Welterweight Sammy Vasquez Jr. has understandably developed a reputation in recent fights as being a fan-friendly fighter. He likes to mix it up, much to the delight of his hometown fans in western Pennsylvania.
In August, his ninth-round knockout of then-undefeated James Stevenson was a thrilling affair. Vasquez, of Monessen, followed that win with a violent first-round knockout of Alberto Mosquera in November.
Now Vasquez (17-0, 13 KOs) is returning to CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh for his third consecutive fight when he faces fellow southpaw Emmanuel Lartey (17-2, 8 KOs), a native of Ghana fighting out of Brooklyn, New York, on Friday night in the scheduled 10-round main event of a “ShoBox: The New Generation” tripleheader (Showtime, 10 ET/PT).
Vasquez, 28, is riding a nine-fight knockout streak. Lartey, 33, whose only losses were by eight-round decision to 2008 Olympic gold medalist Felix Diaz and 2012 Olympian Errol Spence Jr., has never been knocked down. One of those streaks is likely to end.
“Lartey has never been knocked out, but I definitely think I have the power to take him out,” Vasquez said. “It's more of the plan of setting it up. I’m going to set it up and put him in positions that he hasn't been in before to make him uncomfortable.
“I want to make him throw punches that he normally doesn’t throw so I can open him up and capitalize on his mistakes. Fighting in my hometown gives me extra motivation. That's one of the main reasons why I always come back here to Pittsburgh, why I always bring boxing back here. I just love the atmosphere that my fans give me when I fight. I'm just honored to put on a show and give them a great fight. Boxing has always been my dream and fighting in front of my fans in Pittsburgh makes it even better.”
Lartey does appear to be a step up in competition for Vasquez, so the fight should be a solid gauge of his career. Lartey, however, is confident of victory.
“He hasn’t faced the type of guys that I’ve faced,” Lartey said. “He hasn’t faced the opposition that I have. He’s going to be surprised when he steps in the ring with me.
“No, I’m not worried about fighting in his hometown. I can win with a decision, but I’m going to be looking for the knockout to make an impression and make a statement. He’s definitely underestimating me. Sammy has built up his record with cupcakes. This is going to be a good test for him and a good test for me. I’m going to be the one walking out with a 'W.' ”
Vasquez, who served two tours in Iraq, said he understands this is the kind of fight he needs -- one against a durable, experienced opponent -- before he can move on to bigger things.
"I don’t feel like I’m in a position to be calling people out yet. I still have a lot of things to prove and that’s what I’m looking to do on Friday,” Vasquez said. “I’m looking to prove myself and make a statement. I'm ranked pretty high, but there are plenty of names in front of me that I need to beat. I want to start fighting the top guys -- that’s my plan for 2015.
“Once I get that name and recognition where I can call people out, then that's when I will do it. When I feel I am ready and worthy. I need to get a win on Friday first.”
In the co-feature, former Cuban amateur star Humberto Savigne (12-1, 9 KOs), now living in Miami, will take on Craig Baker (15-0, 11 KOs), of Baytown, Texas, in a 10-round light heavyweight fight.
Opening the telecast will be featherweight Claudio Marrero (17-1, 13 KOs), a native of the Dominican Republic living in Miami, facing fellow southpaw Orlando Rizo (18-5, 11 KOs), of Nicaragua, in an eight-round match.