Vazquez-Marquez ready for No. 4

LOS ANGELES -- Some fights stand alone as classics.

Like Sugar Ray Leonard-Marvin Hagler.

Some fights produce unforgettable rematches.

Like Joe Louis-Max Schmeling II.

Some fighters are so evenly matched and so compelling that a trilogy is required to play out the drama to a final conclusion.

Like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier who finished a rivalry for the ages with The Thrilla in Manila.

But only a few fighters in the long and brutal history of the sport have ever faced each other four or more times.

Gene Tunney and Harry Greb fought five times. Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta went at it four times, as did Robinson and Gene Fullmer, Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles, Joey Giardello and Dick Tiger, and Bobby Chacon and Rafael "Bazooka" Limon, among others.

Now add to that list Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez.

On Saturday, they will meet for a fourth time at Staples Center. Vazquez has won two of the three previous fights, yet the ferocity of both fighters, the ceaseless action in all three battles, the blood spilled, the guts revealed, the punches thrown and the tightness of the rubber match -- Vazquez pulled out a split decision by winning the 12th round -- leaves a hunger for yet another fight.

"It is absolutely something that will be good for the sport," Vazquez said.

"I really deserve a fourth fight," Marquez said. "Don't forget, the last one was really close."

The first three unfolded as follows:

Vazquez-Marquez I: March 3, 2007 -- The Promise

There were empty seats at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., when these two fighters first banged gloves.

Yes, it was for a title, Vazquez, the World Boxing Council super bantamweight champion, defending against Marquez, who had successfully defended his International Boxing Federation bantamweight crown seven times. But these were not yet marquee fighters as far as casual boxing fans were concerned.

Although they were both skilled combatants whose styles matched up perfectly, this fight, in effect, ended in the first round when Marquez caught Vazquez with a left hook, breaking his nose.

Vazquez fought valiantly, even knocking Marquez down in the third round. But eventually, an inability to breathe through his smashed nose caused Vazquez to quit on his stool after the seventh round.

While the fight had been entertaining, the outcome was unsatisfying.

Vazquez-Marquez II: Aug. 4, 2007 -- The Redemption

Vazquez was so upset about his decision to give up and the reaction of those who questioned his toughness that he came back for the rematch only five months after having surgery on his nose to remove cartilage and a blood clot.

There was plenty of blood flowing from around the eyes of both men this time in a fight held at Dodge Arena in Hidalgo, Texas.

The third round alone was a fight in itself with Marquez staggered twice, only to fight back and inflict further damage on Vazquez.

Finally, in the sixth round, Vazquez was able to put Marquez down with a left hook. He got up, but never got back in the fight, and the match was stopped by referee Jose Guadalupe Garcia at 1:16 of the sixth.

Vazquez-Marquez III: March 1, 2008 -- The Tiebreaker

One round.

After 24 previous rounds, a bent nose, face-splitting cuts, bone-jarring left hooks, laser-like jabs, devastating right hands and a lack of emotion-draining clinches, it came down to the final round of the final fight, held back at the Home Depot Center.

Vazquez clearly won that round, smashing Marquez into the ropes in the final seconds on what was ruled a knockdown.

But even so, it ultimately came down to one point on one scorecard. Judge Tom Kaczmarek scored it 114-111 for Marquez. Max DeLuca had it the other way, 114-111 for Vazquez.

Judge James Jen-Kin gave it to Vazquez 113-112 for the split decision.

What's to come?

A fourth fight? By all means.

Vazquez and Marquez could fight a fifth time or even a sixth, but they will likely never break for the record for head-to-head battles.

That is held by Jack Britton and Ted "Kid" Lewis who, from 1915 to 1921, fought 20 times.

Steve Springer is a freelance journalist and the author of eight books, the last three best-sellers. He was an award-winning sports writer with the Los Angeles Times for 25 years and is a past winner of the Nat Fleischer Lifetime Achievement Award given by the Boxing Writers' Association of America.