Edward Vazquez was 4 years old when he first met Paulie Ayala while the fellow Fort Worth, Texas native was training at his gym for one of his WBA bantamweight title defenses.
Almost 24 years later, Vazquez left Fort Worth on Sunday with an important piece of information from Ayala at the forefront of his mind. Like Vazquez, Ayala’s first world title shot took place on foreign soil, in the home country of his opponent, Japan’s Joichiro Tatsuyoshi.
Ayala lost that 12-round fight for Tatsuyoshi’s WBC bantamweight title by technical decision in August 1998. Their bout was stopped following the sixth round due to Ayala’s cut and Ayala lost a technical decision (57-56, 58-55, 58-55).
A resilient Ayala won the WBA 118-pound crown from rival Johnny Tapia 10 months later, but he learned an invaluable lesson from his loss to Tatsuyoshi.
“He actually gave me a pretty solid piece of advice the other day,” Vazquez told BoxingScene.com regarding a conversation with Ayala. “His first world title challenge was also overseas. It was in [Yokohama]. And he said, ‘You’ve gotta go into this fight knowing that you’re two rounds behind.’ That was some really good advice right there.”
Joe Cordina is from Cardiff Wales, not Monte Carlo, Monaco, where Vazquez will challenge him for the IBF junior lightweight title Saturday night in the main event of a black-tie affair at Casino de Monte Carlo. The undefeated, favored Cordina is nevertheless the house fighter, for all intents and purposes, as he is promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing.
“I don’t feel like I have to knock him out, but I do feel like I have to dominate him,” Vazquez said. “You know, I have to control most of the fight and not win the majority of the rounds, win ‘em all. I do think I have to shut him out because, you know, there’s a lotta money invested in him. He’s the promoter’s guy and he’s the favorite on that side of the world. So yeah, I feel like I will have to knock him out or dominate. We’re ready for that.”
DraftKings sportsbook lists Cordina as a 14-1 favorite to win a 12-round main event DAZN will stream worldwide. Coverage of the Cordina-Vazquez undercard is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. BST in the United Kingdom and 3 p.m. EDT in the United States.
Cordina (16-0, 9 KOs) regained his IBF belt by dropping Tajikistan’s Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (17-1-1, 14 KOs) in the second round and edging him by split decision April 22 at Utilita Arena Cardiff. In his previous fight 10 months earlier, Cordina drilled Japan’s Kenichi Ogawa (28-2-1, 19 KOs) with a right hand that knocked him out in the second round, also at Utilita Arena Cardiff.
The IBF stripped Cordina before he could make his first title defense because a hand injury forced the postponement of his mandated defense against Rakhimov. The left-handed Rakhimov instead stopped England’s Zelfa Barrett (29-2, 16 KOs) in the ninth round last November 5 in Abu Dhabi to win a then-vacant 130-pound championship.
The 31-year-old Cordina will make his first defense of his reclaimed championship against the ninth-ranked Vazquez (15-1, 3 KOs), who has lost only a debatable 10-round split decision to contender Raymond Ford (14-0-1, 7 KOs) at Footprint Center in Phoenix.
“I think Cordina, he’s a solid fighter,” Vazquez said. “He comes from a good amateur pedigree. He’s got a pretty style. But that’s it – I think he likes to fight pretty. He likes to dictate range and the pace of the fight. And I think that me being able to frustrate him and out-think him in certain situations will get him out of his game plan.
“And once I get him out of his game plan I’ll be able to capitalize on just, you know, frustrating him a little bit, having him overthink a little bit and not letting him get comfortable with one certain look. I know he probably thinks I’m just gonna come forward, but we’re gonna mix it up, give him a few different looks and see what works best.”
Vazquez, 28, began this year unranked in the featherweight division and without a promoter.
His 10-round, split-decision victory over Denver’s Misael Lopez (then 14-1) in a fight Showtime televised as part of its “ShoBox: The New Generation” series February 17 from Topeka, Kansas led to promoter Lou DiBella signing him. Vazquez’s subsequent 10-round, unanimous-decision defeat of Panama’s Brayan De Gracia (then 29-2-1) on July 29 in Frisco, Texas quickly helped him secure his shot at Cordina’s championship.
Just three months later, he’ll have the opportunity to become Fort Worth’s first world champion since Ayala held the WBA bantamweight title in 2001.
“I’ve told Paulie plenty of times over the past couple of months that I appreciate him for sparking that fire in me,” said Vazquez, who is trained by Ayala’s brother-in-law, Raymond Barrera. “Because I remember being like 4 years old and going to watch him train for his world title fight and him signing a glove for me. That kind of lit that spark in me, knowing that someone from Fort Worth can also make it.
“Because here in Fort Worth we don’t have a lotta fighters that make noise or make it to the world level. I’m actually the only fighter since Paulie Ayala who’s made it this far. It’s come full circle. It’s awesome being around Paulie. Now he’s helping me with advice and bringing his fighters in [to spar] for my world title shot. It’s crazy.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.