Believe The Hype: Vazquez-Marquez is no rumor

By Michael Katz


Believe The Hype: Vazquez-Marquez is no rumor

Lennox Lewis is coming back. Muhammad Ali is dead. Those were two reports making the rounds last week. Don't blame the Internet. Rumors were flying long before the Wright Brothers. Don King once told me, a quarter-century ago, “You can't believe anything anybody says in boxing.” Nevertheless, there's a hell of a fight coming up this weekend.

There are times when even boxing writers know something special is in the air. It's not often, but there are some fights that simply, because of the natures and styles of the combatants, MUST be watched. Rafael Marquez and Israel
Vazquez, on Showtime from Carson, CA., are guaranteed to turn pacifists into boxing fans.

There has not been the buildup for, say, one of those phony heavyweight title matches that frequently pollute the sport. Unlike, say, Oscar de la Hoya's upcoming megamatch with Floyd Mayweather Jr., Vazquez-Marquez the Fight should be better than Vazquez-Marquez the Hype.

The only caveat is to make sure you watch Showtime's card Saturday night before turning on HBO's competing card from Puerto Rico. HBO, which opens with a nice matchup between middleweights Edison Miranda and Allan Green, has this ugly habit of revealing the results of Showtime bouts. HBO doesn't deserve viewers for that, and also for its so-called main event, the mismatch between Miguel Cotto and Oktay Urkal.

Showtime's prelim, between Vic Darchinyan and Victor Burgos, is better than Cotto-Urkal. Any writer who has chosen to go to Puerto Rico instead of to the drab outskirts of Los Angeles, has pulled one on his boss or is currying favors from Bob Arum, who now talks up Miranda-Green as if we forget how he resisted putting that on HIS HBO date.

Sports editors don't usually know too much about boxing. Oh, they know that Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Hearns and de la Hoya-Mayweather warrant special coverage. But they can be excused if they do not realize how much of a fight fan's fight is something like Vazquez-Marquez. In my newspaper days, I was lucky to have reasonable sports editors - if not like Vic Ziegel, my old boss at the New York Daily News, a brilliant boxing writer himself - who would listen to arguments that some fights would be great to cover for either the story lines or their sheer artistry. It didn't take much persuasion on my part to “sell” The New York Times on Aaron Pryor and Alexis Arguello in 1982. I was hardly alone that week in Miami, either.

There was a gathering of the giants at the Orange Bowl. The Times sent along its previous boxing writer, the great Dave Anderson, to keep me company. It was a wild and wooly week, interrupted by several of us decamping and heading to Baltimore for Sugar Ray Leonard's announcement, as it turned out, that he would stay retired and not fight Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

I was on the plane north with my buddy Pat Putnam, who had written the cover story for Sports Illustrated on Leonard's secret decision, which he had revealed beforehand to Putnam so the magazinie could meet its deadline for a cover story. Putnam was a nervous wreck, even as Howard Cosell introduced Leonard to the huge crowd. We didn't know, of course, but the magazine cover had a picture of Leonard hanging up his gloves. What if Leonard had changed his mind, something he was wont to do? Putnam believed his job was on the line.

Leonard's mind change, for Pat's sake, came years later….

Oops, we interrupt this nostalgia to bring you the latest rumor:

Roy Jones Jr. was the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby.

….After we all filed our stories that night in Baltimore, it must have been a full moon. Down in the lobby of the hotel where we were all bivouacked, Mike Marley of the New York Post and I forget who were tossing around potted plants. The cops were called and promptly arrested Bill Gallo, the mild-mannered Daily News cartoonist, who luckily, he had several testaments to his good behavior. Some guys had to double up - George Kimball of the Boston Herald wound up in the same room with Bert Sugar, then of Ring magazine. In the middle of the night, George had to run to the john. Being considerate, he did not turn the lights on. Sugar did, when he heard someone pissing on his shoes in the dark closet.

Back in Miami, the jollity continued. Putnam almost totaled his rentacar - from the passenger seat. He ripped off the rear-view mirror and tossed it out the window, telling driver Jerry Kearney of Reuters, “You don't need that.” He repeated with the side-view mirror,

One night at the bar at the Marriott Miami Airport, the press headquarters, my drinking was interrupted by a phone call from Harold Smith, who had been the most influential promoter in Pryor's career. Harold was calling me from prison, where he was vacationing after being convicted of embezzling more than $20 milliion from Wells Fargo. He wanted to know if Pryor, for a change, had trained for this fight. Most assuredly, I informed Harold.

“Then bet on him all you want,” Mr. Smith advised. “He can't lose.”…

What's this? Zab Judah working on big rap album: The Barry Manilow Songbook on Harmonica.

….Both Pryor and Arguello, of course, would make it to the hall of fame. It was a great matchup of styles, the calm, deliberate Arguello and the athletic, aggressive Pryor. Plus there were story lines. Arguello had been supporting the contras in his native Nicaragua and there were rumors - yes, Miami was full of lots of hot air - that the Sandinista government would try and assassinate the three-divisioin champion.

When the fireworks went off the night of the fight, Arguello almost had a heart attack, Arum would say….

Tommy Morrison still has the HIV bug.

….The fight was magnificent, and of course controversial. Pryor, who had been belching and complaining of an upset stomach in the dressing room, had withstood some of the hardest right hands the great Arguello ever threw. After one round which featured the biggest right hand of all, Pryor's soon-to-banned trainer, Panama Lewis, asked for the bottle he had mixed and gave the boxer a couple of evidently reinvigorating swallows….

Nope, the rumor is that he doesn't have it.

….Two rounds later, Pryor suddenly launched a ferocious attack that pinned  Arguello on the ropes to our right. In those days, most of used a large, cumbersome computer that did not automatically save our stories. With Arguello slowly sinking, George Kimball suddenly dashed down the road from left to right. You could hear the “pop, pop, pop” of one computer after another being disconnected. Kimball had erased a lot of stories (not mine, I had not yet begun to write). At  the bar later, I asked him what the hell was he thinking?

He said Arguello looked seriously hurt (he was, needing a stretcher to make it back to his dressing room).

“What were you going to do, George?” I asked. “Give him mouth-to-mouth?”…

I hear Mike Tyson has entered a nunnery.

….Did Panama's magic elixir send Pryor to victory? Later that night, Pryor's cut man, Artie Curley, would tell me he had prepared the special bottle with honey and peppermint schnapps to help settle Aaron's queasy stomach. Even if true, it would still be a violation since only water is allowed between rounds. Whatever, the local commission never tested Pryor's urine afterwards. Without Lewis in the corner, he repeated the same kind of beating to Arguello later on, to demonstrate he was clearly the superior fighter….

Another late flash: Wladimir Klitschko, now that his brother is returning to the ring, will leave boxing to pursue his old dream and become a Volga boatman.

….Pryor-Arguello I, still one of the best fights I've ever covered, had a short shelf life. The brilliant display by both men, the controversial “special bottle,” would all be upstaged the very next day on another Arum promotion at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. There, on national television, Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini, the popular lightweight champion, would send Deuk Koo Kim out of the ring in a fatal coma.

The sport came under fierce attack. Abolitionists appeared from every page of the American Medical Association Journal. Jose Sulaiman reduced fights from 15 to 12 rounds, as if that mattered. Boxing survived the outsiders; it would, of course, have more trouble with self-inflicted wounds.

Duek Koo Kim and the other tragedies are not why boxing's appeal has shriveled in the ensuing years. But fights like Pryor-Arguello, Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales, Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo, Manny Pacquiao and almost anyone else, just don't happen often enough.

Vazquez-Marquez fits this mold. Vazquez is the 122-pound king; Marquez is moving up from the bantamweight division he has dominated. Both are offensive-minded punchers. Both have shown the ability to get off the floor to win. I love this fight.

I also love Marquez, the little brother of longtime featherweight star Juan Manuel Marquez. The smaller brother, 36-3 with 32 knockouts, is 8-0 (6 stoppaages) in title fights. He has beaten - yea, KNOCKED OUT - two guys who were in my pound-for-pound top ten at the time, Marc (Too Sharp) Johnson and the previously unbeaten Tim Austin….

Understand the missing Lamon Brewster was spotted on a desert isle with Amelia Earhardt.

Speaking of  which, Judge Crater is coming back to work de la Hoya-Mayweather.

….Enough. It is time to get serious. Vazquez, at 29 two years younger and also naturally bigger, is not exactly Mexican chopped liver with a 36-3 record and 32 KO's. He thinks his size will be an edge, but Marquez counters with “I am strong and a great fighter, so why should I feel any disadvantage.” Vazquez figures to be a very slight favorite coming off his spectacular twice-off-the-canvas stoppage last year of Jhonny Gonzalez, another 118-pound titlist attempting to move up in weight.

Vazquez has had problems with mobile boxers. Marquez, for all his punching power, is a proficient technician, a disciple of the great Mexicn trainer, Nacho Beristain, as is big brother Juan Manuel, who has a big fight March 17 against Barrera. Rafael Marquez, though a longtime bantamweight, is a much better puncher than is Jhonny Gonzalez. I'm guessing if he lands against the hittable Vazquez, there will be some serious damage. Yes, it's a guess. It's another reason why this fight is so compelling.

My other guesses for the night: Miranda, who has faced better competition, should stop the bigger Green, and the unbeaten Darchinyan will eventully catch and kayo Burgos. It is no guess that Cotto will beat Urtal.

Okay, confess: How many of you, besides Greg Leon, thought the reference to the Wright Brothers was to Winky, Blinky and Nod?

PENTHOUSE: Floyd Mayweather Jr. No, not for presenting Oscar with a live chicken with a gold medal. Yes, “Golden Girl” (the chicken has a name) did recall those halcyon days of yore, but the citation here is for, at least nominally, ending the long feud with his father. Floyd Sr., who priced himself out as de la Hoya's trainer, will surely be in the opposite corner May 5, if nothing else to worry de la Hoya about what secrets he brought to the other side. It'll also increase sales. You can already picture the two Floyds on Oprah.

OUTHOUSE: This just in, Tiny Tim Smith, my linear successor at both the Times and Daily News in New York, asked John Castle, the opponent dug up for Tommy Morrison's first fight in more than ten years, about fighting someone who tested positive for the HIV virus. Whaaat? Castle had no idea. Promoter Bob Arum, who built his Versus TV show around Morrison and another comebacking health risk, Joe Mesi, yelled at Smith. If Castle had pulled out of the fight, the promoter probably would have insisted that Tiny Tim replace him….Shame is that the very talented main eventer on the card, junior lightweight Humberto Soto, was overlooked….Golden Boy really needs to get with it. When de la Hoya-Mayweather tour opened in New York last week, the boys were supposed to sound the gong together to start trading at NASDAQ. Mayweather had to ring the bell all by himself. De la Hoya was escorted by one of his publicists to the rival New York Stock Exchange, not NASDAQ.


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