A decade after the final fight of his 18-year pro career, Rafael Marquez was awarded the biggest honour he could get when he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Marquez is a 48-year-old veteran of 50 fights. His record was 41-9 (37) but he lost four of his last six to younger and fresher fighters. Still, he had more than earned his place in the sun and soaked up his moment during the Hall of Fame inductions on Sunday.
Over the weekend, he spoke to fans, signed autographs and did interviews, revelling in the acknowledgment of a fun, fan-friendly career and he knew the fights that got him inducted. Almost without pause, he said, via translator, “There are three fights that I think really saw me distinguished to be in the Hall of Fame, and they were the ones with [Mark] ‘Too Sharp’ Johnson, Tim Austin and [Israel] ‘Magnifico’ Vazquez.”
Of course, he boxed Vazquez four times, and Johnson twice. The first three with Vazquez were brutal wars but ‘Izzy’ had nothing left for the final fight and was blown away in three one-sided rounds. In fact, Vazquez had been on the ballot to be inducted this year, and many fans were hopeful the great rivals would go in together.
They are the fights Marquez was arguably best-known for, and certainly the ones the fans wanted to ask about.
“We still speak to each other and we have tremendous respect for each other as well,” said Marquez. “We’re professionals, so in the ring we’re fighters but out of the ring we’re human beings. When you see him in the ring, he is your enemy, he’s your rival, but out of the ring, he’s your friend. They were wars. I remember the first fight, and then every fight after that was just a war. We were both champions, we left everything in the ring like the Mexicans we are. They were spectacular fights to the public.”
Marquez was a class act all weekend, dressed smartly and available for anyone.
During his speech, he thanked his mother, his sisters and dedicated the ultimate boxing accolade to his children, wife and to Mexico.
“It is a sacrifice of 30 years to be able to achieve this, which is difficult but beautiful as well,” he said.
Of the sacrifice, Marquez has given much of himself to the sport. He was a warrior, involved in countless big, exciting fights.
He twice beat the brilliant Johnson, first via split decision and then stopping him in eight rounds, the same round he stopped Austin in when he became the first man to defeat Austin, who was 25-0-1, before making several defences of the IBF bantamweight title and moving up to win the WBC super-bantamweight crown.
Of the Austin fight, Marquez recalled: “When they said I was going to fight him, I remember thinking that’s going to be tough. He’s a good southpaw and I knew I would have to prepare very well for it. To be the new champion of the world, I knew I was going to have to fight hard, so I went in there having done all of the physical and mental training so I was ready to knock him out.”
Marquez talks with pride and passion, the same staples that took him to the top of the sport, and he discussed the commitment he needed to show in order to have a Hall of Fame career.
“We just love to leave everything in the ring and give everyone a good show,” he said of being one of the Mexican greats. “To be the best boxer, you have to have a lot of discipline and a lot of love for the sport. You also have to fight the best fighters that are out there to become the best.”
Marquez said he liked Canelo but that, overall, there are fewer warriors coming out of Mexico with the stereotypical mindset and fighting style.
He listed Salvador Sanchez, Julio Cesar Chavez and his brother Juan Manuel as the best in Mexico’s history, and was asked about the rumoured sparring wars he would have with his sibling and now fellow Hall of Famer.
Rafael laughed. “Not just in the ring but we had fights outside as brothers do! But there weren’t many in the gym, they were mostly outside!”
Rafael is now training his 15-year-old son, who he thinks is promising, and said last week, “I’d like to be remembered for the wars I had in the ring and as a man out of the ring who teaches the younger generation to follow the right path.”