It happened to me again.
I’ve been a boxing fan for as long as I can remember. Even when I was 12, I can remember renting the VHS of the Sugar Ray Leonard/Marvin Hagler fight in 1987, titled “The Superfight”. And still to this day, I don’t know who really won the fight, which was ruled a split decision in favor of Leonard.
When the Oscar De La Hoya/Floyd Mayweather fight was about to come off, I wrote a column about my rekindled interest in boxing, which came roaring back full throttle a few years ago, staring with the Arturo Gatti/Micky Ward trilogy and continuing on with the Diego Corrales/Jose Luis Castillo masterpiece, in which Corrales got up off the mat twice and then won by TKO — all in the same round! That fight had me in the middle of my living room and screaming. Unbelievable.
Well, it happened again on Saturday night in the third fight between Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez, a knock-down — literally — drag-out — literally, Vazquez needed 30 stitches afterward — 12-round war that left both men battered, bloodied and, well, hugging in raw, mutual respect for each other afterwards.
Vazquez, who was knocked down in the fourth round, won by a split decision, sealing the victory with a 12th-round knockdown as the time was running out after getting the benefit of a point being withdrawn from Marquez in the 10th for a low blow.
But while Marquez was unhappy with the decision — he clearly won the early rounds before Vazquez rallied in the second half of the bout — who won or lost didn’t really matter. What mattered was that these two men stood in the center of a ring and gave boxing fans a show that won’t be forgotten. The fight could have gone either way, but it was a brilliant third act of a trilogy that included the 2007 Fight of Year, which Vazquez won with a knockout in the sixth round, and Marquez’s winning by seventh-round TKO after breaking Vazquez’s nose in their first matchup. Even the referee, Pat Russell, was fantastic in the third fight.
Wladimir Klitschko recently won a halfway heavyweight unification bout over Sultan Ibragimov by essentially throwing nothing but left jabs for 12 rounds in an embarrassing snoozefest. It was that kind of fight that people like to point to when they say boxing is dead.
But fights like Saturday night’s, which will be re-aired on Showtime on Wednesday at 11 p.m., can remind even the casual sports fan of boxing’s magic.