Vazquez-Marquez battles must end

Israel Vazquez, from Huntington Park, California, by way of Mexico City, recently declared of his opponent: “We need each other.”

Such strange necessity. After all, who needs somebody dedicated to doing you grievous physical harm?

In fact, Vazquez and Rafael Marquez did need each other. They had fought three times before Saturday night, and each occasion was epic. Still, as Vazquez went on about the violent symbiosis that unites them, I couldn’t help but stare at his left eye. This was Tuesday at a gym in Hollywood, four days before the fight and the brown above Vazquez’ left eye was a translucent bubble.

"How long could that hold up?" I wondered.

Now I have the answer: not long.

It opened toward the end of the first round when Marquez tagged him with a straight right hand.

“That was the plan,” Marquez would say, “to go directly to the eyes.”

Vazquez had cut badly in each of their previous three fights, but never so quickly. By the second round, the left eye looked to be the size of a baby’s mouth. Soon, a clash of heads would open the brow above his right eye. By the third, a right uppercut gave Vazquez the appearance of a victim in a slasher film. Then I saw something I never thought I’d see: Vazquez taking a knee.

Don’t get me wrong; he is nothing if not gallant. But in that moment, he acknowledged the inevitable. Vazquez — who was born on Christmas Day 1977 — might be younger than the 35-year-old Marquez. But less is left of him.

Vazquez had won two of the previous three fights, a trilogy that ranks with the best in boxing history. But this was different. The beating he took, and the bleeding it caused, seemed almost perfunctory.

At 1:33 of the third round, referee Raul Caiz Jr. stepped in to stop the bout. It was a wise decision.

Still, Vazquez — who has spoken of boxing as his “drug” — remains addicted. The sobriety he achieved in taking a knee, proved short-lived.

“I can see and everything,” Vazquez said. “He hit me with a good shot and my eye just opened up. I didn’t know I was cut until I saw the blood. I’m happy because we gave the fans another great fight.”

For the record, the left eye required three layers of stitches. The cut went to the bone.

“I’ll need to take off about five or six months,” he said. “But if the commission says OK, and the people want a fifth fight, I’ll take it.”

God forbid.

Two years ago, I spent a day with Vazquez in his freshly painted home in Huntington Park. He had two young sons, a couple of puppies, and a wife named Laura he clearly adored. Once upon a time, she cut his hair. It took several haircuts before the tough guy Vazquez could get up the courage to ask her out. He was so proud to have set her up with own beauty salon.

Vazquez’s purse for Saturday night was $800,000. Even after everyone whacks it up, that’s a lot of money for a 126-pounder. So now let him take what’s left, and never come back to the ring.

As it ended, Vazquez and Marquez each smiled and held up five fingers.

No.

I don’t know if Marquez needs to be saved from himself. But Vazquez does. He’s an addict, with a jones that makes him an easy mark for his best warrior’s instincts. He needs help.

“I got a real good look at Israel’s eye,” said promoter Gary Shaw. “I don’t want to see a fifth fight.”

Even his manager, Frank Espinoza, had to agree. The other day, he was speaking of Vazquez and Marquez as fated lovers. But on Saturday night Espinoza apparently came to his senses. “That’s it,” he said. “It’s over. He never has to fight again.”

See that he does not.

Vazquez and Marquez don’t need each other any more. Let people remember their fights for what they were: an historic trilogy with a bloody postscript.

End it now, while there’s still a chance for a happy ending.