By Jake Donovan
From the moment his March 9 bout with Juan Carlos Payano was announced, the question which Damien Vazquez is forced to answer the most is why he agreed to a step up in class so early in his career versus the former bantamweight titlist.
At the very least, the exchange is an avenue for the 21-year old to inform the boxing world that he’s not here as a sacrificial lamb.
“I’ve been ready for a fight like this, and when his named was mentioned we took the fight without even blinking,” Vazquez (14-0, 7KOs) told BoxingScene.com. “He’s a former champ and fought in the Olympics, but I have amateur pedigree and a high ring IQ. I know I can beat Payano no problem, that’s why when they said his name we went after this fight.”
Vazquez steps up in class—and weight—for this Saturday’s contest, which airs live on FS1 from Digniity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. The bout is part of a preliminary undercard telecast ahead of a primetime edition of PBC on Fox topped by Shawn Porter’s welterweight title defense versus Yordenis Ugas.
As it relates to this bout, Vazquez moves up from super flyweight, having previously fought as light as flyweight and never against a boxer with the vast experience of Payano—a two-time Olympian for Dominican Republic and former bantamweight titlist.
There is the theory that the 34-year old southpaw is ripe for the taking. He hasn’t quite looked the same since his reign ended in a hard-fought June ’16 rematch with Rau’Shee Warren, whom Payano defeated 10 months prior. Three wins followed for the Miami-based boxer before traveling to Japan for what became a 70-second horror show in suffering a 1st round knockout versus Naoya Inoue last October.
Still, there exists the belief that one of the greatest boxers ever to come out of Dominican Republic still has something left to offer the sport. It’s that side of the story that prompted Vazquez and his team to take this leap in class.
“I’ve had him fight everyone in the amateurs, bro we’re talking a little kid fighting grown men and whipping their asses,” says Oscar Vazquez, Damien’s father who also sired a world champion in retired former 122-pound king Israel Vazquez. “He’s been fighting pros in the gym since he was a 15-year old kid. He turned pro at 16 with Golden Boy Promotions after winning all but three of his 85 amateur fights. We had him on the undercard of Devon Alexander (vs. Aron Martinez) in Arizona when he was just 17 years old against a tough kid from Mexico just because we wanted to show he’s ready for anyone
“Luis DeCubas (Vazquez’s manager) was talking about all these different opportunities. We were looking at fighting on that Abner Mares card (versus Gervonta Davis, from which Mares had to withdraw) last month, and even fighting on the Errol Spence (vs. Mikey Garcia) big card in Texas. But we took this opportunity and this fight with Payano because we want to show the world that he’s ready to become a world champion. He’s ready for that next level, bro.”
What Vazquez currently lacks in experience he certainly makes up for in confidence and his continued boxing education. In addition to having watched older brother Israel in action during his stellar career, the younger Vazquez is also currently working with a pair of former titlists-turned-trainers in Joel Casamayor and Clarence “Bones” Adams.
“I like getting information from all different sources and incorporate it all into my own fighting style,” Vazquez explains. “It’s only making me better and now it’s about the right opportunities to show the world what I can do. I’m not here to be an opponent for Payano, I’m here to f****n’ beat his ass and then after that keep taking fights that will lead me to a world title.”
While making 115 isn’t an issue, Vazquez welcomed the move up in weight to bantamweight not just for this opportunity, but for those which lie ahead.
“There are a lot of big money fights in this division, a lot of champions whose names will look good on my (ring record),” notes Vazquez.
For those who believe it’s too much too soon, the good news is that most of the best bantamweights are all tied up in the World Boxing Super Series tournament. Payano’s aforementioned loss to Inoue kicked off the bantamweight portion of season two of the series, with Inoue next due to face unbeaten titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez. On the other side of the bracket, Nonito Donaire squares off with Zolani Tete in a unification clash, with the two winners to meet in the finals later this year.
By then, Vazquez figures to have developed into a full-blown contender ready for the next stage—assuming of course he gets past Payano, which he doesn’t seem too concerned about it playing out any other way.
“I don’t care who I get for my first title shot,” Vazquez insists. “Right now, that’s not even on my mind because I know it will happen when the time calls for it. Right now, it’s all about taking care of this fight, beating Payano and proving to everyone that I’m here to run things.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox