By Jake Donovan
It’s not the fight Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. had in his sights when he began training camp several months ago. Still, the second generation former champ is grateful for any chance at redemption.
The news of Rafael Marquez twice pulling out of a scheduled date was disheartening, but the rescheduled October 6 show was salvaged when Jonathan Oquendo agreed to face Vazquez Jr. Rather than a continuation of the long-running in-ring rivalry between Puerto Rico and Mexico, it’s an all-Boricua battle this weekend in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
“I think everybody deserves a chance and Oquendo gets his chance but I’m training hard to win this fight on my way to a world title shot,” stated Vazquez Jr. (21-2-1, 18KO) of this weekend’s bout. “I fought the best at 122 lb and have learned so much.”
Learning lessons have come in his past several fights, including losses in two of his last three ring appearances. Vazquez Jr. has been stuck on a 12-round points loss to Nonito Donaire this past February, hoping to turn around his career earlier this summer.
Anxious to prove he’s still one of the best in a loaded 122 lb. division, Vazquez Jr. jumped at the opportunity to face Marquez in August. “I came into boxing with the goal in mind to fight the best in the world,” insists the 28-year old. “I didn’t want to just live off of my father’s name. That’s why I want to fight the best. If I didn’t do that, then my career wouldn’t mean anything.”
There is plenty of meaning in his career, thanks to his quick rise through the ranks. Rather than milking his name while feasting on no-hopers, Vazquez Jr. was quickly guided towards the title stage.
A golden opportunity came when rising young fighter Marvin Sonsona quickly outgrew the super flyweight division and set his sights on a 122 lb. crown. Vazquez Jr – who is trained by father and former three-division champ Wilfredo Vazquez Sr – racked up a career best win (to date) in scoring a 4th round stoppage over the popular Filipino in Feb. ’10 for his first major title.
Two successful defenses came before running into a resurrected Jorge Arce in May ’11. Vazquez Jr. was on his way to a win before falling apart late and getting stopped in the 12th round of his Las Vegas debut and also his first fight with Top Rank as a co-promoter.
It was hardly the first impression he sought, but doesn’t at all regret the path chosen.
“The way I look at it: nothing is easy,” Vazquez Jr says both of his past and what lies ahead in the future. “If I want to be recognized as one of the best in the sport, I have to do it against the best fighters, not just the biggest names.”
For the moment, Vazquez Jr. is struggling to get the job done against either of those choices. The two losses on his career happen to have come against his two best opponents to date – Arce last year and Donaire earlier this year. A win over Marquez was supposed to help right the ship, a fight camp which saw Vazquez Jr. go all in and not allow for any outside distractions.
Even with the change in opponents, the Puerto Rican star is still treating this weekend as if his entire career is on the line. It’s the mindset he needs, if only to start anew.
“It’s a difficult time for me. I stayed away from the press. I’ve learned that a lot of people are not my friends, they say things about me. I cleaned up my team a little bit, got rid of negative people in camp. I’m staying ready for the biggest fight of my career.”
The mentality is a far cry from the circumstances surrounding the Donaire fight. The pre-fight hype included a war of words and social media exchanges, as the wives of each fighter began feuding on Twitter, and both fighters also carrying the beef over in person during the press conference and weigh-in prior to their HBO-televised co-feature.
Vazquez Jr. put all of that behind him, though the points loss – a surprisingly scored split decision in a in a fight that wasn’t that close – remains a learning lesson. Every fight still is, considering his first moments as a pro were spent learning as he earned.
A limited amateur career put Vazquez Jr. behind the eight-ball, but quickly adapted to the pro ranks. Proof came in his fighting for and winning a major title after just over three years of punching for pay.
By his own admission, there was plenty of motivation to turn pro rather than go the traditional ‘crawl, walk, run’ amateur system route. Vazquez Jr. was always confident in his ability to make a pro career work, with the payoff being a well-paying job as opposed to other career options at the time.
“I didn’t get into this to be famous. I got into it for the money,” Vazquez Jr. shamelessly admits. “You can do well if you win. If you train properly, the job pays well. I fight for my family, to give them what they need.”
Vazquez Jr. has been well-compensated for his time, but is now out to prove there is more to his career than just a quick blitz towards the top. The first day of the rest of his life comes on Saturday night at Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez, the same venue where he won his first major title.
A win over Oquendo doesn’t necessarily take him to the promise land, but it will serve as a fair indication of where he’s presently at in his career. The 29-year old Oquendo (22-2, 15KO) has won eight straight, including knockouts in six of his past seven contests.
With the card undergoing several changes and even the addition of countryman Ivan Calderon, there was an easier route for Vazquez Jr. to travel. His name still means something in boxing circles, particularly in his Bayamon hometown.
Unlike most other next-generation fighters who never come close to measuring up to their more famous family members, Vazquez Jr. remains on a mission to prove he is his own man. The hunt continues this weekend.
“I don’t need the publicity; I don’t need to be famous. I just need to provide for my family.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox