By Fiona Manning
Israel “Magnifico” Vazquez, one of the most talented and likable fighters on the southern California fight circuit is looking forward to his next shot at a world championship crown.
It looks like this worthy young man will get it too: he is set to face Venezuelan stablemate Jose Luis Val-buena for the IBF 122lb crown vacated by Filipino superstar Manny Pacquio who is moving up four pounds to the 126 division following his victory over Marco Antonio Barrera.
Vazquez, 27, whose record stands at 35-3, 25 KOs, hails from Mexico City but has made his home in Los Angeles for the last six years.
The fighter who had a heart-breaking loss to Oscar Larios two years ago, has covered the distance with three impressive victories: he stopped former world champion Jorge Elecier Julio in 10 rounds, derailed Trinidad Mendoza in seven and won a decision over rough and ready Justo Almazan.
Vazquez, now training at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood under the eagle eye of former Australian heavyweight Justin Fortune, has had to make the adjustment in switching from longtime trainer and father figure Manuel ‘Chato’ Robles.
It was a tough decision for Vazquez to make but one he deemed necessary after the trainer failed to turn up for several fighters on the day of important fights.
“That wasn’t as bad as finding him unconscious on his floor one day and I had a fight that night,” said Vazquez during a break in sparring at the Wild Card.
“I called 911 and the paramedics came and got him. It was very traumatic for me. After that, I gave Chato not just one chance, not just two chances but many, many chances but I finally left him when he ran out on my friend Yoni Vargas in the biggest fight of his career.
“For me boxing is not just a job, it’s my life and I have had the same friends, the same trainer, the same manager for years. My best friend Martin Castillo says he will make the change too but he’s just not ready yet.”
The first question he asked Justin Fortune was “Do you drink?” to which Fortune quipped, “Like a fish” until he learned the circumstances behind Vazquez’s decision to train with him.
“He’s a very serious young man and although his English is pretty good I have to watch my Australian sense of humor,” said Fortune. “He doesn’t always get it when I am kidding.”
Vazquez does get it when Fortune sets him his now infamous isometric exercises but Vazquez has never shied away from hard work.
“He’s a breeze,” said Fortune. “I really like this kid.”
The pair has formed an interesting alliance borne of mutual respect and the fighter’s dedicated work ethic. The newlywed fighter refuses to remove his wedding ring until he wraps his hands for sparring and is clearly giddy with happiness.
“I feel the time is right for me finally,” he said. “Now if I can only get Willie Jorrin to fight me! I don’t need him anymore though. He’s kind of out of the picture now. Valbuena is the guy I need to fight.”
It’s no secret that Jorrin canceled five different fights with Vazquez all at the last minute. His fourth refusal had his then-championship revoked and finally, when the two were scheduled to dance a fifth time for the IBF title which was on the line for both of them, Jorrin pulled out again on the eve of the fight.
This time his promoter Don Chargin dropped him and this time unfortunately, Vazquez took it very hard and very personally.
“This man kept avoiding me and I will never understand that,” he said. “I had gone into training camp up in Big Bear and for me it was hard to be away from home, from my girlfriend and work.
“I remember you even came up there to interview me and how excited everyone was for me. Then he pulled out again! My team didn’t even tell me at first because they knew I would “ he gestures going crazy “When they did tell me, I was ready to kill somebody.”
Since the fight was scheduled for TV on ESPN2, a last minute replacement was found: Oscar Larios, a fighter Vazquez easily defeated in one round several years ago.
Anger and emotions got in the way however and Vaz-quez admits he was unable to mentally get past what Jorrin had done.
“I was not myself in the fight. I can’t even think about that fight let alone watch it. It gets me all upset again.”
He struggled in the later rounds and faded so badly in the 12th, referee Pat Russell stopped the fight.
“I felt I could have kept going but I was not winning,” said Vazquez. “I learned a lot from that fight. I learned that it doesn’t matter how much you are physically prepared to fight. This sport is very mental. It is like a game of chess.”
Vazquez, now promoted by Golden Boy Promotions is chomping at the bit and promises an impressive performance against Valbuena.
“I’m ranked number four by the IBF and I’m prepared to fight Valbuena any time. I’m promising the fans a great show.
His loyal manager Frank Espinoza has stayed faithful not only because it is clear Vazquez is still going places but because of the character and personality of the unassuming little warrior.
Espinoza is working to secure his fighter the Valbuena fight.
“He has earned the right to fight Valbuena who is ranked #1 and must face the next ranked available contender,” he said.
“Since the #2 spot is vacant and with #3 Paulie Ayala not taking the fight that leaves us at #4 as the mandatory to fight Valbuena and Israel is very excited to get a second shot at the title.”
The bout between Valbuena and Vazquez will most likely take place in March at the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium.
Vazquez, whose given name of Israel came from a movie his mother was watching when she went into labor with him on Christmas Day, said he felt destined for great things from an early age.
“I always was taught that if you are willing to work hard, if you are willing to make great sacrifices, you will achieve your dreams. I never expected it to be easy but now I feel everything I have been through has been all worth while. I have been given a second chance. It’s… it’s magnífico!”.