As a fighter early in his career, Israel Vazquez had a goal: to live the American dream.
Ten years ago, at the age of 20, he began that journey when he moved from Mexico City to Los Angeles.
Today, thanks to a combination of incredible courage and talent, Vazquez is realizing his dream in style. And he doesn't want anyone to awaken him.
"My American dream, I'm living it now," said Vazquez (43-4, 31 KOs), who on March 1 won the rubber match of one of boxing's greatest trilogies with a split decision over Rafael Marquez at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. "I have my lovely wife, my kids, my home. I am living where I want to live. Right now, I have everything. I consider this my home and I'm living the dream now."
Most fighters from Mexico come to fight in the U.S. because it's where most of the world-class action is contested. It's also where the bulk of the money is. Vazquez is no different in that regard.
"I knew that I couldn't do it in Mexico because of the economy," Vazquez said. "I knew that I would have to come [to America]. I came here and [manager Frank Espinoza] gave me the opportunity to prove myself and to show that I'm able to do it here."
However, not all Mexican fighters come to the U.S. and plant roots, like Vazquez has in the Los Angeles suburb of Huntington Park. His mother, father, brothers and sisters are back in his hometown of Mexico City.
Not only has Vazquez been living in the L.A. area for a decade, he bought a beauty salon for himself and his wife, Laura.
"That's why Israel's hair always looks so good," Espinoza joked.
Laura used to work in somebody else's salon, but Israel Vazquez wanted something better for his wife. He met Laura in Los Angeles and he wanted her to feel every bit a part of his American dream.
"Once I got married to Laura, I didn't want her to work for anybody," he said. "I wanted us to work for ourselves, have our own business."
Interestingly, Vazquez was nearly stopped short of realizing his dream. In March 1999, he was upset by journeyman Marcos Licona, losing a split decision to him in Las Vegas. Undaunted, Vazquez won his next 12 fights, but was temporarily derailed again when he was stopped in the 12th round by Oscar Larios in May 2002.
Perhaps, some experts surmised, Vazquez just wasn't quite world-championship material.
That certainly was not his thinking.
"It didn't bother me," Vazquez said. "I still thought that I would be able to live that American dream. I had a good record. I didn't let those fights get me down. That didn't discourage me."
The fight with Larios was for an interim super bantamweight championship.
"I never lost faith in him," Espinoza said. "But to get him in position for another world title shot was another story. It's difficult to get back in the rankings and get the title shot. [Title shots] don't come along every day."
His shot came just four fights after the loss to Larios. In March 2004, Vazquez stopped Jose Luis Valbuena in the 12th round to win a vacant super bantamweight title. He defended the belt twice, then stopped Larios in the third round in December 2005 to take Larios' title.
It should be noted that Vazquez went 2-1 in his trilogy with Larios; they tangled early in their respective careers, with Vazquez knocking out Larios in the first round in April 1997.
Vazquez made two successful defenses of the belt he won from Larios before losing it to Marquez -- also a native of Mexico City -- via seventh-round technical knockout in March 2007. Vazquez was criticized for not answering the bell for the eighth round after he sustained severe cartilage damage in his nose.
Vazquez again demonstrated tremendous mettle and got his title and his respect back when he stopped Marquez in the sixth round in Hidalgo, Texas, in August 2007. Then back at the Home Depot Center, Vazquez rallied to beat Marquez in an absolutely brutal thriller just seven weeks ago.
Espinoza may not have lost faith in Vazquez, but he came clean when asked if he was surprised by everything Vazquez has accomplished, considering the setbacks.
"I never questioned whether he could be a world champion, but to be here, to be where he is and him being part of one of the great trilogies, I don't know if I thought he would get this far," said Espinoza, a native of East Los Angeles. "These are things that can never be taken away. Nobody could ever take that away from me or him."
Sycuan Ringside Promotions, who, along with Golden Boy Promotions, co-promote Vazquez, recently held a lunch to honor the fighter for his incredible trilogy against Marquez.
"Israel Vazquez is truly a once-in-a-generation fighter," said Sycuan executive Scott Woodworth, who perhaps had the most fitting comment of the day.
It goes without saying that Vazquez's dream got even better when he emerged as the victor in the Marquez trilogy. He is a top-5 pound-for-pound guy. He wants to move up to featherweight and ultimately to super featherweight before his career is over. Considering what he has accomplished as one of the true warriors of his generation, Vazquez is bound to earn larger purses.
"I want to continue fighting the best out there, make my name and keep on making history," Vazquez said. "I want my name to stay out there."
Vazquez, 30, also wants his wife and kids to stay in Los Angeles. In his mind, it's a no-brainer. Moreover, he predicts he will never again live in Mexico City.
"I already live here, I have my wife here and my kids," Vazquez said. "I just feel that by bringing my kids up here in America, they'll have better schooling as they get older. This is the place for me and my family, so I doubt very seriously I would ever go back."
Hearing Vazquez recall a moment from his third fight with Marquez, when he was knocked down in the fourth round, allows one to understand how he feels about his new hometown.
"This is my home in California," Vazquez said, "and the first fight I lost with Marquez was at the Home Depot Center. And when I fought him again here at Home Depot and I got dropped, I was angry and I wasn't about to let that happen again in front of my hometown fans."
Indeed, it is rare for a Mexican-born fighter to refer to fans in another country as his "hometown fans." But Vazquez is doing his "American dream" thing to the hilt.
His English is getting better all the time, and he's encouraging his two sons -- Israel Jr. and Anthony -- to also become bilingual.
That said, Vazquez has two goals he wants to attain after he retires from the ring. He wants to train
fighters and become a television boxing analyst. Even though he is learning English and plans to one day speak fluently, he prefers to do any such work in Spanish. "That's my tongue, my language," he said.
Vazquez does have the voice for it: smooth and deep. He could become the Mexican Jim Lampley.
Make that the Mexican-American Jim Lampley, with an emphasis on "American." After all, it's Vazquez's dream.
Robert Morales covers boxing for the Long Beach Press-Telegram.