ALMOST a decade after officially calling time on his career, Israel Vázquez captivated boxing fans one final time. Forced into quarantine by the coronavirus pandemic at the end of March, the three-time super-bantamweight titlist found a comfortable spot on his sofa and sat down to relive his exploits as Showtime filled a hole in their schedule by replaying the first three fights of his thrilling series with Rafael Marquez. For once, Vázquez was able to soak up the acclaim of fight fans without having to force himself through hell.

“The emotions are inexplicable. After more than 10 years, the fans still enjoy my fights with Marquez,” an emotional Vázquez told Boxing News. “I’ve noticed that I made many friendships in the 20 years since I started my career. This hasn’t made me feel any more special than anyone else. They know my beginnings and they know that everything I achieved, I worked day by day for.”

At the moment you have to sift through a tonne of terrible news for even the faintest glint of a feel good story but Vázquez’s re-emergence is genuinely heart-warming. Now 43, “El Magnifico” is one of the most well liked figures in the sport and for a fighter who based his entire style around pleasing the fans, the realisation that his efforts were so richly appreciated has provided him with a timely and deserved boost.

Life isn’t easy for Vázquez. The ferocity of his fights with Marquez cost him the sight in his right eye and he has spent the last year adjusting to a new, more sedate way of life after being diagnosed with systemic sclerosis (SSc). The rare autoimmune condition isn’t terminal but it has reduced Vázquez’s already slender frame to just 112bs and will need to be managed for the rest of his life.

“I have had this disease for about a year now,” Vázquez said. “It attacks the immune system. It damages the skin, the muscles and, if not treated, the internal organs. Now I have the right treatment and my condition is stable. This condition isn’t related to my boxing career. It’s not hereditary, it was just my turn.

“My eye damage was a result of the third fight with Marquez but I recovered well after that and I had two more fights before I retired. Then I stopped seeing the doctors I trusted and now I have a prosthesis because I lost the vision in my eye.

“I’ve always been an athlete and I like to exercise. This problem [SSc] prevents me from doing that but I’m getting over it. Human beings have the virtue of adapting quickly to circumstances.”

Vázquez – who retired with a record of 44-5 with 32 knockouts – is one of the sport’s modern action heroes. His entire back catalogue makes for exciting viewing but it was the rivalry with Marquez which assured him of a place in the history of the sport and a permanent home in the hearts of boxing fans.

The Mexican rivals eventually fought four times, the first three battles amongst the greatest in boxing history. Over the course of 12 months and 25 frenetic rounds, the pair somehow continued to ratchet up the intensity and violence. 

Ordinarily, a story such as this would provide a rundown of each of the fights but, with boxing fans starved of live action and revisiting old bouts, this article will employ a strict ‘No Spoiler’ policy.

The early part of the 21st century threw up a series of spectacular trilogies but whilst Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward feature on almost every ‘must see’ list and another legendary all-Mexican civil war, the heated dispute between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, is rightly feted it is arguable that Vázquez and Marquez served up the three most technically perfect and unpredictable battles. Vázquez certainly agrees.

“From my point of view, I think Marquez and I gave everything in each of the fights,” he said. “Unlike Barrera and Morales who were more cerebral in the last two of their trilogy. 

“I honestly think that Marquez and me [was the best trilogy]. We gave everything in each of the fights.”

Israel Vazquez

After spending years involved in a bitter feud, Barrera and Morales have become such close friends that the worldwide advice to maintain social distancing must have the former enemies pining for each other’s company. Vázquez and Marquez have spent more than their fair share of time at close quarters and the impression is that there wasn’t a friendly exchange of texts congratulating each other for once again capturing the imagination of the boxing world. 

“We have a friendship from a distance,” Vázquez revealed. “The rivalry we shared was only sporting and with a lot of respect for the others career.”

Vázquez has lived the life. He grew up in a funeral parlour in Mexico City and after moving to America without a trade, a word of English or a friend he made ends meet by painting houses. He is still married to his wife, Laura, whom he won over after making frequent trips to the hairdressers she worked in, and he has also managed to raise a family, open his own hair salon and win three world title belts. Given just how far he has come, maybe an innate sense of accomplishment and satisfaction is making his current predicament easier to deal with

“Laura and I have been together for 18 years. We have had ups and downs but we’re still together,” Vázquez said. “We closed down the hair salon we ran seven years ago when my wife decided to stay home and take care of the kids. 

“Life has been a little bit of everything and that helped me to put a lot of desire into becoming a world champion and – even better – to be remembered for many years. 

“I am proud of many things but sportively I am most proud of having been crowned world champion and making history with that saga of fights with Marquez

“After everything, I am at my happiest today. I’m the type of person who is grateful to wake up, to have my family around me and to be able to go on until I stop breathing. A little crazy, but that’s me.

“There’s no better fight than everyday life.”

There is always one final question which needs to be asked of every fighter carrying the physical, mental or financial scars they collected during their career into retirement. It is usually the most difficult question to ask but generally brings the fastest response. Was it worth it?

“Of course it was. Everything in my life has been worthwhile. I have no regrets,” Vázquez said. “Look, after 10 years of retirement and 13 years since the first fight [with Marquez], you’re interviewing me. It means that every minute I spent on my career was worth it. 

“I always gave my best in every fight, no matter what price I had to pay, so that people would leave happy to have seen a fight.”