Just superb. If you love boxing, or even if you don’t, Saturday night showed why the sport, for all its flaws, is capable of providing entertainment that is incomparable.
It’s almost too bad, in a way, that junior featherweights (122 lbs.) Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez waged such a thrilling war in MARCH, because how in the world can anything that comes after this in 2008 compare?
I’ve got other questions, too. How often does a fight that has such great expectations — if it was even in the neighborhood of their first two, it goes down in history as one of the all-time best boxing trilogies — actually SURPASS them? How often is the best fight in a trilogy the third? The only one that comes to mind is Ali-Frazier. And why hasn’t Showtime yet replaced all its programming with Vazquez-Marquez III on a week-long tape loop?
I can’t pretend the adrenaline rush has subsided yet enough for me to truly analyze Vazquez-Marquez III with a cold eye. But I’m going to give it a go.
This was not an easy fight to score. There were quite a few rounds early where Marquez was landing more shots and controlling the action, but where Vazquez landed plenty of shots of his own and wobbled Marquez. It was the reverse in the second half of the bout — Vazquez was landing more shots and controlling the action, but it seemed like at the end of almost every round, Marquez mounted an assault that wobbled Vazquez. Did Vazquez steal some of the early rounds? Did Marquez steal some of the later ones? It’s why I can’t object to two judges scoring it 114-111 each for Vazquez and Marquez.
The scorecard where some of the fight’s controversies come into play is in the conclusive 113-112 margin awarded to Vazquez. For the first time in the trilogy, Marquez put Vazquez on the seat of his pants. The fourth round, therefore, has to go to Marquez 10-8, even though, in classic Vazquez fashion, he stormed back to hurt Marquez. The 10th is when the referee, after several warnings, took a point away from Marquez for low blows, making it a 9-9 round, because I thought Marquez was winning it. I don’t agree with the referee’s call. I believe every single low blow I saw by Marquez was borderline. As a friend who was over at my place for the fight said: “It’s like the NBA playoffs. When a game matters that much, you let them play.” If those were clear low blows, I wouldn’t complain. But they were all very close calls, and the point deduction helped sway the fight for Vazquez. (I’m reserving the right to alter my opinion on this after I re-watch the fight and listen closely to the referee’s instructions about where the low blow line was on Vazquez; I foolishly didn’t record it, so it may be a while. Usually, “on the beltline” is a kind of netherzone, but if the referee clearly told Marquez to not even hit on the beltline, then the ref’s call is more justifiable.) As for the 12th, Vazquez scored what I thought was a clear knockdown, because the rule is that if the ropes keep a boxer from falling, it’s a knockdown nonetheless. That makes it a 10-8 round for Vazquez.
All of this would be irrelevant, however, if Vazquez hadn’t come in for the kill in the 12th round. What I’m about to say should not in any way diminish the way Marquez fought Saturday night: Vazquez flat-out proved he had a huge heart in the final round by going for the knockout. Both have hearts about the size of California, but Vazquez annexed Rhode Island for that conclusive stanza. Forget, momentarily, about whether the low blow point deduction was legit or any of that. Vazquez did what the greats are supposed to do — put it all on the line when it matters most. Marquez probably took the smarter option by trying to stay away, because he was tired and about to go down in flames. This is not, I repeat, not a criticism of Marquez. It’s just that what Vazquez did made all the difference.
I’m removing last night’s hedge. This one was the best of the three, period. As I wrote in my preview, I believe Marquez made mistakes in the second fight that were costly. This time, he made no mistakes — both men fought nearly the perfect fight, and it just so happens that Vazquez came out a little ahead.
I agree with promoter Gary Shaw — both these guys deserve to be in the Hall of Fame as of Saturday night. Their careers were already pretty illustrious. But this puts them over the top.
To any fellow boxing evangelists out there… Show your less-boxing oriented friends this fight. Some of the people I had over were not big fight fans, or even casual fight fans. No one left disappointed.
Next for the winner: Rest, Vazquez, rest. As much as Vazquez proved himself a true warrior — I think this fight establishes him as THE worthy heir in this era to the recently departed or retired Diego Corrales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Arturo Gatti and Erik Morales — fights like this take something out of a boxer’s career. I know Vazquez is thinking about moving up to 126 lbs., but I don’t think he should. I know Vazquez is a possible comeback opponent for Barrera, and while I know that’d mean a lot of money to Vazquez, I’d rather no one indulge Marco, and it would probably require Vazquez to move up significantly to 130 lbs. I know there’s talk of a fourth fight versus Marquez, and I’d maybe be interested in that someday. I think Vazquez should take a good, long vacation, then comeback against a worthy but not-too-dangerous junior featherweight, and after that, tackle one of the other two best in the division: Whoever wins, should the fight happen as expected, between Daniel Ponce De Leon and Celestino Caballero.
Next for the loser: Rest, Marquez, rest. Also, Marquez should call off Shaw, who wants to protest the decision. That would be super-lame. Although I dispute the point deduction for low blows, it wasn’t some flagrant or corrupt mistake on the ref’s part. It was a judgment call, one I disagreed with but that wasn’t obviously, deeply wrong. I don’t have the appropriate rulebook handy to weigh in on such matters, but it’s not my understanding that a decision can be overturned on something like that. After the rest? I recommend a similar course for Marquez as I do for Vazquez. That is, comeback against someone worthy but not-too-dangerous, then, assuming De Leon-Caballero is as close as I expect it to be, take on the loser while Vazquez takes on the winner. Then, Marquez-Vazquez IV, for a rare fourth fight in this modern era? Maybe. But two men can only fight each other like that so many times. For now, I’ll be happy watching III over and over and over and over…