When Sammy Vasquez Jr. first turned pro, his father used to hand-deliver tickets to his son’s fights to the homes of anyone who wanted them.
“He never let anybody come to him for tickets,” Vasquez says of Sammy Vasquez Sr., his voice conveying a mixture of awe and pride.
It was a small gesture that would eventually pay big dividends, creating a personal connection between a fighter and his fan base that has since become an enduring bond.
It’s helped Sammy Vasquez Jr. and his team do something remarkable: build a large, consistently growing following on a do-it-yourself, grassroots level.
This is what boxing needs: fighters who develop themselves into local attractions as a steppingstone to national stardom.
To this end, Vasquez is well on his way.
At his most recent fight in May, against Emmanuel Lartey at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, not from Vazquez’s hometown of Moneseen, Pennsylvania, he attracted close to 8,000 fans.
There are plenty of reigning champions with higher profiles than Vasquez who can’t begin to approach his box-office numbers.
Vasquez’s last three fights, all at the CONSOL Energy Center, where the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins play, have gotten successively bigger, beginning with his first bout at the venue against James Stevenson last August.
“To be at the CONSOL Energy Center and for my dad to sell $70,000 worth of tickets, that’s when I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty legit. This is pretty cool,’” Vazquez says.
It all began back when Vasquez first started fighting as an amateur.
Vazquez Sr., one of 14 children, would turn his son’s fights into family affairs, drawing sizable crowds of relatives alone.
Once Vasquez turned pro, however, his father got a promoters license and they began putting on their own shows.
Pittsburgh’s not a boxing hotbed, but it is a passionate sports city, and Vazquez has successfully tapped into that fervor as an exciting 147-pound prospect and local boy done good, even though he now lives and trains in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
As Vasquez prepares to battle Nigerian KO machine Wale Omotoso on June 21 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas, which airs on CBS at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT, he expects plenty of his hometown loyalists to join him out west.
“From what I know there’s a whole plane coming,” he says. “As soon as people caught wind of the fight, automatically people were like, ‘I already bought my tickets for Vegas.’ They’re loyal, man. It’s like a family.”
And Vasquez tries to treat them as such.
“I’m someone who reaches out to those people, just to thank them personally,” he says. “Ultimately, in this sport, the fans are the ones who will get you on networks like this.
“They just come in flocks now,” he continues. “I’m pretty sure after this fight on the 21st at the MGM I’m going to have even more."