His intense disposition, and that unique way he stalks his prey with his elbows jutting out like an Armenian-Aussie gamecock, has earned him legions of fans. Even those who ordinarily never bother with boxers who weigh less than nubile cheerleaders, are anxious to see more of him.
The other half of this proposed fistic equation would be, of course, Jorge Arce. This super fly, who holds no title (and so what?!), has a balls-to-the-wall style that is harder to turn away from than a 13-car pile-up. After Manny Pacquiao, these two are #2 and #3 on my Pound-For-Pound “Most Exciting” list. While there are other excellent flys out there—Martin Castillo and Pongsaklek Wonjongkam are two—the aforementioned duel is the one I believe most hardcore fans crave.
If they don’t end up fighting, please address your hate mail to Bob Arum—who has Jorge—and Gary Shaw—who has Vic. The two promoters have been quarreling lately and seem unwilling to do business together, at the expense of their fighters and those wishing to watch them.
Vic has been calling Jorge out for quite some time. Meanwhile, HBO has been letting Arce off easy, putting him in with soft touches like an aging Masibulele Makepula and an overmatched (and virtually unknown) Julio Roque Ler. If the money is right and all parties behave like mature adults, Arce won’t duck the opportunity. But until that time comes, we must content ourselves with lesser fights.
The televised co-feature of the night was Darchinyan vs. Victor Burgos. Burgos is a light fly who once held the IBF title, but at 39-14-3 (23) going in, he had a lot of tread on him. No taller than Danny DeVito, he needed to bang with Vic on the inside if he were to have any hope. Instead, he played keep away, where he had no chance and paid dearly over the course of 12 rounds.
One clean punch from Vic is the equivalent of 15 from an average 112-pounder. He probably hits harder than some welterweights. Along with his power, he is a southpaw with one of the most awkward styles man has ever seen. He is a scary little creature.
This was a lopsided affair from first to last. Burgos showed tremendous heart and fortitude in hanging in there, but in retrospect one wishes Vic had gotten rid of him immediately, as he had promised.
When the fight was stopped at 1:27 of the 12th by referee John Schorle, it was not due to a particular shot. Burgos had no legs left and was merely running—literally—out the clock.
The scene quickly devolved into a horror show that occasionally visits boxing, and never leaves the minds of those of us who witness such tragedies. Burgos began to slip in and out of consciousness. Not able to steady himself even on his stool, he was placed on a stretcher and whisked away to Los Angeles County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in nearby Torrence, CA.
He underwent immediate brain surgery to reduce swelling on his brain and to remove a blood clot that had formed on it. It was reported that the surgery was successful, and at the time of this writing he has been placed in a medically-induced coma, a common technique after head trauma.
Ghoulish though it may be, this sobering incident took place before Marquez and Vazquez battered each other for money and our amusement.