Lee Groves

10: Greatest 122-pound title fights

3. Israel Vazquez W 12 Rafael Marquez III – March 1, 2008, Home Depot Center, Carson, California

Third fights are often hit-or-miss propositions because the combatants know each other so well. But like the third acts between Bowe and Holyfield, Gatti and Ward, Harding and Andries and Barrera and Morales, Vazquez-Marquez III was every bit as exciting – if not more so – than the two fights that preceded it. Just as the rematch won THE RING’s Fight of the Year/Round of the Year double in 2007, the third installment of Vazquez-Marquez earned the same dual honors for 2008.

Returning to the scene of the first fight, the fighters recaptured the magic that occurred a little less than one year earlier. While Marquez enjoyed long stretches of excellence, Vazquez managed to wipe them out with bursts of eye-catching power. A short left hook – Marquez’s nemesis in the previous two fights – caused the challenger’s legs to buckle in the first two rounds while the third featured hard-nosed, even exchanges.

Round four was destined to be Round of the Year as Vazquez prevailed early with accurate jabs and rugged body shots while Marquez’s blows reddened Vazquez’s notoriously injured left eye. A hook stunned Vazquez in the round’s final minute and a follow-up right to the jaw decked “El Magnifico” for the first time in the series. As Marquez moved in for the finish a torrid overhand right by Vazquez nearly floored the challenger. After the bell sounded Vazquez walked to his corner with yet another severe cut over the left eye.

Vazquez’s right eye was sliced in round five while Marquez’s jabs raised a lump over the left one in the sixth. Yet Vazquez continued to press forward in the face of Marquez’s technical brilliance and by the seventh he began to get his second wind.

Though the action was hot and heavy throughout the middle rounds Vazquez appeared to secure small gains with his heavier punches. Because Marquez was jabbing less Vazquez was able to get inside more often and dig plenty of shots to the ribs. Marquez’s own body shots often strayed below the belt and in round 10 referee Pat Russell – after issuing at least four warnings –

penalized Marquez a point, a point that proved critical in hindsight.

Sensing the cards were razor-close, both men upped their effort even more in the final round. Vazquez in particular fought with desperation and inspiration as he pounded Marquez’s swollen left eye and landed cracking rights that had the challenger holding on. With less than 10 seconds remaining Vazquez unleashed a five-punch explosion that caused Marquez to stumble back and drape his arm over the top rope. Russell called a “but for the ropes” knockdown and issued the mandatory eight count that, in essence, ended the fight.

The knockdown call and the point penalty sealed Marquez’s mathematical doom, for while Max DeLuca and Tom Kaczmarek scored 114-111 for each man, Dr. James Jen-Kin’s 113-112 score tipped the scale for the winner – and still champion – Vazquez.

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