A 19-month layoff hasn't changed this about Israel Vazquez: When he senses urgency, he's at his best.
One round after a ringside physician inspected a troubling cut over his left eyebrow, and struggling through a ring-rusted performance, Vazquez rallied to knock down Angel Priolo three times in the ninth round before referee Pat Russell stopped the featherweight fight at the 2:10 mark Saturday at downtown L.A.'s Nokia Theatre.
With his cut worsening and two judges scoring the fight even, Vazquez (44-4, 33 knockouts) charged Priolo to start the ninth and unloaded three hard rights to drop the Colombian in the first minute.
A left-right exchange then forced Priolo to fall backward into the ropes, and he barely made it up before the eight-count ended, struggling to reinsert his mouthpiece.
A final big right by Vazquez dropped Priolo (30-8) to the canvas, and Russell waved off the bout.
"I looked kind of rusty, but I did my job," Vazquez said. "A victory is a victory. This fight had the drama, and that's my signature."
The loss was the seventh straight for Priolo (30-8), but the Colombian was hardly the stiff most expected for Vazquez's comeback. Vazquez on Saturday made a poignant ring-walk return from a career-threatening eye injury, holding up his right fist to the crowd and then pounding on his chest twice.
Fighting for the first time since March 2008, when he suffered a detached right retina in the riveting and victorious third bout of his epic trilogy with Rafael Marquez, world super-bantamweight champion Vazquez right away took a couple of Priolo jabs in the vicinity of the eye.
The Huntington Park fighter endured three eye surgeries -- both to see again and to gain California State Athletic Commission approval for the fight.
"My eye didn't bother me at all," Vazquez said.
But Priolo's tactical approach did prove troublesome. Judges Jose Cobian and Raul Caiz Jr. had the bout tied after eight rounds with only two to go. Priolo stayed busy inside, shedding a Vazquez hard right and three successive jabs. Vazquez willingly exchanged punches fighting inside but more often waited to take a step back and look for the bigger punch.
"I gave him my best," said Priolo, 35, whose recent losses came to former world champions Brian Viloria and Jorge Arce and top prospect Abner Mares.
On the undercard, Mexico's super-welterweight Luis Grajeda (7-0, six KOs) knocked down countryman Juan Carlos Diaz three times in less than six minutes, dropping him for good with a straight right to the head with 12 seconds left in the second round.
Santa Ana featherweight Ronny Rios improved to 8-0 with his fourth knockout when John Wampash's handlers threw in the towel with just over a minute left in the sixth and final round.