It was a small gesture from a large man, a relationship born over a pack of bubble gum.
Sammy Vasquez Jr. (18-0, 13 KOs) was just a kid when he met heavyweight champion Michael Moorer, the biggest thing to come from their shared hometown of Monessen, Pennsylvania, since the I-beams produced by the city’s now-shuttered steel mills.
Moorer, who had gone to school with Vasquez’s father, Sammy Vasquez Sr., and remained friendly with him over the years, bought the young boy some gum one day, leaving a lasting impression on the future fighter.
“I thought that was the coolest thing,” Vasquez says, sounding a little like a young boy again.
As Vasquez embarked on a boxing career of his own beginning as a teenager, he began to come in contact with the former champ more and more.
“He started giving me a little bit of advice and stuff like that, things to look out for,” Vasquez recalls. “I just took what he said and kind of molded it my way.”
One tip that Moorer shared has proven to be especially fruitful for Vasquez, who’s since developed a knack for knockouts.
“I remember him telling me that when you punch somebody, make sure that you always keep your fist hard inside the glove because there’s a lot of people who slap or keep their hand open inside the glove,” Vasquez says. “He always told me, ‘I was strong, but my power was greatest when I made my fists really hard in my gloves, and they never became soft until the end of the 12th round or if I stopped the guy. You’ll never hurt your hands if you keep a solid fist inside your gloves.’”
Vasquez took Moorer’s tutelage to heart: He’s stopped 13 of his 18 opponents, stringing together eight knockouts in a row prior to his last fight against Emmanuel Lartei Lartey in February, which Vasquez won by unanimous decision.
Moorer, of course, was known for his power, with 40 KOs in 52 wins.
Hitting his prime in the ’90s, Moorer served as a bridge between the Pittsburgh area’s rich boxing past, with Hall of Famers such as Sammy Angott, Billy Conn, Charley Burley and Teddy Yarosz, and its present, which Vasquez has come to represent, developing into a big draw in the Iron City.
“That was my key,” Vasquez says, “to bring boxing back to Pittsburgh. We still have fighters out here who are trying to make it, trying to make a name for themselves.”
Vasquez knows that if he wants to further build his name, he’ll have to continue to evolve in the ring. He'll get another chance to do so Sunday when he takes on Wale Omotoso (25-1, 21 KOs) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, which airs on CBS at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT.
Basically, he wants to define himself as a fighter who’s hard to define.
“My main objective is to be able to adapt," Vasquez says. "There’s a lot of fighters who are one-dimensional. They either come forward and they’re brawlers or they box the whole time and they can’t brawl. I want to know every aspect of the game and make sure that, no matter what, I’m going to win. It’s really hard for me to pinpoint what I am as a fighter, but I just think that, in general, I’m a well-rounded fighter. I can do it all if I need to.”
For complete coverage of Vasquez vs. Omotoso, go to our fight page.