By Thomas Gerbasi
When Sammy Vasquez says he loves boxing, he means it. If you had any doubt, all you need to do is hear the tone of his voice change when asked about the welterweight classic between Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter that took place on June 25.
“I thought it was an amazing fight,” he said. “Shawn Porter brings it, as always. Keith Thurman's counterpunches were solid and there were a couple of good times that he caught Shawn coming in, and it was an overall exciting fight. The way the decision went, I'm satisfied with it. It could have even been a draw, but we definitely need to see that fight again between those two guys.”
Of course, Vasquez is not just a fan of the sport. He’s an unbeaten competitor in it who just happens to be a world-ranked fighter in – you guessed it – the welterweight division. So when he watches a fight between two of the best at 147 pounds, he’s more interested than most.
“In the future, I could fight both of those guys and I think it would be a great fight with me against either one of them.”
He’s right, but a bout against either Thurman or Porter likely wouldn’t see the light of day until 2017, and if it is to happen, he’s got to keep winning, which means he has to first defeat Felix Diaz in the co-main event of the Deontay Wilder-Chris Arreola bout in Birmingham, Alabama on July 16.
Vasquez was scheduled to face former world champion Luis Collazo on that date, but with an injury sidelining the veteran New Yorker, Diaz got the call. On paper, it may be an even tougher fight for “The Who Can Mexican,” but Vasquez seems unbothered by the switch.
“Obviously it will change the way I approach things, but I come to fight and boxing is what I'm going to be doing,” he said. “I'm gonna try to outbox him, but at the same time, I'm going to stay mid-range because I want to bring a fight. I like to fight and I'm just gonna force my will on him.”
An Olympic gold medalist for the Dominican Republic in 2008, Diaz is a short welterweight, giving Vasquez ample opportunity to operate from the outside and control matters from there. If he does and picks up his 22nd win without a loss, it’s a big deal for his career and among the hardcores. But to the casual fans, Collazo is the bigger name, and that might have jumpstarted Vasquez’ run to the top a little faster. He knows it, but he’s not downplaying his new opponent in the slightest.
“Collazo's a tough competitor, he has a lot of good names on his resume, he's been a world champion before, but Felix Diaz is nobody to sleep on,” he said. “He was an Olympic Gold medalist, he fought Lamont Peterson and that was a very close fight, and he's gonna bring it. The opponent changed, but Felix Diaz is a game fighter and it's still gonna be a fan friendly fight.”
Not many fighters can claim that “fan friendly” tag, but Monessen, Pennsylvania’s Vasquez certainly can, and in response, he’s gotten a lot of good television time in the past couple years. And while fight fans have gravitated to the 30-year-old’s style in the ring, another segment of the viewing audience cheer him on for another reason, as he’s a veteran of the United States Army who served two tours in Iraq. For those veterans who have come home from war only to deal with another battle in the form of PTSD, Vasquez’ success is a beacon of hope for them. It’s those folks who Vasquez brings in the ring with him.
“There's men and women that message me on my Facebook account, and when they tell me that I inspire them and they appreciate what I'm doing and acknowledging the whole PTSD thing and TBI, I reach out to them myself and it inspires me to keep pushing and keep doing what I'm doing because at the end of the day, I use boxing as an outlet for myself, but also to inspire other people,” he said. “After you come back from something like that, it's not the end of the road. You can always keep going and doing what you need to do.”
Vasquez is living proof of that, and while he’s a family man who doesn’t end up in the papers for doing things he’s not supposed to, it’s got to be a lot of pressure to not just represent himself, but the veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. He doesn’t see it that way.
“I'm always myself and nothing's ever going to change me,” he said. “Even if boxing was done tomorrow, with everything I've been through in my life, I'm grateful for it. I've done a lot already that most people never get to do in their entire lifetime, so I'm grateful for where I'm at and I don't have added pressure. I just enjoy what I do, and if people come along for the ride, it's fantastic. I'm just gonna keep doing what I'm doing and I hope to be a great role model and example for kids in the future.”
He already is, and on July 16, a whole new audience will get to know him and his story. Again, for Vasquez, it’s no pressure. He’s just doing what he loves to do.
“The object of the fight is to win,” he said. “We want to win in a nice fashion, but however you get it, a win is a win. There's going to be a lot of eyes on me, but that's not going to put any added pressure on me. I enjoy boxing, I love boxing, I have a great time doing it, and win, lose or draw, I'm coming home alive and that's the biggest thing. I fight for my family, my brothers and sisters at arms, and it's a great opportunity for me to be on under the Deontay Wilder-Arreola fight and be able to showcase my talents against an ex-Olympian and a great competitor.”
And one day, maybe he’ll find a dance partner like Keith Thurman found Shawn Porter.
“I want a fight like that, of course,” Vasquez said. “It doesn't matter who Shawn Porter is fighting, that guy is coming and he's always a pressure fighter, and I would love to fight somebody like that because with both of our styles, that would make for a great fight. I think their fight was great, and I can't wait to have a fight like that where people are like, 'Man, we need to see this fight again.' That's what gets my adrenaline pumping and that's what I'm in it for.”