Vazquez-Marquez: From Legend to Disgrace

Robert HoffmanCorrespondent IMay 23, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Boxing gloves hang on the wall at the Urbina Westside Boxing Gym where Israel Vasquez Two-time Junior Featherweight World Champion had a workout session on September 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  Vasquez will return to the ring to face Angel Priolo on October 10, 2009.  (Photo by Jacob de Golish/Getty Images)
Jacob de Golish/Getty Images

Last night represented boxing's image problem in a nutshell.  For all the good in the sport, it only takes one bad decision for America to shake its collective head in disgust.

Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez had given us three fights and 25 rounds of blinding fast combinations, momentum shifts, and exhibitions of shear heart and willpower that comes with bloody, desperate fighters.

They just shouldn't have given us a fourth fight or any more rounds.

Marquez, at age 35, still has the counterpunching skills that make him a good boxer.

Vazquez is another story.  Forget his skills, which clearly have eroded.  His eyes are permanently damaged.

That's what having three surgeries to repair a badly torn right retina and repeated cuts above both eyes from the first three Marquez wars caused. 

Vazquez had to take well over a year off to try to heal.

The California State Boxing Commission should have never have sanctioned a fourth fight between the pair of fighters.  Golden Boy Promotions and cable giant Showtime should not have pushed it through. 

Yet they did. 

Marquez predictably opened Vazquez's eye with a punch in the very first round, this time it was the left eye .  Blood literally streamed down Vazquez's face.  The fight was essentially over. 

"It really affected me, because there was a lot of blood," Vazquez said. "I couldn't see punches coming.  I couldn't see anything"

Still, being the determined fighter he is, Vazquez fought on and Marquez just kept pounding scar tissue and raw flesh. 

"That was the plan, to go directly to the eyes," Marquez said.  "The people in my corner said that."

Don't blame Marquez or his handlers for targeting an obvious weakness.  Even a pedestrian fighter would have noticed the bulls eye that Vazquez's drooping left eyelid presented before the fight.

However,  Marquez should take little satisfaction about beating up boxing's equivalent of Ray Charles.

In the third round, shortly (though not quickly enough) after a Marquez headbutt opened a severe cut over Vazquez's right eye, the fight was stopped. 

So why did this fight happen? Because in boxing, arguably more than in any other sport, money is more important than safety and decency. 

It's why neither fighter was willing to dismiss the idea of fifth fight.

It's why the Showtime broadcast team of Al Bernstein, Antonia Tarver , Gus Johnson, and Jim Gray refused to come out directly with a plea for Vazquez to retire. 

Finally, it's why Marquez's manager Fernando Beltran commented, "There were no losers tonight.  We only tied the score. "

Wrong Mr. Beltran.  We all lost.  Because the enduring image of the storied Marquez-Vazquez rivalry won't be of guts and glory. 

It will  be the unnecessarily gory, bone-deep gash above the latter fighter's left eye.

An image that one day he will look in the mirror and not be able to see.