Vazquez-Marquez connection still strong

LOS ANGELES -- The pain was so great, Rafael Marquez couldn't bear to watch.

He had battled and bled for 25 rounds against Israel Vazquez in one of the most action-packed trilogies in boxing history.

Marquez had pulled himself off the canvas in the first fight to win by seventh-round TKO when Vazquez quit because of a broken nose. Marquez himself had lost by TKO in the sixth round of the rematch. And he had stood mano a mano for 12 rounds with Vazquez in the third fight, ultimately losing a split decision by one point on one judge's scorecard.

Marquez turned his back on boxing to heal his body and mind, also turning his back on every opportunity to watch a replay of Vazquez-Marquez III, the best of them all.

Marquez knew there have been few times in boxing history that two fighters have squared off for a fourth time. But he hungered for one more shot at his archrival, one more chance to take aim at the man with whom he will always be linked.

When he ran into Vazquez at the Oscar De La Hoya-Manny Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas in December 2008, Marquez pleaded his case.

Vazquez had been absent from the ring himself, but not by design. He reveled in that third fight. He watched it 30 times, always taking delight in his 12th-round knockdown of Marquez that clinched the outcome.

But Vazquez couldn't watch with clear vision because he had suffered a detached retina.

On Saturday night -- his eye healed after multiple surgeries -- Vazquez will give Marquez his long-awaited chance for redemption. Vazquez-Marquez IV will be the main event at Staples Center, the fighters moving up to featherweight after fighting their previous battles at super bantamweight.

Both fighters weighed in Friday at 125 pounds, a half-pound below the limit.

"It's going to be a war," Marquez said.

"These two guys are attached at the hip, like Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward," said Gary Shaw, Marquez's promoter.

There have been doubts about Marquez and Vazquez each time they stepped into the ring, doubts about how good the first fight would be, doubts if the rematch would equal it, doubts about how the third fight could possibly match the first two. Each, as it turned out, was better than the last.

Now there are doubts about how much these two guys have left. Marquez (38-5, 34 knockouts) is 35 years old and has fought only once since the conclusion of the trilogy, beating Jose Mendoza on a third-round TKO a year ago.

Vazquez (44-4, 33) is 32, but he, too, has fought only once since the trilogy, beating Angel Priolo, who had seven losses in 37 fights, last October.

"My motivation is to shut those naysayers' mouths," Vazquez said. "They say I shouldn't be fighting anymore. ... I want to let them know I can still make great fights. Rafa and I might be in wheelchairs one day, but we'll still be throwing punches."

Promoters and fans alike are talking about the possibility of Saturday's semi-main event "stealing the show."

How do you steal the show when you are followed by two men who have staged a classic boxing trilogy?

Matching undefeated fighters who are a combined 40-0 with 27 knockouts is a good start.

Yonnhy Perez (20-0, 14) will be making the first defense of his International Boxing Federation bantamweight title against Abner Mares (19-0, 13).

Perez, a Colombian who lives in Santa Fe Springs, and Mares, a Mexican who lives in Hawaiian Gardens, are friends.

But not Saturday.

"This is our job," Perez said. "He wants to win and I want to win. We'll still be friends afterward, probably better friends than before."

No argument from Mares.

"In the ring," he said, "we are the worst of enemies. Outside the ring, the best of friends."

Steve Springer is a freelance journalist and the author of eight books, the last three best-sellers. He was an award-winning sports writer with the Los Angeles Times for 25 years and is a past winner of the Nat Fleischer Lifetime Achievement Award given by the Boxing Writers' Association of America.