A storybook year is about to have its pages set ablaze, so says the fireball on the other of the end of line.
Sammy Vasquez is talking about the transformative 2015 enjoyed by the scrappy, strong-willed Aron Martinez, whom he faces Saturday in a scheduled 12-round, 147-pound clash at Staples Center in Los Angeles (Fox, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).
Martinez, a meat-and-potatoes fighter whose unadorned game is posited on naked aggression, has been in tough with solid pros such as Josesito Lopez and Jessie Vargas, but when he stepped up in competition in the past, he got stepped on, losing to both fighters.
All that started to change last June, when Martinez (20-4-1, 4 KOs) gave former two-division champ Robert Guerrero all he could handle, flooring him in Round 4 and dropping a hotly debated split decision that many thought he should have won.
Then, in the biggest fight of his career in October, Martinez upset former 140- and 147-pound titleholder Devon Alexander in surprisingly one-sided fashion, carving him up like a butcher working a side of beef. It was a career year for a man on the verge of being relegated to opponent status.
But if every underdog has his day as Martinez did in 2015, Vasquez says that he’s here to usher in a new dawn.
“I don’t care who you’ve beat,” he states, his words directed at Martinez as forcefully as one of his punches. “I don’t care if you’ve dropped Guerrero, if you beat Devon Alexander or fought Josesito Lopez. None of those guys are me. When you fight me, it’s going to be a different story.”
Vasquez’s message to the come-forward Martinez?
Come and get it.
“To me, he’s not a fighter. He’s a brawler. He doesn’t have any technical skills whatsoever,” Vasquez continues. “You see him throw his right hand and he steps forward with his right foot. He just comes and puts his head right in the crook of your neck, right in your chest, and tries to maneuver the way you go, throwing punches over the top, underneath.
“He’s a tough, tough fighter who keeps coming and coming. He doesn’t have the knockout power, but it’s just punches and punches that wear you out.”
Vazquez (20-0, 14 KOs) says that he’s been steeling himself for Martinez by going at it with the hardest-charging sparring partners he could find. If Martinez plans on playing the bull, Vasquez has been prepping with the boxing equivalent of a series of snorting longhorns.
“I’ve been sparring with a lot of Mexican fighters, Puerto Rican fighters, fighters who just come and bring it and bring it. I’m used to it now,” says Vasquez, who weighed in Friday at 147 pounds, as did Martinez. “I know what to expect, and most of the guys I’ve been sparring hit a lot harder than he does. And I think that I hit a lot of harder than most of the guys he’s fought. So it might shock him a little bit.”
Vasquez has power, but it doesn’t define the Iraq war veteran: He’s not a one-punch knockout kind of guy. Rather, his KOs come from precision, patience and a steady accumulation of blows delivered by a savvy pressure fighter skilled at picking his spots. Against Martinez, Vasquez is focused on redirecting his opponent’s damn-the-torpedoes energy so that he ultimately torpedoes himself.
“I’ve been working on my inside work, a lot of pivoting turns, stepping around him, trying to get him off-balance, because he’s a straightforward fighter,” Vasquez explains. “We’ve been working heavily on getting low right there with him, to not let him control the fight by pushing me back.”
If Vasquez aims to keep moving forward in the ring against Martinez, he’s looking to do the same outside of it with his future prospects in the sport. Martinez may not be the most established name in the 147-pound division, but he has plenty of momentum behind him, and a win over him would qualify as the biggest of Vasquez’s fast-rising career up to this point.
“He’s ranked above me, and that’s what I’ve been wanting,” Vasquez says. “If I beat him, then obviously I go up in the rankings and he goes below me. That’s the main goal: moving up the ladder to world-contender status and fighting for a title. And I don’t care who it is. I’ll take anyone who’s got a title.”
In the meantime, Vasquez isn’t looking past Martinez—he’s looking right through him.
“The type of fighter that I am and the things that I’ve been through in life push me and drive me regardless of who’s in front of me. I don’t fear anybody,” Vasquez says. “It doesn’t matter what he brings to the table or what he can and cannot do. You haven’t faced me yet. And you gotta knock me out to stop me. I got too much pride in myself, too much heart. That’s just the bottom line.”
For full coverage of Vasquez vs Martinez, visit our fight page.