Tyson: Monessen boxer Vasquez could be world champion
Monessen native Sammy Vasquez Jr. has the goods to become a world champion, former undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson declared Tuesday.
Vasquez is headlining “The Pride of Pittsburgh” boxing card Friday night at the Consol Energy Center. In a matchup of undefeated fighters, Vasquez (15-0, 11 KOs) will clash with James “Keep 'em Sleepin'” Stevenson (21-0, 14 KOs) for the vacant IBF/USBA welterweight title Friday.
Tyson's Iron Mike Promotions is producing the event.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Tyson said if Vasquez improves his movement and defense, he could eventually go toe-to-toe with WBA/WBC champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.
When asked how good Vasquez could be, Tyson responded in assertive fashion – fitting for a man who won 50 professional fights, 44 by knockout.
“Listen, if Sammy starts moving his head after he throws combos and going to other angles, I guarantee you he can be world champion,” Tyson said.
“I'd also like to see him to study his opponents more and to watch more video on them. If he does that and moves his head more and goes to another area after he throws his great combinations, the sky's the limit.”
Vasquez said his team was unable to find video on Stevenson, 31, who fights out of Baltimore. But the southpaw was able to spar with boxers who emulated Stevenson's “slick” style while training near his Colorado Springs home.
“This will be Sammy's toughest fight to date. I know he's very confident but he has to have some anxiety not being able to watch this guy (on video),” Tyson said. “Sammy has confidence in himself and feels he can overcome this task he has in front of him.
“I know he goes by ‘The Who Can Mexican' but I call him ‘Sensational Sammy' because that's what he is and I want the world to get familiar with him.”
Tyson said the fact Vasquez has fought four times from February to June will bode well for him.
“Inactivity is a fighter's biggest enemy,” Tyson said. “I should know. I fought 15 times in one year. You have to prove your mettle, and he's proven his mettle.”
Vasquez has knocked out his past six opponents. But Tyson warned the higher you climb the boxing ladder, the more difficult KOs are to come by.
“You know what my mentor told me when I was knocking guys out in the first round? He told me in private, ‘What you're doing is not boxing, Mike. What you're doing is entertainment. Fighting is what Ali and Frazier did. When you go 15 rounds and you think your lungs are going to bust, that's fighting,'” Tyson said.
“These guys are tough, you hit them good but they keep coming back at you. You can't always look for the KO … You go for the points, and if the KO comes, you have to go for it. But Sammy is his own man. That's why he's sensational.”
Tyson said Vasquez reminds him of former IBF Lightweight champion Harry Arroyo. Tyson lauded Vasquez as man who stays on the straight and narrow and a military veteran who performed two Army tours in Iraq.
“He's a beautiful kid. … Even if you don't like him, you have to respect what he did serving the people of this country,” Tyson said. “He's going the right path. He takes care of his family. … What I see is a kid that's really determined and wants to win and he takes pride in being a professional fighter.”
Tyson said he can envision a future matchup between Vasquez and “The Pittsburgh Kid” Paul Spadafora, who currently fights in the light welterweight class.
“I'd love to see Sammy fight Spadafora… I think that would set Pittsburgh on fire,” Tyson said. “Pittsburgh is a hard town with hard people that have big hearts. I think both those guys embody that.”
But Vasquez might have a top-10 welterweight contender in his immediate future.
Tyson said before the Stevenson fight was arranged, he foresaw Vasquez tangling with Devon Alexander (26-2, 14 KOs) or Antonio DeMarco (30-3, 23 KOs).
According to BoxRec.com, Alexander is the ninth-ranked welterweight in the world while DeMarco is 14th in the world in the light welterweight division. Vasquez is currently ranked 25th in the nation and 95th worldwide.
“I envisioned him fighting Alexander, but then we saw this Stevenson guy was undefeated,” Tyson said. “If Sammy is sensational like I know he can be Friday, I could see him bolting up the rankings and taking on a top guy like that.”
Advance tickets for Friday's event starting at $50 are available through the Consol Energy Center box office, Ticketmaster.com, or via by phone at 1-800-745-3000.
Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. with the first bell at 7 p.m. The fight will also be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.
Tyson will host a press conference at 4 p.m. Thursday at Boilermakers No. 154 Union Hall on Banksville Road in Pittsburgh, along with Vasquez, Stevenson and Pittsburgh-based lightweight Monty Meza Clay, who is on the undercard.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.