The old timers used to say that legends are solidified in the championship rounds. In those days fighters could use rounds 10-15 to score a come from behind knockout (ie Marciano-Walcott I), or steal a close decision (ie Ali-Norton III).
Last Saturday, Israel Vazquez (43-4, 31 KOs) didnt have the luxury of 3 additional rounds, but his relentlessness and will was reminiscent of a bygone era, as he pummeled Rafael Marquez (37-5, 33 KOs) in the twelfth to earn a razor thin split decision.
The main question going in was whose body could absorb the most punishment? In the first encounter, Rafael Marquez fractured Vazquezs nose, forcing a corner stoppage.
In the rematch, Vazquezs compact hooks on the inside vanquished Marquez by the middle rounds. Both men have been practically bleeding, swelling, and cutting since the moment theyve meet, and they picked up right where they left off in the rubbermatch.
Marquez won the battle of the jabs early, landing them with thudding accuracy as Vazquez tried to bully his way inside. Despite controlling most of the round, Marquez was stunned late by a left uppercut on the inside. Marquez immediately fired back with left hooks as Vazquez went in for the kill, only the bell stopping them from inflicting more carnage.
In round two Vazquez pressed his attack, jabbing Marquez back to the ropes before unleashing short hooks on the inside. Marquez retaliated with left hooks to the body and head, but left himself open to a hard left hook counter from Vazquez. Marquez took the bomb well, maintaining his composure and keeping Vazquez at bay with his piston-like jab.
By round three, Vazquez began to time overhand rights when Marquez was lazy with his jab. Still, the concern was the sheer amount of hard power jabs Vazquez was taking, in light of the fractured nose from the first fight.
Undeterred, Vazquez continued pressing forward, connecting with a jab-left hook combination, and later a hard straight right. While Marquez had maintained the same work rate that won him the first two rounds, the cleaner, harder punches were landed by Vazquez in round three. Another pivotal occurrence in this round was the first warning Marquez received for a left hook that landed low.
Vazquez came out for round four a ball of fire, determined to get inside and work the body. Also, for the first time Israel was winning the battle of the jabs, allowing him to get inside and work Marquez over. However, Marquez caught on and landed a perfect right hand counter that wobbled Vazquez.
Sensing blood, Marquez landed a left hook-overhand right combination which dropped Vazquez with 59 seconds to go. Stunned but not badly hurt, a determined Vazquez got up and immediately hurt a reckless Marquez with two overhand rights. The crowd went wild as both men exchanged bombs to close out the last 30 seconds.
In the middle rounds (5-8), a set pattern finally emerged: Marquez controlled most of the rounds with his jab and an occasional combination, only to be cornered and blasted by a huge shot(s) from Vazquez. The scoring of these rounds would rest on the preferences of the judges: the ring generalship of Marquez, or the clean punching and effective aggression of Vazquez?
The punishment also began to distort both mens facial features, with Marquezs left eye swelling and cuts emerging over both of Vazquezs eyes.
Round nine saw Marquez reestablish his left hook that won him the early rounds, landing it well to the head and body. Marquez also stunned Vazquez with a straight right to take the round as the bell sounded.
The championship rounds brought the drama and controversy weve come to expect in boxing. Vazquez started round ten well with hooks on the inside, but Marquez began to establish good mid range distance to land a hard right and a huge uppercut to end the round.
Unfortunately, Marquez again went low to lose a point in a round he clearly won. Knowing the fight was close, Vazquez started the eleventh with an overhand right. Bad swelling was apparent on Marquezs left eye due to Vazquezs repeated right hand. Vazquez kept the right handing coming, landing it at will to secure the round despite a late flurry from Marquez.
The fight was on the table in the twelfth round, with the crowd in the frenzy as the battered, bloody fighters touched gloves. Who wanted it more? Israel Vazquez answered that question emphatically by battering Marquez from the outset with huge right hook bombs. Marquez was spent, and now in full retreat mode.
Vazquez continued coming forward, shrugging off Marquezs attempts to clinch and now punishing Marquez to the body as well. With 10 seconds left Vazquez landed another huge right, causing Marquez to careen back into the ropes. Per rules, the sequence was ruled a knockdown as only the ropes kept Marquez from going down.
As the bell sounded, both men appropriately raised their hands, both winners for giving such a Herculean effort. Final scores were 114-111 (Vazquez), 114-111 (Marquez), and 113-112 (Vazquez).
This was a phenomenal fight, and now the far and away early candidate for fight of the year. My prediction before the fight was TKO8 for Vazquez, but Marquez nearly ended things in the fourth due to his precise punching. My scorecard for the fight was 115-111. I preferred Vazquezs harder punches and aggression in the middle rounds, which I felt was breaking down Marquez.
Also important, I scored the fourth round a 10-9 round for Marquez. Despite the knockdown, Vazquez came right back to hurt and wobble Marquez in the same round. I am concerned for the health of both guys, and I hope they take off the majority of this year to recover. The pictures say it all about the brutality of this fight.
Guerrero Puts Litzau to Sleep via 8th Round KO
Robert Guerrero (22-1-1, 15 KOs) put a decisive end to Jason Litzaus (23-2) title hopes, knocking out the young challenger to retain his IBF featherweight title. Guerrero controlled the fight with superior boxing, and gradually broke down Litzau from the constant clean punching. In the eigth, Litzau was dropped from a left uppercut.
After a second combination floored him, Litzau was unable to beat the count. Despite enjoying success on ESPN2 and having a crowd pleasing style, Litzau just doesnt have the skill or chin to truly reach the elite.
Young Guns Look to Vanquish Division Stalwarts This Weekend
After numerous delays, Samuel Peter squares off against Oleg Maskaev this weekend for the WBC title. Both men are coming off victories: Peter won a UD over Jameel McCline after an early scare last October, and Maskaev won a decision over journeyman Peter Okhello back in December 2006. Peter should win this fight in brutal fashion, as inactivity is terminal for an older heavyweight like Maskaev. My prediction is a TKO for Peter by round seven.
On the undercard, IBF lightweight champion Juan Diaz (33-0, 17 KOs) takes on veteran Nate Campbell (31-5, 25 KOs).
Diaz is coming off a two impressive stoppages of Julio Diaz and Acelino Freitas, while Campbell has a three fight win streak over lesser, ESPN2 caliber competition.
Nate is a tough, seasoned vet who will not go quietly, but the faster, younger, and aggressive Diaz will overwhelm him in the later rounds.
After a seesaw battle in the first five rounds, expect Diaz to take over and sweep the second half of the fight for a clear unanimous decision.
Cotto Talks Mayweather, Hatton, Gomez, Judah-Mosley
Listen to Cotto weigh in on his peers.
See you guys next week for analysis of Pacquiao-Marquez II