Vazquez: 'I must stay true to my style'

Miguel Vazquez, left, is putting his lightweight title on the line against undefeated Denis Shafikov. Chris Farina/Top Rank

Lightweight titlist Miguel Vazquez, with his technical, safety-first, running style, has not endeared himself to American fight fans or even to his Mexican countrymen, who expect their fighters to engage.

But while Vazquez might not be everyone's cup of tea, what he does in the ring has been extremely effective. It has carried him to five successful defenses of his 135-pound world title and he is not about to change anything for anyone.

"It doesn't bother me," Vazquez said about his reputation through a translator. "Why should I change my style? I'm successful with it. I'm the champion and I'm proud of being a world champion. Like a good baseball player, I wait for the right pitch to hit. I'm not going to start swinging at the bad ones. I must stay true to myself and to my style.

"I believe history will acknowledge my achievements. I have fans who root for me. The longer I stay champion the more respect from the fans I will earn."

Now it will be up to Denis Shafikov, a 28-year-old Russian southpaw, to see if his aggressive, pressure style can trump Vazquez's maddening but effective way of fighting.

They will meet on Saturday (HBO2, 5 p.m. ET/PT, same-day tape) at the Venetian Macao's Cotai Arena in Macau, China, in the co-feature of Top Rank's "Ring of Gold" card. It is headlined by 32-year-old flyweight Zou Shiming (3-0, 0 KOs), the Chinese national hero and three-time Olympic medalist (two golds), who faces Yokthong Kokietgym (15-3, 11 KOs), 19, of Thailand, in a scheduled eight-round bout.

"Denis reminds me of [Hall of Fame former junior welterweight champion] Kostya Tszyu," said Freddie Roach, Shafikov's assistant trainer. "They both come from the same Ural Mountain area. Denis is relentless like Tszyu and [reigning junior welterweight titlist Ruslan] Provodnikov."

Shafikov (33-0-1, 18 KOs), Vazquez's mandatory challenger and getting an opportunity to fight for a world title for the first time, believes he will be able to wear Vazquez down.

"Pressure, pressure, pressure," Shafikov said through a translator. "I'll be cutting off the ring and staying inside with him [and] throwing lots of combinations from the inside. I have to bring the fight to him. I know that and I am prepared to do that.

"I'm a pressure fighter. I love to move forward and exchange with my opponent. My best weapons are combinations."

Said trainer Ernie Zavala: "Vazquez throws long, wide punches. Denis will feint and throw lots of punches. He will go inside and let his hands go. Denis will bring the action."

Vazquez said he is not concerned with Vazquez trying to bulldoze him.

"This will be a classic match between a boxer and a puncher," Vazquez said. "I have the skills to show that a good boxer will always beat a puncher with power." Vazquez seems to almost relish the derision some have for his style, which he models after the style so many Cuban professionals use.

"Everyone thinks they can come at me, be aggressive and beat me," Vazquez said. "They have been wrong for years and Denis will be too on Saturday. Pressure me all you want. I will turn you away. My style may not be a fan favorite for Mexicans but I know how to win. And at the end of the day I am a Mexican world champion who fights in a Cuban style. In 2005, I spent one month in Cuba and learned the real art of boxing and that is hit and don't get hit. I love it."

Vazquez's style, however, depends on timing and sharpness. He will be fighting for the first time in 14 months, in part because he pulled out of a title unification fight with Ricky Burns of Scotland last year, claiming that he was ill.

Vazquez, however, said the layoff will have no impact on his effectiveness against Shafikov.

"The layoff has not bothered me because I am always in the gym working out," Vazquez said. "I am always in shape. The delays have kept me motivated. I'm ready for Saturday. I'm ready for Shafikov. I know Shafikov will come at me like a bull but I will handle him like a matador."

Vazquez, by the way, is trained by the controversial Javier Capetillo, who used to train former welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito and was at the center of the hand-wrapping scandal that led to Margarito's license revocation for trying to fight Shane Mosley with loaded gloves in 2009. Capetillo also had his license revoked by the California State Athletic Commission and is still banned from working corners in the United States. Those rules, however, do not apply in China and he is expected to be in Vazquez's corner.

As much as Vazquez likes to frustrate his opponents and boxing fans, Shafikov wants to give them action.

"I want it to be a beautiful, exciting fight," Shafikov said. "I want to win the hearts of the American audience -- American boxing fans. If I can please them they will return to watch me fight again. It is a privilege."

Vazquez (33-3, 13 KOs), 27, and Shafikov will not be in the ring with each other for the first time when they fight. They have sparred with each other.

"We sparred one day about a year ago," Shafikov said. "Just once. It was at a gym in Maywood, Calif. I held my own. All I remember is that he ran around the ring. I was not invited back. I was not impressed."

Said Vazquez, "We sparred four rounds. I remember he had a very aggressive fighting style."

Top Rank promoter Bob Arum promotes both fighters but he knows he can do more with Shafikov if he prevails because he is more television-friendly. There is also that big Russian market he hopes to put shows on in involving Shafikov and other Russians he has signed.

"Shafikov is the kind of guy who can give Vazquez trouble," Arum said. "They sparred a while ago and it took Shafikov a couple of rounds to figure Vazquez out, and he figures he can handle him with his strength and work rate. Whether he can or not, we'll see. If Shafikov wins we can do a lot with him. We're going to be promoting some events this year in Russia so he figures to be part of that.

"I think he's just so strong he can bulldoze Vazquez. That's what our matchmakers think. They're not saying he wins. They say he has the best chance, because of his style, to beat Vazquez."

Besides Zou, two other 2012 London Olympic gold medalists are also on the card, although not part of the HBO2 telecast: Japanese middleweight Ryota Murata (2-0, 2 KOs) and Russian light heavyweight Egor Mekhontsev (1-0, 1 KO). Murata faces former junior middleweight title challenger Carlos Nascimento (28-3, 22 KOs) of Brazil in an eight-round fight and Mekhontsev faces Jaritram Atthaporn (4-0, 1 KO) of Thailand in a scheduled six-rounder. Their bouts, along with other preliminaries, will be streamed live on www.toprank.com beginning at 4:30 a.m. ET.

In a notable featherweight fight, former junior feather titlist Akifumi Shimoda (28-3-2, 12 KOs) of Japan will meet former junior bantamweight titleholder Marvin Sonsona (17-1-1, 14 KOs) of the Philippines. That bout will air Saturday night on tape delay on Spanish-language network UniMas (midnight ET, 11 CT/PT).