Marquez stops Vazquez in third round

LOS ANGELES -- After four fights, Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez say they're even.

The gaping, bloody cuts near Vazquez's eyes indicate Marquez is a bit ahead at what's likely the merciful end of their epic rivalry.

Marquez stopped Vazquez midway through the third round Saturday night, evening the score at two wins apiece in the most entertaining fight series in recent boxing history.

The fourth fight was the shortest, essentially decided when Marquez opened a cut the length of Vazquez's left eyelid with a punch in the first round. Vazquez took another cut near his right eye in the third, leaving the former 122-pound champion blinking back blood when the fight was stopped on the brink of a second knockdown.

"I prepared myself so good, and I wanted to even the score," Marquez said after embracing his four-time foe at Staples Center. "I was very focused."

Vazquez needed three layers of stitches to close the cut, which went down to the bone. The loss didn't cut nearly as deeply, with Vazquez expressing admiration for the opponent to which he'll always be connected.

"It really affected me, because there was a lot of blood," Vazquez said. "I couldn't see punches coming. I couldn't see anything."

Vazquez and Marquez met three times from March 2007 to March 2008 for a super bantamweight title, with each fight increasing in ferocity and theatricality -- knockdown, momentum swings and more punishment than most fighters take in a lifetime. After Marquez claimed Vazquez's title in their first bout, Vazquez won the last two fights, including a split-decision victory in the rubber match.

Both fighters took more than a year off after the third bout, and Vazquez underwent three surgeries to repair a torn retina. The fourth fight, at featherweight, was made by economics and opportunity.

"There is no loser tonight," said Fernando Beltran, Marquez's manager. "We only tied the score."

Marquez (39-5, 35 KOs) was aggressive in the opening round, landing a big right hand that cut Vazquez early on. Vazquez (44-5) survived the round, but the astonishing size of the cut suggested the fight couldn't go much longer.

"That was the plan, to go directly to the eyes," said Marquez, the brother of Juan Manuel Marquez. "The people in my corner said that."

Marquez dominated the second round. After opening the right eye cut with a head-butt in the third, Marquez knocked Vazquez to one knee with a vicious combination. He then chased Vazquez to the ropes with a relentless flurry of punches, and referee Raul Caiz Jr. jumped in at 1:33 to rescue Vazquez, who had blood streaming down his cheeks.

"I've been waiting for this moment for almost three years," Marquez said. "Everybody saw the difference in this one."

Both fighters hadn't even left the ring before they were asked about the prospect of a fifth meeting. Both expressed tentative interest -- yet most of the men responsible for putting these two together four times don't seem particularly excited about it.

"That's it. His career is over," said Frank Espinoza, Vazquez's longtime manager. "[Vazquez] doesn't need to fight again."

Marquez's promoter, Gary Shaw, also said he doesn't want to see a fifth fight, preferring to put Marquez against Vic Darchinyan next. Ken Hershman, the general manager of Showtime Sports, said it's "so fitting that this amazing series ends tied at 2." Showtime provides the financial incentive for the series.

Vazquez said he'll speak with his family before deciding whether to continue fighting. He seemed more wistful than disappointed, hiding his stitched-up cuts behind big sunglasses.

"I feel OK," Vazquez said. "I can see and everything, but I need to take care of my eyes. He hit me with a good shot, and my eye just opened up. I didn't know until I saw the blood that I was cut."

The enthusiastic crowd, which included actors Charlize Theron and Garry Shandling and Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, filled much of the lower bowl. Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer estimated about 8,000 fans in a crowd that would have been bigger without the Tour of California cycling race's time trial snarling traffic downtown earlier in the day.

"We witnessed history that we'll remember for the rest of our lives," Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya said.