Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A NOSE FOR BOXING


From left: Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez are ready for their rematch

When he had to give up the fight against Rafael Marquez while sitting on his stool at the end of the seventh round, Israel “Izzy” Vazquez was a beaten fighter. He had just engaged in twenty-one minutes of fury against one of the top pound-for-pound boxers on the planet and he gave as good as he got.

But in the end it was his nose that stunk up his night.

It was a battle that Rafael Marquez ended up winning, well, by a nose. And just when the plug was pulled on a rose of a fight that was really beginning to smell like a winner, poor Izzy Vazquez’ nose looked like it had been taken off in some sort of plastic surgery gone wrong and then re-attached upside down.

The damage obviously came from an accumulation of shots, but in the fifth round Izzy Vazquez took two jabs to the nose and then he turned away in pain. Despite the obvious problems that were as plain to see, as well, the nose on your face, he bravely fought on for another two and a half rounds.

Showtime blow-by-blow man, and recent Boxing Writers Association of America Sam Taub Brodcaster of the Year award winner, Steve Albert, called the first fight and he’ll be calling the rematch. Albert says he saw no problem with the way the fight ended and he backs up the notion that obviously Vazquez was in tremendous pain.

“Given the kind of warrior that Israel Vazquez is, you can’t get on him,” said Albert. “You gotta’ believe him, he just could not continue. He couldn’t breathe through the nose.”

And about the fight? Well, Albert said this; “It was about as good as it can get up until the point of the stoppage.”

And everybody agrees, so on Saturday night they’ll do it again.

As Vazquez prepares to go back into the lion’s den with Marquez at the Dodge Arena in Hidalgo, Texas it should come as no surprise that the only question anybody is asking him is; “How’s the nose?”

“I'm not concerned at all, there’s no need to be concerned,” says Izzy about his schnozz. “The results and diagnosis of the doctor have been very encouraging. Thank God it wasn't a dangerous condition. I've been able to continue with sparring and things are going very well. In fact, if it weren't that people keep stopping and asking me how my nose is feeling, I would have forgotten that I had a problem.”

Vazquez ended up having an operation to remove the cartilage from his nose and the doctor that performed the surgery has given him a clean bill of health to fight only five months after the injury and the loss.

For Vazquez the loss to Rafael Marquez was a tough one for him to, pardon the expression, snuff out of his mind. He felt that if he would have been able to continue that he would have won the fight, but in the end there was just no way that he could have continued.

“It was tough,” says Izzy. “I was unable to breathe. It was a tough night and a difficult loss but I feel good now and my nose feels good. I'm ready to come back and take back the title. I feel really good right now. The condition was some kind of a metabolic blockage. The doctor's diagnosis was that the left nostril was completely closed and the right nostril was only 10 percent available for breathing.”

At the time of the stoppage it was a close fight. Two of the official judges scorecards had Marquez slightly ahead by two points while the third judge had the fight dead even. So it’s perplexing that the odds makers have Rafael Marquez such a strong betting favorite heading into Saturday night. It’s as though they forgot that Marquez was the one that was decked the first time around.

Whatever the case, Vazquez, who was born in Mexico City, is a proud warrior in the ring who turned pro at only 17 years old back in 1995. He scraped his way through the dusty rings of Mexico, came to America and won two world titles. He brings a record of 41-4 (30)KO into the rematch on Saturday.

When asked if he feels that he still needs to put on a crowd-pleasing performance after twelve years as a pro, he says he does. “Actually, I do feel a tremendous sense of obligation. The public pays money to see - whether they sit there or watch on TV and it's extremely important that I give it my all each and every round. It's very important, I want to give a good performance because I want to look good and I want to make sure that I come through for the public.”

Showtime boxing analyst Al Bernstein called the first fight on Showtime and he’ll call the rematch this weekend as well. As always, Bernstein is excited and enthused and he offered his thoughts on Izzy.

“You can put a check mark next to Israel Vazquez’ name in several categories,” said Bernstein. “Courage, power, skill. Well, add resiliency. Very difficult to keep him on the canvas. He’s been there before but he gets up and when he gets up he gets up with renewed vigor.”

Bernstein is speaking of Vazquez’ ability, like a good Timex, to take a licking and keep on ticking. All looked lost for him last year against Jhonny Gonzalez when he was being beaten from pillar to post before he rallied back gallantly to knock Gonzalez out in the tenth round and successfully defend his title in one of the fights of the year. And don’t forget that Vazquez was able to deck Marquez in the first fight with a left hook in the third round and it was the first and only time that Marquez has ever been down as a professional.

When asked what he thought of the first fight, Bernstein had this to say. “I had the fight 67-65. I think Rafael Marquez was a little more precise. And both fighters fought very, very well. But Rafael Marquez threw more combinations and was a little bit more precise. And of course the knockdown made it closer than it otherwise would have been. It was – make no mistake – an extraordinarily well-boxed match. It was as exciting and as interesting as any match you would want.”

That only leaves one question: Izzy, what about the nose?

“No, the nose, it won't be a factor,” he says hopefully. And you can see the sparkle in his brown eyes when he thinks of the future possibilities should he prevail in the rematch.

“I'm just going to do my best. I'll do in the ring whatever I'm trained to do in the ring for that fight for that night. And I'm just going to prepare for victory.”

You see, Izzy Vazquez can smell a win.

July 2007