It’s a busy weekend ahead for boxing, with no fewer than three significant fights ahead that we’ll preview here during the weekdays: A meaningful (and if you can believe it, potentially entertaining) heavyweight battle between Sam Peter and Oleg Maskaev; an important lightweight (135 lbs.) face-off between rising star Juan Diaz and dangerous Nate Campbell; and another big-man (cruiserweight, 200 lbs.) contest that’s being called one of the biggest British fights in 20 years, between power-punchers David Haye and Enzo Maccarinelli.
But Saturday night’s all-time great slugfest between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez is still getting repetitive replays in my mind, so I thought I’d take some measures of it by where it ranks in boxing history, plus provide a few other numbers of note.
- Top trilogy in a long, long time. I can’t pretend to have seen every contender for “best boxing trilogy in the sport’s history,” but I’ve seen most of them. For me, Vazquez-Marquez was better than Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales; Arturo Gatti-Mickey Ward; Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe; Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton; Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran; Humberto Gonzalez-Michael Carbajal. I think that’s every contender for top-10 boxing trilogy since 1975, back when Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier wrapped up their series. I think that, despite the so-so second fight, that one is still be tops, and I can’t speak to whether this overtakes Tony Zale-Rocky Graziano or some of the other golden oldies. But for pure action and drama, Marquez-Vazquez gives every one of them I’ve seen a run for their money.
- Third best individual fight I’ve watched since 1990. Again, I’ve got a gap or two, but I’ve seen almost every one of The Ring magazine’s Fights of the Year since around 1990. The ones I haven’t seen — like Jorge Castro vs. John David Jackson — rarely get mentioned among the best fights of all time. I think the only ones this one wasn’t better than are, of course, Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo, from 2005, which I watched yet again Saturday night and still is the best fight I’ve ever seen; and Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor from 1990, The Ring’s “Fight of the Decade.”
- A new number one action hero. My friends at Bad Left Hook have it right — Israel Vazquez is now THE must-see performer in boxing. That’s assuming, of course, he’s not been made a shell of his former self from all his ring wars, but he held up just fine through yet another Saturday night. His battles with Marquez, Jhonny Gonzalez and another trilogy with Oscar Larios are enough to topple Manny Pacquiao from that perch, who’s looked disinterested in his recent outings after winning the designation fair and square. I’d like nothing more than to see Pacquiao try to take it back from Vazquez March 15, when he fight’s Rafael Marquez’ brother, Juan Manuel. But nobody’s in more slugfests and nobody guarantees more drama right now than Vazquez.
- A new number one “blood and guts” warrior. I said it yesterday, but Doug Fischer of Maxboxing called it first, so credit where credit is due. The unofficial “top warrior” designation goes to the guy who repeatedly gets back up to win fights and gut out wins on pure heart. Vazquez only seems to win that way these days.
- Movement on the pound-for-pound list. That’s not to say that Vazquez is unskilled. I’d had him at ninth-best on my list of top active fighters, regardless of size, and he moves past Marquez on mine for sure. But it’s hard for me to put him over Miguel Cotto and some of the others right above him, except perhaps Kelly Pavlik. That said, if any of these other guys lose some of their big upcoming fights and don’t look amazing even in defeat, Vazquez deserves a major push. I’ll probably keep Marquez around in the top 10, because he really only lost this fight by a fraction of a hair.
- 60 days. Both fighters are suspended from boxing 60 days by California because of the toll this fight took on their bodies, not that it means much, because no WAY should either of these guys fight for another few months. Still, it gives you a sense of how life-and-death this fight was.
- 60 stitches. That’s how many Vazquez needs to close up his badly cut eyes. So he won’t be around for many months after that suspension ends. And if you thought that was bad…
- One torn ligament. Yeah, that’s right. Vazquez may have fought with a torn ligament in his knee. I don’t know when it happened, but even if it happened in the waning seconds of the final round, Vazquez demonstrated he was at his finest at the end of the fight. It’s unfathomable what kind of cojones this guy has.
- $750,000 and $425,000. Vazquez and Marquez were paid those amounts, respectively, and I’m guessing managers, promoters and the U.S. government are all taking their shares. Jack Nicholson was at ringside. Maybe he can donate some of the money he made off “The Bucket List” to these two. What they got paid was nowhere comparable to the effort they put in. Some athletes clearly still care about more than money, but man I wish there was some kind of “excitement bonus” the sport could offer to show its thanks when things like this happen.
- Round four. I don’t mean the fourth round of the fight, the one that is the leading contender for Round of the Year, to go along with its leading contender for Fight of the Year status. I mean Vazquez-Marquez IV. I will only get on board with this if Vazquez and Marquez still look good in their next few fights. I don’t want either of these men to pay the ultimate price in the ring for their glorious battles.