No one knows exactly what to expect when Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez meet tomorrow night for the fourth time in a little over three years. Violence, naturally; blood, no doubt; pain, the likes of which few will ever experience, of course. But as for the strategic or competitive aspects of a fight between two boxers who may have left pieces of themselves scattered in stained rings across the West Coast during their ferocious trilogy, no one can say.
It is hard to imagine that they are looking forward to facing off one more time. For Vazquez and Marquez, stepping into the ring with each other is like checking into a bed and breakfast run by Procrustes.
Nothing in boxing over the last few years has matched the mayhem–tempered at times by exquisite skill–Vazquez and Marquez have subjected each other to. In fact, some have expressed concern about the health of the participants tomorrow night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Unfortunately for Vazquez, he has already suffered noticeably from his dangerous meetings with Marquez. In the last three years, Vazquez has undergone an operation for a shattered nose and multiple surgeries for a detached retina. Another unsettling aspect concerns how often Vazquez, 44-4 (32), appears in public wearing sunglasses.
Now 35, Marquez is looking to even the series with Vazquez at two apiece, but there is no telling how much he has left either. After all, it is not only Vazquez who has been diminished from the punishment absorbed over the last few years. Indeed, Marquez, 38-5 (34), has been dropped heavily in all three fights against Vazquez and might have been knocked out in the last bout if not for the mercy of the final bell.
Marquez, like his nemesis Vazquez, has been a superb fighting machine for fifteen years. His only real weakness is a jaw as reliable as a game of bingo with balls missing. Although he has been stopped four times in his career, Marquez has protected his chin with fine technique and the ultimate deterrent: crippling power in both hands. Still, Vazquez has managed to get the edge over him in the last two fights, a 7th round TKO and a split decision.
This time Marquez seems to have found the equalizer for Vazquez: disintegration. Long before he swapped vicious shots with Marquez, “Magnifico” took grinding punishment in fights with hard cases like Hector Velázquez, Jhonny Gonzalez, and Oscar Larios. But the ultimate sign of repeated GBH having taken its toll on Vazquez was his last fight, a 9th round TKO of Angel Antonio Priolo nearly eight months ago. Vazquez was returning from a layoff of over a year and a half.
Within a round it became obvious that Vazquez was either shot or so rusty as to be its temporary equivalent. Not only did Vazquez struggle mightily with Angel Antonio Priolo, a pushover who decided to push back for once, but he also suffered a nasty crescent-shaped cut over his left eye that might have caused the bout to be stopped at any moment. Against Priolo, a former flyweight, Vazquez ate right hands all night and never seemed to get his offensive rhythm. So dreadful did Vazquez, 32, look against Priolo–loser of six in a row and five by knockout coming into the bout–that Marquez is the favorite despite the fact that he has lost consecutive fights to Vazquez.
For his part, Marquez has been no busier than Vazquez since 2008. In his only fight since his third bout with Vazquez, he made such short work of Jose Francesco Mendoza that indications of decline, if any exist, could not manifest themselves.
Marquez, Mexico City, Mexico, may indeed be “more whole” than Vazquez at this point, but has he squandered that edge by not fighting in the last year? In addition to all the other X-factors aswirl Vazquez-Marquez IV, this fight will take place at featherweight, four pounds north of their previous encounters. Will the added weight make any difference, and, if so, will it affect Marquez or Vazquez?
Vazquez, Huntington Park, California, via Mexico City, has shown in the past that he can offset his disadvantage in skill by forcing a hectic pace and obliging Marquez to trade shots, but the past seems farther away than ever for Vazquez. But if Marquez has lost any of his finesse, does that mean Vazquez will be closer to the present in the ring?
The two likeliest outcomes are Marquez by cuts or Vazquez by TKO. One seems as plausible as the other. Less clear is how time will blacken either man.