A vicious, looping left hook caught Israel Vazquez in the sixth round and dropped him for an eight-count. It seemed to be the punctuation mark for a dominating performance being waged by WBO Bantamweight champion Jhonny Gonzalez against the defending WBC Super bantamweight champion. Vazquez had been dropped twice and cut on the right side of his eyelid. Gonzalez built up a commanding lead making use of his well honed skills along with his superior height and reach. Hall of fame trainer and boxing analyst Emmanuel Steward said it best during the HBO broadcast. “Gonzalez is fighting like a machine,” he would repeat at least twice. It was true. Gonzalez was fighting a brilliant, disciplined fight. Vazquez was being tattooed a swollen mask by Gonzalez’s long, beautiful jab that wouldn’t allow him passage to the inside of his guard where Vazquez was most likely to succeed.
“He was working the distance between us really well. He turned it into a very demanding fight,” remembers Vazquez. Even to the biggest Vazquez fan it looked like the fight was over after Gonzalez dropped “El Magnifico” the second time. Vazquez kept his composure under fire and managed to step up the action. “Even after the second knockdown, I knew I still had a chance,” Vazquez said. “I felt that after the fifth round I was getting closer to my target.”
Vazquez’s thrilling comeback against Gonzalez was the kind that builds legendary fighters. His busted up face showed the damage that Jhonny’s powerful fists had enacted. Between his eyes, swollen muscle matter and tissue made him look like he’d survived an attack by a swarm of Africanized bees. “His jab was incredible. Believe it or not it was his jab that did most of the damage,” Vazquez said.
The tide changed during the seventh round as Gonzalez, who had set an extremely fast pace, was tiring. “Jhonny was fighting the perfect fight. He was working the jab with precision and throwing a lot of punches. I thought that eventually he’d tire out and that’s when Israel would have his best chance,” related Vazquez’s manager Frank Espinoza. “I never lost hope. After the second knockdown I knew we were far behind but Israel showed why he’s a champion.”
Vazquez came out for the seventh round more determined than ever. A straight right caught Gonzalez and crumbled him to the canvas. Gonzalez took the count, got up and fought on to finish the round. “I knew he was in trouble at that point. I felt this was going to end soon,” Vazquez said.
Israel surveyed Jhonny across the ring before the tenth round. “I noticed he was tired, bloody and seemed hurt. I felt like I was getting in close where I wanted to be,” Vazquez said. After a strong start by Gonzalez, Vazquez landed a powerful left hook followed by a right that took out Gonzalez’s legs for the final time in one of the year’s most dramatic moments. Gonzalez’s corner stopped the fight as the wounded warrior sat on the canvas looking like a beaten man. Gonzalez’s promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, was watching closely from front row. His expression after Vazquez dropped Gonzalez said it all. It was a look of disbelief. “Jhonny is a great fighter. I felt my conditioning was superb and that’s why I was able to recover from the two knockdowns.” Vazquez said. The fight was voted “fight of the year” by the World Boxing Hall of Fame and brought Vazquez some newfound recognition. “That was a big honor for both Jhonny and me. I’m very proud of that fight and everything we’ve accomplished in the last few years.”
Vazquez’s career has surged tremendously during the past two years with spectacular wins over top competition like Oscar Larios and Gonzalez. Yet Vazquez doesn’t feel like resting on his laurels. The ambitious twenty-eight-year-old plans to take his career to a new level. “The goal is to move up to featherweight and win a second world title,” Vazquez said from his home in Los Angeles. “Eventually I’d like to move up to super featherweight. My long term goal is to win a third world title.”
Espinoza, who’s managed Vazquez for eight of his eleven years as a professional, welcomes the idea. “I think Israel has proven himself to be the best among the Super Bantamweights. He’s always expressed the desire to make history by winning three world titles in three different divisions and this would be the first step.”
Vazquez assures it’s not a weight issue. “I have no trouble making 122. I just feel the need to prove that I can succeed among the featherweights. This is a personal goal for me. It’s hard to stand out when you’re a Mexican fighter because we have so many great champions. The only way to stand out is to try and make history.”
There’s been talk that Vazquez may fight in a title elimination bout for a featherweight title. “The names I’ve heard mentioned are Rocky Juarez and Oscar Larios. I’ll go up against anyone they present. I saw Juan Manuel Marquez fight Jaca. If somebody offered me a fight against Juan I’d take it. Marquez is a tremendous fighter and considered an all-time great,” Vazquez said. “You have to beat the great ones to also be considered great. That’s a matchup I’d gladly accept.”
Espinoza would rather have his charge face Juan Manuel’s little brother, Rafael, who’s also a big name and considered the best Bantamweight in the sport. The other option for Vazquez is a unification fight against WBA Super Bantamweight champ Celestino Caballero. “I think a Rafael Marquez fight would be a big fight. I think it means a lot more than a Celestino Caballero fight at this point,” Espinoza said. “We would fight Juan Manuel Marquez if it was offered in the future but I’d like Israel to fight someone else for his first time as a featherweight.”
Although Vazquez is promoted by Sycuan Ringside Promotions, Golden Boy Promotions recently jumped into the mix as co-promoters. “They’re a good combination. Sycuan and Golden Boy really made things happen for me. I’m very grateful to both companies,” Vazquez said. “They gave me a lot to be thankful about this Thanksgiving.”
Vazquez feels he made a strong statement in the fight against Gonzalez. “I wanted people to know that I have the heart of a champion. That Israel Vazquez never quits,” Vazquez added. “I wanted to prove that Israel Vazquez is for real and that I plan to be around for a long time.”
“The lesson learned from Israel’s fight against Jhonny Gonzalez is that you must never give up. Whether it’s in boxing or any other situation,” said Espinoza. “Here’s a guy that was cut, hurt and knocked down twice. He was far behind. But like a champion, he came back and knocked out another world champion in spectacular fashion. If that doesn’t inspire you then I don’t know what will.”