At age 28, unbeaten welterweight prospect Sammy Vasquez Jr. isn't wasting any time climbing the ladder in his young career.
Vasquez (15-0, 11 KOs), from Monessen, Pennsylvania, will make his fifth appearance in 2014 when he faces James Stevenson (21-0, 14 KOs) on Friday (10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1) in the main event at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Promoted by Mike Tyson's Iron Mike Productions, Vasquez, who turned pro in 2012, served eight years with the U.S. Army National Guard, including two tours of duty in Iraq.
The exciting southpaw recently took time away from training to talk with ESPN.com about his future:
How would you assess your performance in your last outing, a third-round TKO over Jay Krupp on ESPN's "Friday Night Fights?"
It wasn't bad. I'd give myself maybe a 7 or a 7.5. I made a couple of mistakes there and got caught with a few big shots that I shouldn't have. But overall I did what I needed to do to adjust and was able to knock him out.
What kind of style does Stevenson bring to the table against you on Friday?
He's a slick boxer so, with that being said, I'm sure he's fast. Fighters [from Washington, D.C.,] are normally slick and I've fought a couple before in the amateurs. I kind of know what their style is; they are tough guys and tough competitors. But I know I can break him down. I don't think he has been in the ring against somebody like me before.
We often hear about the stigmas associated with boxers from different cities. You're a Pittsburgh guy, so what does that mean when it comes to fighting?
My image of myself, and I can't say for everybody, is that I'm a strong, very aggressive and hard-working type of fighter. I bring all the attributes. I can be slick, I can be fast, I can bang -- I can do it all in the ring. And that comes with a lot of fighters from the Pittsburgh area. But being myself, I'm a little different. I can adjust in the ring. I'm not a one-dimensional fighter. If stuff is not working, I can switch it up.
You have an interesting backstory having served two tours in Iraq as a specialist for the U.S. Army National Guard. How did that prepare you for your career as a boxer?
I learned to not take anything for granted. Anytime I step in the ring, I think of it as a lot of fun and that's all there is to it. I want to leave the ring safe and alive and be OK, and that's a blessing in itself. You wake up every day not knowing if it's your last day or not. And I go into the ring looking to have fun and that's what brings the best out of me. I don't need to get uptight or nervous because there's really nothing to worry about. I just go in there and have fun, handle my business and get out of there.
How much did your dream of becoming a pro boxer help you through some of the tough stretches during wartime?
It's tough because during wartime, you put everything on the backburner. I couldn't think about boxing at the time. I've got the guys in front of me that I have to protect. I've got to be ready to pull the trigger and do whatever it is that I need to do to help them survive. So everything else in my life was on the backburner and I couldn't worry about boxing or nobody. In that aspect, boxing really wasn't a part of that mind frame or mentality at the time. If anything, my mentality then actually helped me be more mature and prepare myself for boxing and help me do what I needed to do and make the right steps to give boxing 110 percent.
How has your relationship been with Mike Tyson been as your promoter?
First off, it's inspirational to have Mike Tyson in your corner, period. Having a legend and the best knockout artist in your corner just in general is amazing. What they've done for me is everything they have said they were going to do. To me, you get all my respect. That's why I signed with those guys -- whatever they said, they did. I've talked to other promoters who have said this or said that, but none of it ever ended up on paper and they beat around the bush. I don't have time for that. I'm here to win a world championship. If you don't want to be a part of that, then fine, get me somebody else that will. And Mike Tyson stepped up to the plate, as well as I did. And like I said to them, "You do your job and I'll do my job." My job is to win fights. His job is to get me fights and to get me a world title shot. And together we will be on top.
Where does your nickname "The Who Can Mexican" come from and what does it mean to you?
My father made up my nickname just for fun. I thought it was pretty cool. My dad had his own promotion license at the time and he would put on his own shows. So we put "The Who Can Mexican" on T-shirts and my fans -- and I've got some of the most loyal fans -- they just grew attached to it. My fans are the ones who have built it up to what it is. I am a Mexican-American, even though I'm as white as they come. But my grandfather is from Sonora, Mexico, and Mexicans are known for being hard-working and that's what I do.