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Showtime boxing history celebration continues in February with Rivalry month: Ayala vs. Tapia, Vazquez vs. Marquez

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Credit: Showtime

Round 2 of the Showtime 12-round slash 12 month celebration commemorating 30 years of Showtime Championship Boxing continues in February with “Rivalries’’.

This month will be highlighted by five of the most exhilarating and memorable fights in boxing history: the twoPaulie Ayala-Johnny Tapia battles and the first three Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez wars.

Ayala-Tapia I was 1999 Fight of the Year; Ayala was 1999 Fighter of the Year.

The initial three Vazquez-Marquez showdowns are universally acknowledged as among the best of all-time and were consensus Fight of the Year winners in 2007 and ’08. Additionally, the third round of Vazquez-Marquez II earned Round of the Year honors in ’07 while the fourth of Vazquez-Marquez III was 2008 Round of the Year.

These epic rivalries will air on “Throwback Thursdays” all month long at 10 p.m. ET/PT on SHO EXTREME and are available on SHOWTIME ON DEMAND®, SHOWTIME ANYTIME® and via the network’s online streaming service. Each fight will be wrapped with brief context and commentary from SHOWTIME Sports host Brian Custer.

Below is the schedule of SHOWTIME EXTREME premieres for the month of February:

Today/Thursday, Feb. 4: Ayala vs. Tapia I
Thursday, Feb. 11: Ayala vs. Tapia II
Thursday, Feb. 18: Vazquez vs. Marquez I & II
Thursday, Feb. 25: Vazquez vs. Marquez III

In celebration of the best rivalries on SHOWTIME, see below for a special column from SHOWTIME Sports expert analyst and boxing historian Steve Farhood.

RIVALRIES
By Steve Farhood

Boxing without rivalries would be like elections without debates.

Rivalries are natural, especially in boxing. Who is the best prospect in the neighborhood?
Who is the best bantamweight in Mexico? Who is the best fighter in the entire world?

Fans want to know, and so do the fighters, especially if a one-on-one matchup is likely to provide a definitive answer.

The best example comes from the best rivalry in history, regardless of sport: When Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier clashed in their rubber match in Manila, they were fighting for something much greater than the world heavyweight title. They were fighting for the championship of each other.

Ali-Frazier … Robinson-LaMotta … Louis-Schmeling … Barrera-Morales … Mayweather-Pacquiao … Pep-Saddler … Leonard-Duran … Holyfield-Tyson: Boxing history has been told through its juiciest rivalries.

In 30 years of memorable fighters and unforgettable fights, SHOWTIME boxing’s history can largely be told through its rivalries as well.

On SHOWTIME EXTREME, we’ll be focusing on two rivalries in particular: Rafael Marquez-Israel Vazquez and Paulie Ayala-Johnny Tapia.

Marquez-Vazquez is the equal of any pairing in recent history. So compelling were the battles, so consuming was the rivalry that many fans can’t tell you what the final scoreboard read. It didn’t matter all that much.

(Fittingly, the fighters split four bouts.)

What made Marquez-Vazquez different from most rivalries: They were defined more by similarities than differences. Most rivalries feature stark contrast. Think Borg-McEnroe. Or Bird-Magic. Or Evert-Navratilova. But Marquez and Vazquez were both classy champions from Mexico who needed each other to raise their profiles and all-time standings.

They gave us no trash-talking, no posturing, no hatred, real or imagined. Instead, they punched and bled and fought proudly and at the highest level. And because of the classic ring drama they created, that was more than enough.

Suffice to say that two of their bouts were chosen as Fight of the Year. And Marquez-Vazquez III was surely among the best fights I’ve covered live in my 37 years in boxing.
It was a bit different with Ayala and Tapia. When they first fought, Ayala wasn’t a familiar name. Tapia, on the other hand, was an undefeated and long-reigning champion with a unique personality and a distinctive ring persona.

A suitable rival is exactly what Tapia needed to fully realize the potential that we sensed when he soundly defeated New Mexico rival Danny Romero two years before.

A pair of controversial decisions, the contentiousness that marked the negotiations preceding the rematch, and Tapia’s raw emotion made Ayala-Tapia a particularly bitter rivalry.

It was a memorable rivalry as well.

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