Iraq war veteran Vasquez on verge of joining elite company at 147 pounds

Sammy Vasquez Jr. has a dream fight he’d like to sell you. In one corner is Vasquez, an eastern Pennsylvania native of Mexican descent, and in the other is 147-pound world champion Danny Garcia, a lifelong Philadelphian of Puerto Rican ethnicity.

“Garcia’s got a title that I want. He’s from Philly; I’m from Pittsburgh,” says Vasquez, a native of Monessen, Pennsylvania, which is 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. “It’s two undefeated fighters in an all-Keystone State matchup: the Battle of Pennsylvania.

“With him being Puerto Rican and me, the white Mexican, it’s a marketable fight with a great buildup and so many ways to be promoted. I’m progressing and deserving of a title shot within my next two fights.”

Sammy Vasquez Jr. (21-0, 15 KOs) looks to join the stacked division’s upper echelon with a superlative effort Saturday night in his 147-pound battle with 2008 Olympic gold medalist Felix Diaz (17-1, 8 KOs).

The clash of southpaws precedes Deontay Wilder’s heavyweight title defense against Chris Arreola at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama (Fox, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).

“It’s a huge opportunity on national television with more eyes on me than I’ve ever had,” says the 30-year-old Vasquez, who served two tours of duty in Iraq as a member of the National Guard.

“With what I’ve been through in life, two tours in Iraq, being bullied in school when I was young, it’s a great story. I’m an exciting fighter who is blessed to be where I am, but it’s time for me to make a statement to the boxing world.”

As the quality of Vasquez’s opposition has improved, the 5-foot-10 southpaw has stepped up his own game in return.

In his last bout in January, Vasquez gained a stoppage of veteran Aron Martinez, who quit on his stool at the end of the sixth round in what was a one-sided fight. Before that, Vasquez earned a fifth-round TKO of rugged Mexican Jose Lopez in September, and won a wide 10-round unanimous decision over Nigerian slugger Wale Omotoso in June 2015.

With an impressive victory over the talented Diaz—who lost a hard-fought majority decision to former 140-pound champion Lamont Peterson in October in his last bout—Vasquez could leap into the title conversation in a loaded division that includes champions Garcia, Keith Thurman, Kell Brook and Jesse Vargas, former champs Shawn Porter, Amir Khan and Timothy Bradley Jr., and top unbeaten contender Errol Spence Jr.

“Sammy’s become a complete fighter in his past three bouts, overcoming adversity, being composed and skilled with his punch selection, and generally showing he’s on a different level,” says TV analyst and former two-division champion Paulie Malignaggi.

“Sammy’s humble and looks and talks like the guy next door, but he can fight his ass off. I’m impressed more and more every time I see him. He’s grown into one of boxing’s most marketable fighters with a terrific story of also being an Iraq war veteran.”

For more coverage of Vasquez vs Diaz, visit our fight page.

Sammy Vasquez Jr. and Jose Lopez

Unbeaten southpaw Sammy Vasquez Jr. has his eye on a 147-pound title shot, but first he will have to get past 2008 Olympic gold medalist Felix Diaz on Saturday night. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

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