1. Israel Vazquez vs. Rafael Marquez – March 3, 2007 to May 22, 2010
Few series in boxing history have been as evenly matched and as robustly competitive as Vazquez-Marquez. Both owned the full complement of scientific skills as well as the inner drive to assume massive risks and carry them out fearlessly. The result was back-to-back Fight of the Year awards from THE RING as well as back-to-back Round of the Year designations. The historic honors combined with the quality of their work throughout the series lifts the Marquez-Vazquez wars to the top spot on this list.
The first act of this drama was held at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California with Vazquez’s WBC super bantamweight belt at stake. Vazquez dropped Marquez for the first time in his career with an exquisitely delivered left uppercut in round three but Marquez rebounded strongly in the fourth with pinpoint jabs and heavy combinations. A pair of shotgun jabs to Vazquez’s nose in the fifth caused the champ to recoil in pain and the injury eventually caused Vazquez to surrender between rounds seven and eight.
Five months later in Hidalgo, Texas the pair more than made up for the anti-climactic ending by engaging in a full-scale war that was THE RING’S best fight of 2007. Round three was deemed Round of the Year as both were staggered and suffered facial cuts. The fight ended in the sixth when a three-punch explosion capped by a hook to the jaw floored Marquez for a two-count and Vazquez’s follow-up volleys persuaded referee Jose Guadalupe Garcia to intervene.
The rubber match held March 1, 2008 at the Home Depot Center combined all the positive elements of the first two fights, then magnified them. Round four was honored as Round of the Year as Marquez overcame Vazquez’s early surge to drop the defending titleholder for the first time in the series. As Marquez plowed in to finish the job, Vazquez nearly scored his own knockdown. Marquez’s body shots often strayed low and in round 10 referee Pat Russell deducted a point that eventually proved decisive.
With his facial tissues falling apart, Vazquez turned on the gas and reached the finish line in the nick of time. With less than 10 seconds remaining Vazquez’s last-ditch flurry caused Marquez to stumble back and drape his arm over the top rope, a maneuver that Russell called a “but-for-the-ropes” knockdown. That call, combined with the point penalty, allowed Vazquez to emerge with a title-retaining split decision (114-111, 111-114, 113-112).
Vazquez took off the next 19 months to undergo three procedures on his retina and to let his cut-prone face heal but his comeback victory over Angel Priolo (KO 9) did nothing to dampen concerns for his long-term health. Still, a fourth fight with Marquez was made and while Vazquez’s spirit pushed him to do his best his weathered brows could not sustain his effort.
Marquez opened a massive cut over Vazquez’s left eye in the first round and a butt opened a gash over the right eye in round three. Moments later a Marquez combination dropped Vazquez to a knee and seconds later a follow-up volley forced referee Raul Caiz Jr. bought a close to one of the most vicious – and most wonderful – four-fight series in history with a 2-2 tie.
Honorable mentions: Ike Williams vs. Beau Jack (Williams 4-0), Kid Gavilan vs. Billy Graham (3-1 Gavilan), Ezzard Charles vs. Jersey Joe Walcott (2-2), Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Carl “Bobo” Olson (Robinson 4-0), Les Darcy vs. Fritz Holland (2-2).
It is interesting to note that the Marquez brothers have been involved in two of boxing’s most recent tetralogies. And it’s not surprising that the seven fights that have already happened were eventful, exciting and captivating. Here’s hoping that the fourth meeting between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao lives up to – and surpasses – the high bar that’s already been set.
Photos / Tom Casino-SHOWTIME, THE RING
Lee Groves, a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va., can be emailed at email@example.com. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won seven writing awards, including a first-place for News Story in 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics.” To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author to arrange for autographed copies.