By Thomas Gerbasi
After two tours in Iraq as a member of the US Army National Guard, welterweight up and comer Sammy Vasquez doesn’t get rattled by anything the boxing world can throw at him, with a good example being his first pro fight in Las Vegas back in March of 2013.
Just 6-0 after an impressive amateur career, the Pennsylvania native was scheduled to face someone of comparable experience at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. That didn’t happen.
“I was supposed to fight somebody who 6-0 or 6-1, and then three days before the fight, they sprung it on me that the kid pulled out and they had another kid who was 16-2-1,” Vasquez recalls. “In my mind, I was like ‘okay. I’m already in Vegas, what am I gonna do, turn around and say no?’ If you trained hard and prepared yourself, you should be ready for any adversity or obstacle that’s in your way.”
Vasquez went on to face Argentina’s Leandro Damian Albornoz that night and needed less than two rounds to stop him. Albornoz has not fought since. Vasquez hasn’t stopped fighting and winning, currently sporting an 18-0 (13 KOs) record heading into a Sunday bout at the MGM Grand in Vegas against fellow 147-pound standout Wale Omotoso.
For the kid who has become a fixture on the Pittsburgh fight scene, it’s a business trip that could be a career altering one, as the bout isn’t just in the Fight Capital of the World; it’s also live on CBS on the Rances Barthelemy vs. Antonio DeMarco card, and on a Sunday, no less, which means to the boxing public at large, they’re the only game in town.
But whether it’s Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, it’s all just a fight to the 29-year-old.
“Days don’t matter to me,” he laughs. “Sunday’s a good day and I love it even more that it’s early in afternoon.”
It all goes back to the idea that after going through what he went through in the military, all the little inconveniences that produce drama in other boxers’ lives don’t make Vasquez blink an eye.
“It don’t matter to me,” he said. “I box because I love it. I love the sport, it helps me, and it’s like meditation for me. So I go out there and I enjoy myself and have fun. Win, lose or draw, I’m coming home. Of course I want to win; that’s the main goal for me and you shouldn’t be in it if you don’t want to win. But I’m just happy to entertain people and give them good fights and give back to my brothers and sisters in arms who are overseas.”
Take Vasquez’ story, add in an exciting style and a willingness to face all comers, and he’s got star potential and championship potential. The first end of that equation is already established at home; now the rest of the country can get on board. As for getting into the title conversation, he’s still a prospect with less than 20 fights, but a win over Omotoso on national television can move him a lot faster than he would have moved normally.
“It could possibly help,” he said. “If he (Omotoso) had beat Jessie Vargas, then probably yes. But he didn’t, so it’s tough to say. You’ve got to beat a name fighter to get that kind of recognition. I would hope it does, but if I need to fight somebody tougher and with a name to get that recognition, then so be it. The point is to be able to fight people to where they say you are a contender, you are somebody who can fight for a title, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Omotoso’s decision loss to the unbeaten Vargas in 2013 is the signature fight on the Lagos, Nigeria native’s record simply because many believed he should have won. But no one wants their calling card to be a loss, no matter how disputed it is, so expect the 30-year-old with the impressive 25-1 (21 KOs) 1 NC record to come out guns blazing against Vasquez, who is prepared for whatever his opponent has for him this weekend.
“I really don’t know too much about him, but he’s very basic – he has a tight defense, he throws a lot of jabs, tries to set you up for the right hand,” Vasquez said. “I think I bring another level of power that he probably hasn’t faced yet. I hit hard with both hands and have been definitely training on that during this camp because I want to hit harder. He’s good and from what his record shows, he obviously has power, so I’ve got to be smart and box him, and as soon as I see an opportunity or he makes a mistake I’m going to take advantage of it. But records don’t scare me at all. Regardless of who you beat or who you didn’t beat, you never fought me yet.”
And if all goes to plan, Vasquez will get to go home to Pennsylvania with his 19th pro win, a nice present for a father of three who will be working this Father’s Day.
“It’s tough not being with my daughters on Father’s Day, but I’ve got a job to do and this is only gonna benefit them,” he said. “They’ll be able to watch me on TV, they’re super excited and that would be the greatest gift, to take this victory home with me and celebrate with my family. It means everything to me.”