Late Breaking

“I Can’t Anymore”

Israel Vazquez versus Rafael Marquez was winning 2007’s Fight of the Year honors on all judges’ scorecards. It was glorious; not since Diego Corrales knocked-out Jose Luis Castillo in 2005 had so many pundits aligned ourselves so correctly. Marquez buckled Vazquez in the first round, Vazquez dropped Marquez in the third round, and each man perpetrated much violence on the other. Then Israel Vazquez told his corner, “I can’t anymore.”

That was how it ended. Before the bell could ring to start Round 8, Israel Vazquez walked the length of the canvas and congratulated Rafael Marquez. A Marquez uppercut in the first round had broken Vazquez’s nose. By the middle of Round 7, Vazquez could no longer breathe or abide the pain. Rafael Marquez was the new WBC Super-Bantamweight Champion of the World.

Before the main event, however, tragedy may have befallen our sport again. At the time of this column’s filing, Mexican flyweight Victor Burgos’s condition remains unknown. He was removed from the ring on a stretcher and taken to a nearby hospital’s trauma ward.

In his undercard mis-match with IBF flyweight champ Vic Darchinyan, Victor Burgos was hit many times and hard. It was a reminder of what two sides there are to the promotion of knockout artists. Tragedy can strike anytime a “designated opponent” like Burgos forgets his role as a résumé-enhancing stiff. Rather than fulfill Darchinyan’s prediction of a first-round knockout, little Victor Burgos stayed on his feet far, far longer than he should have.

Let us all hope the consequence of Victor Burgos’s spirit is no graver than a fifteenth loss on his record.

After a twenty-five minute segue that effectively cleared the air of misfortune, Carson’s Home Depot Center – a California venue tucked between Los Angeles and San Diego – welcomed Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez with an announced attendance of only 5,155 fans. Fortunately, those fans cheered loudly.

The opening bell rang and Israel Vazquez confronted Rafael Marquez at center ring. After exchanging nothing less than courteous banter in the leadup to their match, each prizefighter showed almost no respect for his opponent’s power in Round 1.

For the opening 90 seconds, Israel Vazquez appeared looser. Rafael Marquez, whose shoulders belong to a middleweight, landed few combinations. At 2:45 of Round 1, though, Marquez lifted Vazquez’s head with a left uppercut that probably broke Vazquez’s nose. Ten seconds later Marquez threw a classic one-two – left jab, straight right – that splayed Vazquez’s knees. A fight had begun.

After a close second round that Marquez won with his right hand, Israel Vazquez began Round 3 trying to throw punches before Marquez did. He planted at center ring and dug body shots in Marquez’s ribs, abs, and liver. Unfazed at the halfway mark of the round, Rafael Marquez landed another right hand. Vazquez retreated. Marquez danced forward, flurrying as he came. But he hung a lazy left hook on Vazquez’s right shoulder.

Israel Vazquez pinned Marquez’s left glove. He lowered his own left shoulder. Then he ripped a short left over Marquez’s right guard. Marquez’s head snapped leftward. Rafael Marquez landed on the blue mat. He rose by Referee Caiz’s count of three. He wobbled round the ring for seven counts. But he survived the remainder of Vazquez’s attack.

Sometime between that moment in the third round and the middle of the fifth, Israel Vazquez’s broken nose became a serious problem. By 2:46 of Round 5, when Rafael Marquez placed a jab directly on Vazquez’s nose, the champ’s troubles became obvious.

Israel Vazquez turned his head and walked to the far ropes to take a knee. That a jab had driven a champion to such a thing evinced what pain Vazquez’s nose now caused him. But certain Vazquez’s act was a ruse, Rafael Marquez chased after Vazquez. The two then made a furious exchange till the round’s closing bell.

Israel Vazquez next sat on his stool, looked at trainer Freddie Roach, and said, “I can’t continue.” Roach leaned forward and whispered to his charge. Somewhere in Roach’s intimate words Vazquez found a way to go on.

After a sixth round that saw Rafael Marquez slow some, Israel Vazquez tried in Round 7 to knock-out Marquez with left hooks. As he climbed off his stool to begin the seventh round, Vazquez knew it would be his final stanza. So, he kept throwing left hooks till one landed and snapped Marquez’s head back.

But Marquez did not go down this time. At 2:42 of Round 7, then, Israel Vazquez decided he was in the final twenty seconds of his reign as a super-bantamweight champion. He made the puncher’s bargain: I will walk forward and strike you, regardless of consequence. He buckled Marquez and sent him backwards. But Marquez calmed himself, planted, and returned fire.

The bell rang, the seventh round ended. Israel Vazquez walked to his stool, sat down, and told his trainer, “I can’t anymore. I can’t anymore.” The Fight of the Year was over before it could go to the judges’ scorecards.

An event that fulfills all expectations is such a rarity in sport, it is terrible that Vazquez-Marquez ended the way it did. There is a rematch clause, however, and in the post-fight press conference promoter Gary Shaw made preliminary promises of an August or September date.

Until that rematch happens, we’ll not know what effect Vazquez’s body punches might have taken on Rafael Marquez. Israel Vazquez, after all, was much further behind Jhonny Gonzalez halfway through their fight – a fight Vazquez would win by TKO.

Until that rematch happens, too, we’ll not have the pleasure of watching Rafael Marquez – a beautiful spectacle in the prizefighting ring.

Regardless of what happens between now and then, though, the first seven rounds of last Saturday’s fight should act as a blueprint for how boxing can keep old fans and discover new ones; with dignified pre-fight speeches that lead to precise, balletic shows of ferocity. Rafael and Israel, thank you both.