Rafael Marquez evened the score with Israel Vazquez in their four-fight rivalry by stopping Vazquez in the 3rd round, really blowing away his shopworn nemesis who probably ought to retire now — something even his manager realized afterward. At featherweight, Vazquez was the naturally bigger man, but Marquez was sharper and busier and chopped up Vazquez’ paper-thin skin with a combination of right hands and head butts, while Vazquez made a courageous stand but just didn’t have a chance. If this is the end, Vazquez went down swinging, which is fitting for one of the great action fighters of the last decade.
Bantamweights Yonnhy Perez and Abner Mares instead took the baton for Fight of the Year-style fireworks that the Vazquez-Marquez trilogy had provided in the past, battling to a high-intensity draw that never let up from the opening second to the final one. Young Mares proved he belonged among the best in a loaded division, while Perez, already proven in that regard, is making a case for being one of the most consistently entertaining fighters in the sport.
RAFAEL MARQUEZ-ISRAEL VAZQUEZ IV
All along, we knew the winner of this fight would be the one who had the most left after three grueling wars, arguably the best three-fight series in boxing history. As it happened, Marquez, loser of two of the three, had more left. It was hard to tell just how much Marquez had left, because while he looked excellent, he was in against an opponent who looked like the tank was on empty in his last fight, against Angel Antonio Priolo.
From the beginning, this dynamic was clear. Vazquez was pressing forward, like always, and he was landing. But Marquez had zero trouble taking those shots, unlike in the past when Vazquez was able to hurt, drop and wobble Marquez repeatedly. Meanwhile, Marquez was connecting on flush, head-snapping shots that clearly were taking their toll on Vazquez. Vazquez didn’t seem lethargic, per se, but he couldn’t get off and Marquez could, especially with his right hand.
By the 2nd, a head butt/right hand combo opened up a cut over Vazquez’ left eye that by fight’s end surpassed nearly any cut of the last couple years for grotesque appearance. His skin was dangling around like the button flap on old school pajama bottoms. In the 3rd, Marquez was delivering a nasty beating, and another cut opened over Vazquez’ right eye, this time due to a head butt alone. By the middle of the round, Marquez dropped Vazquez with a right, and when Vazquez got up, Marquez was all up in his business, battering him severely enough that the referee stepped in to halt the fight.
Both Vazquez and Marquez talked about being willing to do a fifth bout, but it’s unnecessary, as was this fight, for that matter. They made some nice cash off it, but all Vazquez has left is his heart and skin that gushes blood in every fight these days. All that heart’s good for, by itself, is more bloody, one-sided losses. Vazquez’ manager talked a big and somewhat callous game beforehand about how he saw no reason not to let these men fight again, that as long as their bodies would let them do it, hey, it’s a rough industry, etc. etc., but even he realized later that Vazquez needs to quit (per BoxingScene). I’ll save the big heartwarming “Izzy was an amazing fighter who was in amazing fights” speech until Vazquez retires, though. Sometimes it takes more than a solitary one-sided beating for a warrior like Vazquez to realize it is time to hang up the gloves. Sometimes, it takes years and years and years. Cases in point: Evander Holyfield is still fighting; Jose Luis Castillo recently retired, recognizing he was shot, but not long after found a way to believe he wasn’t anymore and now says he’ll be back.
Marquez will fight on, though, and demonstrated he was capable of doing so at 35 years old. Next may be Vic Darchinyan, who didn’t demonstrate in two recent bantamweight outings that his power carries up quite as well in that division, so he probably wouldn’t be too dangerous two more divisions up. Still, it figures as an attractive action fight, and would give us a stronger sense of whether Marquez was such a killer Saturday because he had a virtual dead man in front of him or because he has a bunch left to offer. And then you can start talking about Marquez against top featherweights, like Juan Manuel Lopez.
ABNER MARES-YONNHY PEREZ
In what’s becoming a regular habit for Perez, he was in a fight where the action was so nonstop that you had to catch your breath just watching it. This time his partner was Mares, an unproven 24-year-old who definitely proved himself Saturday, fighting Perez closer than the two top veteran contenders Perez beat, Silence Mabuza and Joseph Agbeko.
I had it 116-112 Mares, but so many rounds were so close that I could see awarding Perez the decision, too. One judge had it 115-113 for Mares, the Mexican crowd favorite, with the other two having it even. Early on, Mares was beating Perez to the punch and getting out of harm’s way quickly enough to avoid taking too much return punishment. I gave Mares the first three rounds. But Perez began to find his spots, and by the 4th, he was connecting on more clean shots. He was outworking Mares, who adapted from losing the 5th on my scorecard to take back the 6th with a more conservative, backward-moving, counterpunching style.
But it wasn’t working completely. Perez took the 7th and 8th on my card by stalking down Mares and again connecting on the higher number of clean shots. In the 9th, Mares adjusted again, resuming forward movement and digging to Perez’ body, winning the remaining rounds in the fight by my tally. The punches were beginning to really do damage to Perez, first to the body and then to the head, to the point that at the end of the 12th round he had stunned the iron-chinned Colombian.
There was not the kind of Fight of the Year candidate where boxers take turns spilling each other on the canvas, or even spilling blood. Each man’s face instead was puffed up from the sustained action. And I mean, sustained. Really sustained. It never let up, not for a second. And it was skillfully fought, too.
That’s two Fight of the Year candidates in a row for Perez, and don’t forget that his bout with Mabuza might have been worth an honorable mention, too. His stamina and pressure forces his opponents to engage him and try to keep up, lest they become suffocated beneath an avalanche of punches. Boxing may have lost one of its true action stars with Vazquez’ defeat Saturday, but Perez is fast growing into one.
We already knew Perez was legit. We only thought Mares was. Now we know he is. The only question left is this: When’s the rematch?