Vasquez to fight for title in Pittsburgh
It's been a year of firsts for professional boxer and Monessen native Sammy Vasquez Jr.
• First fight under a national promoter.
• First nationally televised fight.
Now the southpaw will be vying for his first professional championship belt.
Vasquez (15-0, 11 KOs) will face off against James “Keep ‘em Sleepin” Stevenson (21-0, 14 KOs) for the IBF/USBA welterweight title Aug. 8 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Vasquez will be headlining the first-ever boxing event at the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the first fight scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
“It's pretty crazy because I don't think there's been a boxing match at that venue,” Vasquez said Sunday from his home in Colorado Springs. “That being a 10,000-plus seat arena, it's pretty huge.
“I've been on big stages in my life, but this is more humbling than it makes me nervous or worried. I'm just happy I'm able to bring boxing to Pittsburgh in that type of an environment. If we're able to sell it out, and I hope we will, it's something for Pittsburgh to experience.”
Vasquez's fight will be the co-main event, along with a WBA world championship fight featuring bantamweight champion Anselmo Moreno (35-2-1) defending his belt against Juan Carlos Payano (9-0).
The event, Pittsburgh Power 2, is promoted by Iron Mike Productions and will feature a card with Rankin native Monty Meza Clay, as well as middleweight contender Ievgen Khytrov.
The IBF/USBA title, which is the equivalent of a regional championship, is currently vacant. The bout will be Vasquez's first-ever scheduled 10-rounder.
“Since you're a kid, everybody wants to win a belt,” Vasquez said, “but I look at it as a stepping stone to get in a different bracket and fight some better guys to ultimately get to the world title, which should be every boxer's goal.
“My family is one of the biggest reasons I'm doing this. I love boxing, but with your children, you want to give back to them. If you win a belt, you get higher in the bracket money-wise. The way I see it, if I put my three girls through college, I'll be successful.”
Vasquez, 28, said he had little information on Stevenson, 31, who fights out of Baltimore. But he sounded confident that his 5-foot-11 opponent with the clever nickname will be little more than a temporary roadblock.
“Everybody's got a nickname,” said Vasquez, who carries the moniker “Who Can? Mexican!”
“I look at the guys he's fought and he hasn't really fought anyone. I'm the first person he's fought who's undefeated, and I don't think he's really prepared for what he's going to endure.
“It's not that I've fought a big name yet, because I haven't, and that's what we're en route to. But to be a world class fighter, I need to be knocking these guys out and that's what I'm doing. ... Let's see if (Stevenson) can handle the pressure I can bring for 10 rounds.”
The website BoxRec.com currently ranks Vasquez 28th in the United States and 96th in the world out of nearly 1,700 fighters registered in his weight class. Stevenson is ranked 43rd in the U.S. and 188th in the world.
Vasquez is coming off a third-round TKO of “Smokin” Jay Krupp on June 6 at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, N.Y.
Stevenson hasn't fought since March 1 — a third-round knockout of Andre Baker (10-39-2). His previous fight was in September 2013. Vasquez noted Stevenson has large gaps between his fights and claims that will provide a key advantage.
“The more fights you have within a year, the more experience you get and you're already in training mode,” Vasquez said. “If you talk to all the big dogs like Mike Tyson, they say ‘We want you to stay active.' A body in motion tends to stay in motion.
“After a fight, the most (recovery time) you would need is maybe two weeks unless you get ‘beat up' beat up, but that doesn't stop you from running, training and sparring.”
Vasquez said despite his sky-high confidence, he knows no boxer can afford to take any opponent for granted.
“I could fight somebody who's 4-26, but it takes one shot in the right spot and you're down,” he said. “Everybody says, ‘This dude got knocked out by a bum,' but you don't understand unless you're fighting with 8-ounce gloves and a guy's fists are weapons. It doesn't even have to be a hard hit, you could just get clipped on the sweet spot and you're done.”
Since his last fight was televised, people in town will occasionally recognize Vasquez. But the fighter said he still intentionally remains “low key,” spending his days mostly training before going home to his fiancée and the kids.
“You can't end up on the wrong side of the tracks,” he said. “If you want to be somebody in this sport, you have to live your life right and treat your body like it's a car ... and if you don't, it's going to break down.”
Vasquez toils in arguably the most prestigious and challenging weight class in pro boxing, sharing it with household names like Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao and Shawn Porter.
“It's not like it was back in the day with heavyweights ... My weight class has a bunch of big-name, hard-hitting, fast guys who are all going to bring it,” Vasquez said. “I hope this fight maybe leads to a fight with somebody who's ranked in the top 15, so by the beginning of next year, I could have a shot at bringing a world title back to the Valley.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.