By Jake Donovan
From the moment he was offered the fight, Juan Carlos Payano was fine with playing the role of known opponent if it meant getting a young and unbeaten boxer like Damien Vazquez in the ring.
That is, at least until the opening bell sounded.
From there, the former bantamweight titlist showed there was plenty of air left in his tires, cruising to a one-sided decision win Saturday evening at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. Their FS1-aired bout was the first piece of ring action for Payano since a stunning one-round knockout loss to Naoya Inoue last October in Japan, a scary scene which had many observers wondering just how much the Dominican southpaw had left.
The short answer is, quite a bit.
"I'm nobody's steppingstone," Payano (21-2, 9KOs) emphatically stated BoxingScene.com after Saturday's win. "My only two losses are to world champions, a fighter like (Vazquez) is never going to beat me."
It certainly wasn't going to happen on Saturday, as Payano forced an aggressive pace from the start in what quickly became a one-sided battle of man versus boy. The two-time Olympian and former 118-pound champ won nearly every round on all three scorecards in a bout that was shortened from 10 to eight rounds only due to limited airtime.
Vazquez (14-1, 7KOs) had brief moments of success. The 21-year old—whose older brother Israel was a former 122-pound king and a cult hero during his day in the early 2000s—landed a right hand which opened a cut under Payano's eye in round four but also having to fight through blood himself, along with fight-long adversity in what proved to be far too great a leap in competition.
"Damien Vazquez is a tough opponent, but he found out the hard way that this was a case of too much too soon for him." Payano, 34, noted of the massive gulf in experience between the two.
While it's back to the drawing board for Vazquez, Payano hopes to return to where he once was—the title stage. The Miami-based Dominican southpaw won a bantamweight strap in a Sept. '14 win over Anselmo Moreno, but managed just one successful defense—a 12-round split decision win over Rau'Shee Warren in their Aug. '15 clash of multi-class Olympians (Payano in 2004 and 2008, Warren in 2004, 2008 and 2012). The two met again 10 months later, this time with Warren claiming a majority decision and the title in June '16.
Three wins followed for Payano before being shown the door in the quarterfinals round of the World Boxing Super Series bantamweight tournament. His participation lasted just 70 seconds, as Inoue frighteningly flattened him in their secondary title fight in Japan but rebounded in a big way with Saturday's lopsided win.
"This fight helped prove that I still have plenty left to offer the sport, not as an opponent or a steppingstone," Payano insists. "I'm looking forward to redeeming myself as a world champion soon."
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox