The way Israel “Magnifico” Vazquez (40-3, 29 KO’s) tells it, everything changed once he set foot inside the Wild Card Boxing Gym in North Hollywood. The year was 2002 and the now WBC Super Bantamweight champ felt his career was at a standstill. Vazquez was coming off a disappointing loss to Oscar Larios in dispute of the WBC “interim” title and had looked less than spectacular in his last two outings against journeyman Justo Almazan and Jorge Eliecer Julio. “I was feeling down on myself. I had trained so hard before the Larios fight and I was expecting to win and finally make some money. I was feeling a bit depressed,” said Vazquez from his home in Los Angeles.
The hunger for the sport that once inhabited the pit of his stomach dissipated and Vazquez seriously considered hanging up the gloves and pursuing a “normal” job. “Who knows what kind of job I would’ve ended up with? I felt like I had a voice inside telling me not to give up boxing. I’m glad I listened,” he said. The listening paid off and Vazquez is now scheduled to defend the world title for a fifth time against WBO Bantamweight champion Jhonny Gonzalez (33-4, 28 KO’s) as part of the Golden Boy Promotions pay per view on September 16th.
His confidence climbed a bit after team Vazquez secured a signing with the surging promotional company Golden Boy Promotions. “It was a big deal because it was Oscar De La Hoya’s company and he’s the biggest star in boxing,” he remembers. It was during this time that Vazquez was informed he would now be trained by hall of famer Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Gym. It made all the difference in the world for Vazquez. “I felt like it was a great move. Sometimes changes are necessary in order to head into a different direction. I love training with Freddie. He’s taught me a lot about fighting and training like a champion,” said Vazquez. It was the energy at the Wild Card and training in the same gym with champions like Diego Corrales, Joel Casamayor, James Toney and Manny Pacquiao that gave him a much needed jolt. “I felt like something inside me woke up. I felt good being there. It felt right,” he said.
Talking to him, there’s no doubt that Vazquez is intrigued by the unique dynamic the Wild Card enjoys where spotting tinsel-town celebrities and working out next to L.A. bigwigs is the norm. “A lot of people come up to me and say some nice things. I understand most of what they’re saying but I have trouble expressing all my thoughts in English. There’s a great mix of people you won’t see anywhere else,” said Vazquez.
The change in Vazquez’s work has been noticeable. Much of it can be attributed to Roach’s training, but having Manny Pacquiao to spar against has also been educational for “El Magnifico.” “Sparring with a superstar like Manny has been a great learning tool for me. He’s a gentleman outside the ring but once we get together for sparring it turns into a real battle and you can’t help but learn from someone like Manny.” The new Israel Vazquez was in full effect when he beat Art Simonyan with an impressive fifth round stoppage that earned him his first defense of the IBF title he had won nine months earlier by defeating Jose Luis Valbuena. A unanimous decision win against the crafty Armando Guerrero earned the now Sycuan Ringside Promotions fighter a chance for redemption against WBC champion Oscar Larios on pay per view. Larios was the betting favorite yet Vazquez annihilated him in three rounds. He now had possession of both the IBF and WBC belts (eventually he gave up the IBF belt). According to odds-makers, it wasn’t supposed to happen but it thrust the Mexico City native further into the spotlight and he defended the green belt successfully via fourth round TKO against Ivan “Choko” Hernandez on the Bernard Hopkins/Jermain Taylor pay per view.
His opponent, Jhonny Gonzalez, also hails from Mexico City and holds a stellar amateur background along with many sensational performances as a pro. The 5’8” Bantamweight champion has shown destructive power in both fists and has been tearing through his division with a nineteen fight winning streak. Fifteen of those opponents didn’t see the final bell. In his last fight, he defeated the well regarded WBO Superflyweight champion Fernando Montiel with a twelve round decision. “Jhonny Gonzalez is no joke,” says Vazquez’s long time manager Frank Espinoza. “The guy throws devastating punches. I think that if Israel uses an intelligent strategy where he can dominate on the inside, then the fight will be ours. I believe Israel has fought better opposition and is much stronger. I’m feeling pretty confident about this fight.”
Espinoza has equipped Vazquez with arguably the best corner in the boxing biz. “We have Freddie Roach in there as well as the great cutman Miguel Diaz and Joe Chavez, who’s the same guy that wraps Oscar De La Hoya’s hands. We want the best support team in the trenches with Israel while he goes to war,” adds Espinoza.
Although Vazquez knows that Gonzalez is extremely dangerous, he’s confident he’ll prevail. “I’m aware of his punching power but he hasn’t fought anyone like me. We’ve been working real hard on neutralizing his attack and making sure we take advantage of any openings we see. I guarantee you I’ll win this fight. I know what awaits me if I win and it’s everything I’ve ever wanted. Bigger purses, a higher profile, a stronger legacy, all those things are important,” he said.
There are reports that Bantamweight champion Rafael Marquez is looking to move up to the 122 lb. division. Vazquez would like to personally welcome him. “I’ve got the WBC belt if he wants to come and get it. That would be a great fight. It would be an honor to go up against someone that’s considered a pound-for-pound champion like Rafael Marquez,” says Vazquez showing a hint of overconfidence. “It’s not overconfidence,” he assures. “I’m not looking past Jhonny. I’ve put in all the work and there will be no excuses from me. You’re going to get everything from me. You’re going to get my best.”
Israel Vazquez vs. Jhonny Gonzalez takes place as the semi-main event to the Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Rocky Juarez rematch on Saturday September 16th. Joan Guzman vs. Jorge Barrios and Jorge Paez Jr. are also on the card. For more info go to: http://www.hbo.com/boxing