Two fights, two wars, and everyone expects more of the same when Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez renew their red-hot rivalry on Showtime on Saturday.
After one win each, no one can be sure which of the Mexican 122-pounders will prevail in their championship rubber match.
Each fighter has stopped the other. Vazquez scored the only knockdowns in the first two fights but suffered more facial damage.
Marquez, 32, believes he lost the rematch by reason of tactical error. Speaking on a telephone conference call, he felt that he got away from a winning strategy and started to fight Vazquez's fight -- one in which punches were exchanged toe-to-toe.
This time he promises to be smarter and not give Vazquez a chance to land a decisive punch.
Vazquez, meanwhile, never says a lot, but there is always a quiet determination about the 30-year-old defending champion. He believes that by keeping constant pressure on Marquez, he will be able to break down and stop the superior stylist.
"Marquez is going to have to fight me, but I will push him around," Vazquez said after a media workout in Los Angeles this week. "I will put pressure on him to get him off his rhythm, to make him change his strategy.
"If he wants to beat me, he has to fight me blow-by-blow. No other way around it.
This is one of those fights for which the battle lines were drawn long ago. Vazquez has never been the classiest of boxers, but he can break another man's will with his relentless advance and heavy-handed punching. He will be the aggressor, as ever.
Marquez has classic boxing skills and throws his punches with great precision. In a long-range boxing match, Marquez has the clear advantage with his jab, hand speed and combinations. He's intent on putting these tools to good use in the third fight.
"I did learn something from the loss," Marquez said. "I learned that for this fight, I need to box intelligently in order to win."
It is not going to be easy for Marquez to stick to his textbook boxing, though, against a fighter who will be coming at him and seeking to deny him room to maneuver. At some stage, Marquez probably will find himself obliged to stand and fight, just to keep Vazquez off him, and this is where the fight could turn irrevocably, one way or the other.
Sometimes heart and will can overcome greater natural talent, and the perception of this fight is that if Vazquez is to win, he must walk through punishment to outlast and outgame his opponent.
In broad terms this is probably true, but technically, Vazquez brings more to the ring than is immediately apparent. His jab, for instance, can be a jarring weapon when he employs it.
Vazquez destroyed Ivan Hernandez with the jab, slamming his fellow Mexican's head back and inflicting a fight-ending cut across the bridge of the nose.
In all the fire and fury of the first two fights, it is easy to overlook the way Vazquez sometimes jabbed on level terms with Marquez. Although Marquez is rightly seen as the better technician, Vazquez is not just a straight-ahead slugger: He does posses some refinements of technique.
Defense, though, is not Vazquez's strong point. He gets hit a lot. Many at ringside in Las Vegas thought he had reached a point of no return when the sharpshooting Jhonny Gonzalez dropped him twice, but Vazquez had landed enough solid hits to slow down his speedier opponent just enough to be able to catch up with him and turn the fight around.
That night, it occurred to me how discouraging it must have been for Gonzalez. He had dropped Vazquez with perfect punches, he was outboxing him, and he had enjoyed his biggest round in the sixth. But in the seventh round he left himself open to a right hand and was dropped and hurt; all of a sudden, the tide had turned.
Marquez, too, might well enjoy early success on Saturday night, but as long as Vazquez is on his feet, he is going to be dangerous.
Boxing a perfect fight against someone such as Vazquez is not an easy thing to do. In fact, fighting Vazquez must be as tiring mentally as it is physically because the other man, even if he is winning rounds, knows that, at any time, one punch can have a disadvantageous impact on the disposition of the contest.
So, while Marquez likely will get off to the faster start and do damage early, the question will be whether he can keep the momentum going.
Marquez's acclaimed trainer, Nacho Beristain, surely will want him to box a savvy fight, picking his punches and moving off, avoiding heavy involvement until Vazquez has been significantly weakened and bloodied. The rematch showed all too vividly what can happen to Marquez if he gets too ambitious, too soon.
"I never make excuses or blame anybody for what happens to me in the ring. But I lost focus during the last fight," Marquez said. "I made mistakes I don't usually make. I never leave myself open with my hands down the way I did in our rematch. I had to review the tape to realize the mistakes I made. I didn't do what I had to do in the ring. It was many things."
Yet Marquez has long been accustomed to being the puncher in the fight, the stronger man in the ring. As a bantamweight, Marquez was what the boxing trade would call a monster, always looking so much more powerful than his opponents. At 122 pounds, against a strong fighter such as Vazquez, he found himself unable to impose himself physically the way he had in the 118-pound division.
In the rematch especially, Marquez hit Vazquez with the sort of shots that would have crumpled many boxers, and it appeared that he committed himself to going all out for an early finish.
When Vazquez blazed back, it was too late for Marquez to change course.
This time, Marquez will be sent out to box a disciplined, relatively conservative type of fight, taking advantage of every opportunity to punish the slower Vazquez but not unloading his full arsenal until later in the bout.
Vazquez, however, will not be cooperating. He will be trying to force Marquez into errors, to hurt him and take him out of his stride as early as possible.
Perhaps Vazquez's greatest quality is his ability to endure in a grueling fight. True, he did retire in the first meeting with Marquez, when his nose was broken in the first round and blocked nasal passages greatly restricted his breathing, but I believe he has always regretted this, no matter how prudent the "no mas" decision. When he fought Marquez the second time, it was as if Vazquez was prepared to walk through anything and everything that was thrown at him, as if nothing was going to stop him, and he achieved a memorable victory.
If we are to take him at his word, we can expect more of the same in this third fight. "If I had revenge on my mind the second time around, you can bet that now I want to make sure that everybody knows that I am the best of the two," he told the media.
If one dares to try to delve into the psychological aspects of the fight, it is unclear whether either man has the clear advantage.
Vazquez, for his part, knows he can knock Marquez down and stop him. No matter how unpromising things might become, that knowledge can keep Vazquez going.
Marquez, though, probably feels that he had the fight won last time, only to throw it all away by the reckless impulse to seek a spectacular conclusion.
Vazquez's trainer, Rudy Perez (best known for his long association with Marco Antonio Barrera), is trying to get his man to be a bit less available to be hit. But while we might see Vazquez moving his head and upper body more, and keeping a tighter defense, it seems inevitable that he will have to take punches to land his own. Last time, he was able to do this and emerge victorious, in part, perhaps, because Marquez played into his hands -- but this is another fight and not necessarily a continuation of what went before.
Expect to see Marquez boxing beautifully and piling up points, but Vazquez has a way of closing in, getting his punches home and making them count. Vazquez was able to take Marquez's best punches in each of the previous bouts, although a hook to the body appeared to affect him in the rematch. But Vazquez does tend to suffer cuts and swelling around the eyes. If Vazquez finds himself bloodied early, it could develop into a race against time should the referee start to get anxious.
So a strong case can be made for either man in this fight.
Vazquez losing on a cuts stoppage has to be considered a definite possibility, but without the nose injury he might well have won the first fight -- and he got his revenge in the rematch. This time I have the feeling that Vazquez will come through an early shelling and grind out a win in about eight rounds.
I think the fight will come down to which of the boxers can better withstand the rigors of battle, and I am guessing that Vazquez will be that man.
Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.