There’s fighting fire with fire, and then there’s taking a flamethrower to a flicked Bic. This is how Sammy Vasquez used to carry himself in the ring, like the no-huddle offense incarnate, with leather in place of pigskin. Defense? That was as much an afterthought as a purity ring on prom night.
“I was very much an offensive fighter,” Vasquez says of his early years in the sport. “I used my offense as my defense. [Opponents] knew that if they tried throwing, they would have to eat a couple of punches to hit me.”
These days, Sammy Vasquez (20-0, 14 KOs) is still an offensive dynamo, a tornado of fists. He’s stopped eight of his last 10 opponents not with one-punch knockout power, but with a steady, intense accumulation of punches blended with a heightened emphasis on footwork that enables him to better control the range in his fights. As such, he’s able to come at his opponents at the kind of angles that allows him to locate their blind spots and tag them with shots they just don’t see coming.
“As I progressed, I learned to be able to box a little more, fight in spurts, then bring the elusiveness to my fights,” Vasquez explains. “From the first time I’ve turned pro until now, I think I’ve evolved tremendously.”
Not only has this evolution has been fun to watch, but it underscores the kind of fighter that Vasquez is: equally studios and athletic, the former greatly enhancing the latter.
“There’s always something to learn,” he says. “Once you stop learning, you need to get out of the sport.”
Vasquez still takes chances in the ring, but they’re calculated risks, like when he keeps his hands low, Sergio Martinez-style, to lure his opponent into engaging, and then swiftly bounces in and out of harm’s way.
“A lot of people comment on my hands being down and things like that, but I know when I’m in range and when I’m not in range,” Vasquez says. “I know when I’m baiting someone to throw something because I already have my counter ready for that.”
Vasquez cites his June 21 scrap with heavy-handed Nigerian Wale Omotoso as an example.
“I was baiting a lot of his punches to where I’d just a throw straight left right to the face because he would throw his jab,” he says of the fight, in which he earned a 10-round unanimous decision. “I would just slip his jab at the same time throwing my left hand.”
Another thing that Vasquez has keyed on in recent years is more consistent head movement.
“It’s hard to hit somebody whose head always moves if you’re not smart enough to go to the body,” Vasquez says. “That’s the only way to stop somebody who moves his head a lot. But I’ve never had to adjust to that, because nobody’s figured that out yet. Once somebody does figure it out, I’ve got something for that, too. You always have to have a counter to a counter.”
Heading into his 12-round, 147-pound showdown with gritty brawler Aron Martinez (20-4-1, 4 KOs) in Los Angeles on Saturday (Fox, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT), Vasquez has continued to develop different aspects of his game, this time focusing on switching from his natural left-handed stance to an orthodox one and back again throughout a fight.
“It works, because they’re not used to that,” Vasquez says. “They train for a southpaw the whole time. You change it up on them real quick and it gives them like 30 seconds to think, ‘OK, he switched it up, now what am I going to do?’ By the time he’s thinking that, I’m already throwing punches. And then I switch it up again to southpaw. It’s like a chess match.”
Vasquez’s evolution has coincided—and catalyzed—his steady climb up the 147-pound rankings. He’s at that point where he’s on the precipice of crossing over from prospect to contender. A win over a gutty fighter like Martinez should put him in line for some of the more recognizable names in the division.
“I want to fight somebody that everybody knows about, like a Josesito Lopez, Andre Berto or Victor Ortiz,” Vasquez says. “That’s when you start getting recognized. You beat somebody like that, and people might start looking at you differently, like, ‘Maybe Sammy does deserve a shot at the title.’”
Not that Vasquez, who is scheduled to appear Wednesday on The Jim Rome Show on CBS Sports Radio (2:03 pm ET/11:03 am PT), is big on “maybes.”
When he speaks of getting a chance at a world championship, his words are buttressed with certainty, as devoid of equivocation as a fist to the teeth.
“Eventually, I’m going to fight for a world title, whether it’s the end of this year of the very beginning of next year,” he says. “I’m getting there.”
For complete coverage of Vasquez vs Martinez, visit our fight page.