Mexico’s Israel Vazquez or Puerto Rico’s Juan Manuel Lopez, take your pick.
One a current pound for pound champion returning to the ring wars, and the other a quick-rising power-punching mini giant headed for stardom.
While Vazquez (43-4, 31 KOs) fights Colombia’s Angel Priolo (30-7, 20 KOs) at the Nokia Theater in L.A., Lopez (26-0, 24 KOs) tangles with Tanzania’s Rogers Mtagwa (26-12-2, 18 KOs) at the theater venue on Madison Square Garden. Vazquez will be televised on HBO and Lopez on pay-per-view.
Already they’re dueling.
Should they both emerge victorious, one can easily imagine their roads finally crossing in the very near future. It’s enough to make boxing fans salivate.
Vazquez returns to the ring after suffering a detached retina suffered in his three fights with fellow Mexico City warrior Rafael Marquez. It’s taken 18 months for doctors to finally allow him to train and re-enter the world of prizefighting. When he last fought, he was considered one of the top five prizefighters at any weight division.
“I think I still have the guts and skills to perform like always,” said Vazquez (43-4, 31 KOs). “I’m hungry to show what I can do.”
Meanwhile, 3,000 miles to the east, Puerto Rico’s Lopez also has much to prove but only a few highly regarded fighters prowling in the 122-pound weight division like Celestino Caballero. But the power-punching Boricua would love to skip the formalities of fighting unknown contenders and champions and relishes a clash with Vazquez. It’s a match that bristles with can’t miss success.
Vazquez or Lopez, Mexican versus Puerto Rican, power versus power, its all there ready to be stirred up and served to the boxing public like one spicy dish.
“Without a doubt I’m going to be rooting for him to win,” said Lopez who is more commonly known as Juanma. “I do look forward to fighting Vazquez in the future. That’s one guy I really look forward to fighting.”
It’s simple mathematics to understand why Juanma would anxiously seek a fight with one of the best prizefighters in the world. If you beat a fighter considered one of the elite then a win can instantly propel the winner to stardom. Vazquez provides that.
“He’s a very good fighter,” said Vazquez of Lopez. “It would be an honor.”
It’s a battle that never seems to stop between the two Latin populaces. Puerto Rico versus Mexico has provided some of the best boxing rivalries in the last 30 years. Think Oscar De La Hoya versus Felix Trinidad. That clash sent both fighters toward greater glory in the boxing annals than any of their previous fights.
First, Vazquez must defeat Colombia’s hard-hitting Priolo.
Vazquez’s last three fights against Rafael Marquez finished a three-fight series that is now considered among the greatest in a long history of boxing trilogies. But it may not be over.
“Yes, I would consider a fourth fight with Marquez,” said Vazquez, who defeated Marquez in their last two encounters. “We’re both warriors. I would love to fight him again.”
That’s just Vazquez’s way. He loves the challenge. Forget that his right eye suffered a detached retina in his last Marquez fight, or that he suffered a horribly broken nose in the first fight and a gash that streamed too much blood for the faint of heart in the second fight. The fighter known as “El Magnifico” is like a matador, he loves danger.
“That’s just the way Israel is,” says Frank Espinoza who manages Vazquez.
Puerto Rico’s Lopez realizes that a victory over a fighter such as Vazquez would pull more weight than all of his previous 26 wins. He’s a very smart fighter.
“Whoever is next is next,” said Lopez about his future that may include a date with Cuba’s Yuri Gamboa who is also on the same fight card.
Deep down inside he really wants only Vazquez. And soon.
“The opportunities are out there. I’m not a rookie any more, but I’m not a veteran,” Lopez said. “I just have to take my time and make it right.”
Hardcore boxing fans are pulling for both Vazquez and Lopez. They know a clash between these two would be similar to Mexico’s Salvador Sanchez and Puerto Rico’s Wilfredo Gomez in 1981.
Trainer Rudy Perez has been working on Vazquez’s defense to cut down on the injuries. He’ll need it against Lopez when and if they clash.
“It’s just little technical things so that he won’t get hit as much,” said Perez who previously trained Marco Antonio Barrera. “He’ll still be the same fighter but with better defense.”
On Saturday, Vazquez hopes to prove to the world that he’s still worthy of being considered one of the top three fighters in the world at any weight.
“I’m hungry and anxious to show my fans that I’m back,” said Vazquez.
Tickets start at $25 and are still available at Nokia Theater. (800) 745-3000.
Ontario Friday fight card
It’s only an eight-round fight but it could determine the future of two junior welterweights on the brink of cracking the top 20.
Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera of Riverside faces Cleotis “Mookie” Pendarvis in the semi-main event on Friday at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario.
Steadily Herrera (12-0, 6 KOs) has been utilizing his superb defensive prowess to perfection against solid opposition in the past two years.
Pendarvis (9-1-2, 3 KOs) is the opposite. Blessed with startling speed the southpaw boxer first disappointed then rebounded with recent wins. He’s also served as a primary sparring partner for Ricky Hatton when the British fighter clashed with Manny Pacquiao.
One of these fighters will move on quickly with a victory. Can Herrera’s superior defense and consistent jab beat the quick-moving angle giving Pendarvis. It’s easy to imagine the winner moving in to top 10 territory very soon.
The main event features Mexico’s Juan Carlos Burgos (22-0, 15 KOs) against Yogli Herrera (22-9, 15 KOs) in a featherweight contest. For tickets and information (714) 935-0900.
Fights in television
Sat. HBO, 10 p.m. Israel Vazquez (43-4) vs. Angel Priolo (30-7).