Lee Groves

10: Greatest 122-pound title fights

7. Rafael Marquez KO 7 Israel Vazquez I – March 3, 2007, Home Depot Center, Carson, California

If ever two fighters were perfectly matched, it was Marquez and Vazquez. Both were disciples of the scientific wing of Mexican boxing, each were undefeated in title fight competition and they were at the peak of their powers. Here’s how even this fight was coming in: For the first time in his 26-year broadcasting career, Showtime analyst Al Bernstein identified identical keys to victory for both men – no lazy jabs, go to the body and land the hook.

Needless to say, they heeded Bernstein’s advice.

From first bell to last this was high intensity textbook boxing in which both men fired tons of smart bombs. Their punches were crisp, immaculately delivered and possessed perfect leverage. Marquez held the upper hand in round one as he bloodied Vazquez’s nose and buckled his knees with a right in the closing moments and more of them in round two. Through it all Vazquez landed pinpoint jabs and diligently worked the ribs with both hands.

The third saw two major momentum shifts that unfolded within seconds. A six-punch volley caused a stunned Vazquez to retreat but moments later Vazquez pivoted and uncorked an exquisitely short left uppercut that knocked Marquez down for the first time in his career. Though nearly half the round remained Vazquez didn’t press his advantage because he knew Marquez was still dangerous.

Marquez bounced back strongly in the fourth behind educated jabs that set up sharp combinations. The action heated up even more in the fifth as Vazquez dug in heavy body shots and Marquez connected with spectacular head shots. A pair of shotgun jabs to the nose caused Vazquez to recoil in the final seconds, a segment that would prove decisive in the near future.

Vazquez fought with more urgency in the sixth but because Marquez was more than equal to the challenge he couldn’t make a dent. A massive Vazquez hook to the jaw early in the seventh barely moved Marquez, who continued to dissect his rival for the remainder of the round.

What was shaping up to be a classic suddenly ended between rounds seven and eight when Vazquez told chief second Freddie Roach he couldn’t continue. He revealed after the fight that his nose had been injured since round two and by the end of the seventh his breathing passages had completely closed off. This anti-climactic ending is why Marquez-Vazquez I isn’t rated higher, but they more than made up for the disappointment in future months.

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