Fighter Profile: Israel Vasquez
Israel “Magnifico” Vasquez surged to the top of the sport based on sheer will and determination. It took him a long time to get to the summit, but his ascent has been inspirational and thrilling. The 32 year-old Vasquez has a record of 44-4 (32 KOs).
Vasquez has claimed an amateur record of 58-0 (58 KOs), but it hasn’t been verified. He turned pro in 1995. He was a reasonably touted prospect as he moved up the pro ranks in Mexico. He ran off to nine straight stoppage wins before being stopped in the first round by Ulises Flores. A few fights later, he recovered nicely to stop 20-0 Oscar Larios via brutal first round knockout. It wouldn’t be the last time they met.
Move to the U.S.A.
After several more wins in Mexico, California-based manager Frank Espinoza bought Vasquez’ contract and brought him to California to ply his trade. Vasquez didn’t stand out at first, and watching him back then, one would have been hard pressed to find someone outside of Vasquez and Espinoza who felt he would amount to much. He picked up a few wins over journeymen before running into decent Marcos Licona, dropping a split decision.
Moving into the Big Time
Vasquez finished 1999 with a few confidence-building wins and before long, put together a nice 12 fight winning streak, including a win over tough Hector Velazquez. In 2002, Vasquez renewed acquaintances with a man he had previously destroyed—Oscar Larios. Since their first fight 5 years earlier, Larios had distinguished himself, and now sat at the top of the WBC rankings at 43-3-1.
In a battle for the interim WBS Super Bantamweight Title, Larios outboxed Vasquez before stopping him in the 12th. Larios hammered Vasquez, and while Israel was valiant, he had come up short be a fairly resounding margin, and his career looked to be at a crossroads.
Vasquez again showed his resilience by rebounding in 2003 with a nice win—a tenth round stoppage of 44-4 former titlist Jorge Julio. That positioned him for a shot at the vacant IBF Super Bantamweight Title against 24-2-1 Jose Luis Valbuena. After scoring a 12th round TKO, Vasquez finally had a world title around his waist. But as long as his tormentor Oscar Larios reigned in the same weight class, he couldn’t rightfully call himself “the man.”
After two routine defenses of his IBF belt, Vasquez tried to exorcise his demons by challenging Larios for his belt in a rubber match. Larios had won 12 straight title matches in the interim and was dominant against excellent opposition. Factoring that with his systematic destruction of Vasquez in their last match, Larios was a strong favorite. Dropping Larios in the first, Vasquez hammered him mercilessly before earning an emphatic third round stoppage. Israel Vasquez had made it. Two defenses followed, including a tenth round stoppage over the high-flying Jhonny Gonzalez, and Vasquez looked poised for big things.
The Rafael Marquez Trilogy
Israel Vasquez and Rafael Vasquez then embarked on one of the most vicious rivalries in boxing history. All who saw them will remember the three fights they had. Perhaps never before have two fighters meshed together so well in terms of skills and heart.
Their first fight was an evenly and fiercely contested war that culminated when Vasquez was forced to retire due to his nose being smashed by Marquez. It was somewhat of a surprising capitulation, but in light of the subsequent horrors Vasquez would endure, the injury must have really been quite bad.
The fight was so good that a rematch was quickly scheduled for 5 months later. This time the action was blood curdling, as each took turns pounding each other. Every punch seemed to be a home run shot. Both men walked through shots that would fell most 122-pounders. In the sixth, Vasquez dropped a badly battered Marquez and continued to pour it on until the ref saved Marquez. It was Ring Magazine’s 2007 fight of the year and one of the can’t-miss fights in the annals of available boxing footage.
The rubber match was scheduled for 7 months later. Again, these two warriors tore into each other right from the get-go. In the fourth, Marquez pounded Vasquez down to the canvas. Over the next several rounds each man took turns pummeling the other. Each man was on the precipice of demise many times only to spring back with a vengeance. There was little to separate the two, though Vasquez maybe had a slight edge aided by a point deduction in the 11th.
In a superhuman effort, Vasquez came out for the 12th at an ultimate fever pitch. For him to summon this from the depths of his soul after enduring the beating Marquez put on him is the stuff of legends. As if there was not enough to get excited about in this fight, now there was the tension of seeing if a waning Marquez could get to the final bell. Vasquez pounded Marquez all over the ring finally pummeling him into the ropes for a late knockdown to seal the fight by split decision. Again—fight of the year.
Aftermath and Comeback
The trilogy came at a steep cost for Vasquez. First of all, he took untold punishment over the course of three matches with one of the most murderous-punching lighter-weight fighters in recent memory. Surgeries for two detached retinas caused him to take 19 months off. He returned in October of 2009 to take on aged journeyman Angel Priolo, a loser of 6 straight, 5 by kayo. Vasquez struggled before taking him out in the ninth, two judges having it even up until that point.
A fourth fight with Marquez is set for May 22 at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Fans have greeted this matchup with a mix of anticipation and fear.