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Israel Vazquez launches comeback Saturday from serious injury

The 31-year-old former champion, who last year suffered a detached retina that could have ended his career, returns to the ring for a featherweight bout against Angel Priolo at Nokia Theatre.

October 10, 2009|Lance Pugmire

Israel Vazquez has proved himself as a world-champion fighter.

Vazquez became a fan favorite in 25 rounds of a stirring trilogy against Mexico's Rafael Marquez. Vazquez starred in a 12th round for the ages in March 2008 when he unleashed an onslaught of blows that finally knocked down Marquez in the final three seconds, giving Vazquez the deciding point he needed in a split-decision triumph.

The toll from those battles was great for Vazquez (43-4, 31 KOs), the bantamweight world champion. A doctor's examination after the third Marquez fight found that Vazquez had suffered a detached retina in his right eye and his boxing career was possibly over.

He underwent three surgeries to properly reattach the retina. After one procedure, Vazquez said that sight in the eye was like looking through the bottom of a Coke bottle filled with water.

Now, even with his manager admitting that the boxer's vision is barely good enough for him to pass the mandatory California State Athletic Commission eye exam, Vazquez will return to the ring tonight for a featherweight fight against Colombia's Angel Priolo (30-7, 20 knockouts) at downtown's Nokia Theatre.

"I still have a lot left, and I'm going to prove it," said the 31-year-old Vazquez. "[The eye] was something that was very worrisome, but I want to retire on my terms. Not because of an injury. But after a fight. After a big fight."

The match with Priolo -- who stands three inches taller than Vazquez -- does not qualify as a big fight.

The bout's intrigue is how Vazquez will perform after 19 months away from the ring, and if his eye can withstand punishment beyond a sparring partner's blow against padded headgear.

"There's a lot of unanswered questions," said Vazquez's manager, Frank Espinoza.

Said Vazquez: "The doctors gave me a thumbs up, and I feel comfortable."

Vazquez said he has worked intensely with veteran trainer Rudy Perez to improve his defensive flaws exposed in the Marquez trilogy.

The plan, Vazquez explains, is to shake off any rust by fighting with his usual grit, emerge healthy and fight again early next year.

And, yes, he said, a fourth date with Marquez remains possible.

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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