By Ryan Maquiñana
Hours after Miguel Vazquez retained his lightweight world title belt by wide decision over unbeaten Filipino contender Mercito Gesta last Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the Mexican champ was hidden in plain sight.
Vazquez was not dancing the night away with wife Cynthia at one of the nearby clubs. Nor did he celebrate his victory inhaling a placemat-sized steak at one of the fancy restaurants adjacent to the arena.
So imagine this writer’s surprise when I stumbled upon the soft-spoken native of Guadalajara, Mexico, sitting in quiet splendor with his team munching a slice of pizza at the food court.
“He’s very humble,” said interpreter Juan Chan, who doubles as featherweight titleholder Daniel Ponce de Leon’s executive chef. "He's just happy to be here with his family and friends."
Vazquez (33-3, 13 KOs) made no secret of his gameplan to utilize his fleet feet and fluster the talented but inexperienced Gesta (26-1-1, 14 KOs) with his awkward style.
Gesta, a 25-year-old southpaw, had promised to bring the type of pressure necessary to stop Vazquez in his tracks. Meanwhile, Vazquez, also 25, had come off a split decision win over Marvin Quintero in October in not-so impressive fashion and seemed ripe for the picking. When the smoke cleared on Saturday night, however, “El Titere” (“The Puppet”) emerged the better man.
Plagued by his inactivity early in the bout, Gesta finally pressed forward as the clash progressed. But the crafty Vazquez’s ring generalship had allowed himself just enough real estate to pivot away to his left when Gesta tried to follow up his original one-two with a subsequent barrage.
“I was going to run and pick my spots of when to attack,” said Vazquez, who got his nickname in the amateurs for his style of jumping in and out of exchanges with his angular appearance. “Gesta is a strong fighter, but I thought I was prepared for him and what he was going to do.”
When asked if the more dangerous opponent brought out a better performance out of him, Vazquez stated, “Not really. I train the same way for whomever I fight. I train as hard as I can, I’m dedicated, and this time, with the blessing of the Lord, I was able to win more clearly after I had a bad night with Quintero.”
Work ethic has never been a problem for a throwback fighter like Vazquez. At a lanky 5’10’’, his perpetual motion in the ring is indicative of someone whose pristine shape would permit him to outmaneuver foes over the old 15-round distance.
In fact, all of Vazquez’s three losses came by decision against future champs Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (twice) and Timothy Bradley—all of which took place above his current weight of 135 pounds. Vazquez especially remembers his two forays with Alvarez, with the first being his pro debut—and a split decision at that.
“It was my first professional fight, and we decided to fight [Alvarez] at 140 pounds. It was not my regular weight, and I lost, but it was close. Then I fought him again at an even higher weight,” Vazquez said. “I belong at lightweight.”
It’s been four years and 12 fights since Vazquez’s opponent has had his hand raised in triumph, and the unheralded Mexican thinks he can keep the streak alive against one of the sport’s rising stars.
“I would definitely like to fight Adrien Broner next,” Vazquez said. “He has a lot of buzz right now, and he’s very tough. I know he’s going to be difficult to fight, but I’ll dedicate myself in training sufficient enough to beat him. I want to show the people and the fans that I’m a top fighter, too.”
Broner spectacularly dismantled incumbent Antonio DeMarco in November to capture a piece of the lightweight crown.
“DeMarco was standing straight up and not throwing punches. We’re not going to do that [against Broner],” said his father, Miguel Vazquez Sr. “To have a son who’s champion of the world makes me very proud, and because of this last win, he’s going to get even bigger fights.”
With the flamboyant Broner reportedly in talks with premium cable giant HBO on a multi-bout deal, an upset over the Cincinnati, Ohio, product would catapult Vazquez out of relative obscurity with the casual boxing fan. Of course, obstacles would arise in arranging a unification fight.
Vazquez is handled by Mexican promotional company Zanfer, who works closely with Top Rank for American-based cards. In turn, Top Rank and Golden Boy, who promotes Broner, have been embroiled in a prolonged feud and virtual double embargo.
Whether or not he secures a shot at Broner, Vazquez will enjoy the win for now.
“To all the Tapatios [Guadalajara residents] and Mexicans as well in Guadalajara, Michoacan, everywhere, I’m happy to tell you that I didn’t let you down,” he said. “I’m thankful for the support I’ve had from my family, friends, my wife who is present, my kid, and I’m just excited about coming home, still as the champion.”
A man of few vices, the devoutly religious Vazquez’s idea of indulgence involves eating ice cream three to four hours before his fights. “Pineapple with coconut,” he said. “I was craving it, and I really wanted to eat it.”
On Monday morning, I ran into Vazquez and his wife in the checkout line at the MGM Grand. After admitting he slept like a baby after a grueling past few months, we revived the topic of targeting Broner when the normally modest fighter uncharacteristically offered this verbal salvo.
“I want to shut Broner up,” Vazquez said, smiling. “He talks a little too much.”
Ryan Maquiñana was the boxing producer for NBCOlympics.com during London 2012 and writes a weekly column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at [email protected] , check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.