You knew as soon as the publicity photos came out that Israel Vazquez was a shot fighter. You didn’t have to see him spar or shadowbox. You didn’t have to be a doctor. As soon as you saw his right eye, a little hazy and drifting off to his right regardless of what his left eye did, you knew the best thing that could happen in his fourth fight with Rafael Marquez was for Marquez to stop him early so Vazquez could get paid and get the hell out.
Marquez did us all a favor when he opened up Vazquez’s left eye like a can of sardines and sent him home early, but the performance did nothing to answer how much Marquez might have left now, at 35 years old and with 15 years and 44 pro fights behind him, three of them brutal struggles with Vazquez.
The question is important now, of course, because on Nov. 6 Marquez will meet 27-year-old, undefeated power puncher Juan Manuel Lopez in Las Vegas. And if you‘ve been watching Lopez’s career, you know he has fewer miles on him than an agoraphobic’s Cadillac. The kid is young and fresh, and he can fight.
This isn’t lost on Marquez.
“If I had to pick a level of fighter, I would probably put him at the level of a Tim Austin or a Mark Johnson, two very good left-handers that I have fought in the past,” Marquez said during a recent press conference.
“He probably has a little bit more power than those two but they were both great fighters when I fought them. That’s who I would compare him to since they’re both left-handed and have quick hands.”
Marquez (39-4, 35 knockouts) was a young man when he fought Austin and Johnson, about the age Lopez is now. So many punches since then, so much blood, so many miles run, so many struggles and stitches and victories and the losses too, to Vazquez. There’s no way he can be the same fighter now that he was then, after all he has been through. Is there?
“As long as you take care of yourself and as long as you prepare well for a fight, that shouldn’t be any problem,” Marquez said. “I think my brother proved it against Juan Diaz, who was 10 years younger than him. I’ve always taken care of myself and I think I have a lot left to give. I think that age doesn’t matter. I don’t see that as a problem. I really don’t.”
It’s true that Rafael’s brother Juan Manuel remains brilliant at 37 years old and with 57 fights behind him. But Juan Manuel was always a better technician than his little brother, and he has a better chin, too. For as long as they have been fighting, Juan Manuel has been the boxer, Rafael the puncher.
It is Marquez’s power and what many believe is Lopez’s soft chin that make the fight intriguing. Lopez, 29-0 (26 KOs) shares with fellow Puerto Rican star Felix Trinidad the mildly troubling habit of suffering flash knockdowns against inferior opponents, as he did before stopping outgunned Bernabe Concepcion in two rounds in July.
Marquez noted this too, saying, “I see how strong and powerful he is, but I also see his weaknesses. I see that he has a weak chin. So we have to take advantage of that and put our punches together and use a lot of combinations.”
Marquez’s more ardent supporters point to the trouble Lopez had against the tough but unexceptional Rogers Mtagwa last October, when Lopez was in such trouble late that he barely finished the fight on his feet. They forget that the key to Mtagwa’s success was his ability to take Lopez’s early power punches without succumbing. One shouldn’t count on Marquez being able to do the same.
Regardless, Lopez said he knows what to expect.
“We are very aware of what he can do,” he said. “He’s a tremendous fighter, and he has a lot of skills. And I know he wants to win just as bad as I do. I know just how dangerous he is. I expect the fight to end in a knockout, but I don’t expect it to end early. I think it will be a long fight and I will end it with a knockout but late.
“I think we both have the power to knock each other out. As long as it lasts, it’s going to be a war.”
That’s the bad news for Marquez. Lopez has had one very hard fight — against Mtagwa. Marquez went to hell and back with Vazquez three times and it’s hard to imagine those fights and 15 years as a pro haven’t taken something from him.
Yes, Marquez still looks good. He took Vazquez apart, for what that‘s worth. And his eyes go in the same direction at the same time. Except for the lines in his face and the scar tissue, he looks more or less the way he always has.
But he can’t be. And that’s what Lopez is counting on.
Some random observations from last week:
The new episode of FIGHT CAMP 360: Inside The Super Six World Boxing Classic was more revealing for what it didn’t show than for what it did. Mikkel Kessler could have at least put on a pair of dark glasses or an eye-patch, for cripes sake, and would it have killed Andre Dirrell to drool a little? Come on, guys, sell it!
As it was, neither helped his case; Kessler sped away from the press conference in a shiny sports car and once on the highway stayed in his own lane, more or less. And Dirrell’s uncle/trainer, Leon Lawson, made it clear well before Dirrell’s withdrawal that he wasn’t in love with the idea of facing Andre Ward. …
It sure looks like if Glen Johnson has to kill himself to get down to 168, well, that’s a sacrifice his wife is willing to make. …
No matter what you think of Allan Green, you must admit his impression of Johnson is dead-on. …
Ken Hershman, Greg Brady called. He wants his hair back. …
Latest news out of Wild Card Boxing Club is that Manny Pacquiao is 79 pounds overweight, was knocked out in sparring by Sergio Mora, and has been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ Disease, lupus and spastic colon. What, you hadn’t heard? …
In his first appearance in a ring since standing in for Vitali Klitschko’s heavy bag, Kevin Johnson stopped sub-.500 Charles Davis in four rounds in North Carolina. According to his publicist, Johnson said afterward that he will fight “with bad intentions from now on.” Or until he fights someone decent. Whichever comes first. …
If there is one more angle to be squeezed out of Pacquiao-Margarito, I’ll be damned if I know what it is. …
Paging all you governing-body apologists: The WBC’s Top 3 heavyweights are Ray Austin, Odlanier Solis, and Denis Boytsov. Defend that. …
I can’t remember the last time there were so many good fights at the end of the year. This is where sitting through all the nonsense and drudgery pays off, folks. Sit back and enjoy it. The one downside: Gus Johnson.
Bill Dettloff, is THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer. He is currently working on a biography of Ezzard Charles. Bill can be contacted at email@example.com