by Fox Doucette
We’ve got mighty mites in the arena tonight, as Ricardo Lopez, perhaps the greatest minimumweight/strawweight/call it what you will at 105 pounds fighter of all time, gets into the time machine to take on Ivan Calderon, and as a bit of a sop to Calderon’s lack of punching power, this fight is at a 107-pound catchweight mainly so we can grab him from the second fight with Rodel Mayol for reasons we’ll discuss when we get to the main event.
In the co-feature, it’s a bantamweight spectacular between guys who hit like welterweights, as Carlos Zarate comes in from his slaughter of Alfonso Zamora in 1977 to take on Rafael Marquez, who himself comes in from his win over Heriberto Ruiz, a man who is still fresh when compared against the Marquez who paid a steep price for lasting fame in his epic four-fight series with Israel Vazquez. It’s a bantamweight contest through and through, both fighters hitting 118 pounds at the weigh-in and looking in prime, tip-top shape for this battle.
Plenty of fight fans seem blissfully unaware that there are six whole weight classes below featherweight, full of guys who throw a ton of shots and put on all-action fights, but we’re going to remedy that tonight. Two guys who combined weigh less than most heavyweights will share space and beat each other senseless. Buckle your seat belts, folks.
From the Historical Fight Night Arena Presented By You, If You Donate On Patreon, in San Dimas, California, these fights are scheduled for 12 rounds using the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Scoring is on the 10-point must system, there is no three knockdown rule, no standing eight count, only the referee can stop the fight, and a fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round including the twelfth and final round.
Now, for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching from around the world…
Let’s Make History.
Carlos Zarate (4/23/1977, 46-0, 45 KOs) vs. Rafael Marquez (7/31/2004, 32-3, 29 KOs)
Zarate was one of those perfect storm fighters in his prime. He punched like a guy thirty pounds heavier than he was, but if you watch his old fights, he also had a defensive wizard’s head movement—he was like a Franken-fighter with the best qualities of, say, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather rolled into the same 118-pound package. His lead left uppercut had more power in a short, rising package than some guys have in a full-windup bolo punch, and his right cross was less a “cross” and more a guy who could somehow manage to throw the kind of tight right hook you expect from a southpaw’s lead hand, but from the back foot position. Zarate was, if not the greatest bantamweight of all time, at least in the conversation. When he fought Alfonso Zamora, Zamora never stood a chance, it was just a complete beatdown rooted in superior strength and technique.
Contrast Rafael Marquez in the Heriberto Ruiz fight. It wasn’t that Marquez was losing exactly, it’s just that at that point in his career, he’d already been knocked out three times. Marquez kept his guard up, engaging selectively, only opening up when Ruiz flat pissed him off with a vicious low blow early in the third round that led by the end of that stanza to Ruiz’s undoing in the form of a tight, snapping right hand that crashed home and explained how a guy with that kind of temperament still had a knockout percentage in excess of 90 percent of his wins.
So can Marquez strike gold again? Or will the superior technique of Zarate, still in his undefeated prime, claim another victim?
Marquez again came out tentative, his guard up, his eyes focused on finding openings and studying what his opponent could do. Zarate, for his part, knew this would be the case, and structured his fight plan in a manner right out of a Batman story, where Gotham’s caped crusader always seemed to rely on knowing the tendency of his opponents (seriously, imagine any Batman comic where the villain doesn’t do exactly what Batman plans for. Batman was never once forced to improvise.)
Marquez had the bad habit of keeping his elbows a little wide when he covered up, and that was all the opening Zarate needed to land a stiff left uppercut; a couple of pawing jabs early pushed Marquez into watch-and-wait mode and the payoff punch crashed right home between the guard of the 21st-century fighter. Marquez staggered back, at the least stunned and at worst in bad shape for times to come.
Zarate pursued him back to the corner and uncorked a right around the now tightened guard of Marquez, which got behind the raised fists of the fighter on the defensive and popped him right on the temple. Referee Steve Smoger got to the business of a Sesame Street education for children watching the fight:
“…five, six, seven…”
Marquez rose, and his A plan shot straight to hell, began to open up a little and try and recover from the early calamity that had befallen him. He threw a sweeping right of his own, on paper the equal of Zarate’s right but in practice a missile easily dodged by the underrated defender. Everything Marquez threw hit air; everything Zarate threw back seemed to crunch bone.
Marquez, in spite of himself, got tentative again. He waited, trying to bait Zarate out of position, but simply got beaten to the punch with his hands up, another right-down-Broadway uppercut hitting him right on the point of the chin as his momentum carried him forward with an ill-advised straight right counter, and…
“…seven, eight, nine, TEN!”
Two knockdowns, two minutes, one legend of the Seventies notching another win over a game but too-brittle fighter and earning himself a chance at another main event further down the line. We’ll be seeing Carlos Zarate again, that’s for sure.
RESULT: ZARATE KO1 MARQUEZ.
Ricardo Lopez (8/23/1997, 47-0, 36 KOs) vs. Ivan Calderon (9/12/2009, 33-0-1, 6 KOs)
Calderon comes into this fight at 107 pounds, as we’ve pulled him from a bit later in his career, when he was at light flyweight, in part to compensate for his reduced punching power compared to Lopez in order to keep this from being too much of a strength mismatch, and in part because the promoters decided for fun that having a guy who’d been cut in three consecutive fights would please the more bloodthirsty members of the viewing audience.
Calderon was a billy goat. He’d throw a lunging left hand out of the southpaw stance and get himself out of position, and inevitably he’d crash his head into the head of his opponent, open up a cut, and somewhere after four rounds were complete, it would go to the scorecards for a technical decision.
Making things more interesting on that front is that Lopez is five inches taller—5’5” vs. 5’0”—than Calderon, meaning that there are likely to be some interesting angles for which heads can come together. Then again, if the cut’s caused by something other than a clash of heads…
Lopez, trained as he was by Nacho Beristain, had a bit of the Juan Manuel Marquez style in him when he set his mind to it. A world-class counter puncher as well as an effective aggressor, Lopez’s fight plan here was to give angles, try and stay away from the charging skull of Calderon, and then land the sharp right cross—similar in its way to the one Carlos Zarate threw—that marked the end for many an opponent in his day.
It helps here that Lopez, who did go as high as flyweight at a couple of points in his career, took advantage of the catchweight to add a couple of pounds of extra kick to put behind his punches. He was as low as 103 pounds during his run as strawweight champion, but here, pulled forward in time nearly two decades and given a proper chance to train himself for a higher weight, he had at his disposal a surprisingly powerful weapon.
Nonetheless, Calderon was no punching bag. In order to hurt a guy, you have to hit him, and Calderon’s length and ability to move his head, even for a guy like Ricardo Lopez, was confounding in Round 1. Lopez threw more punches, but they landed at a low percentage, and Lopez ate a fair few jabs snapped out by a guy who knew how to control range even against a taller fighter.
Calderon did not land many power shots; he would occasionally have the good fortune of being able to hook off the counter when he made Lopez miss, but the round was far from decisive.
Things got interesting thirty seconds into the round, as Calderon, lunging forward to throw that left, moved into the path of a well-torqued jab from Lopez, which opened up a cut over the left eye of the Puerto Rican spark plug. The scar tissue and seemingly paper skin of Calderon would be a challenge for any cutman, and Lopez had no intention of giving Miguel Diaz, working Calderon’s corner in this fight, a single break.
It was as if he was looking to see where Calderon would cut first. Withdrawing to the outside a little, Lopez starting working long, using his height and reach advantage to pepper the left eye of Calderon with jab after jab, and since this cut was opened by a punch, there would be no technical decision this time. Calderon would have to do what he did so rarely in his fights—kill or be killed.
As Calderon began instinctively to protect the left eye from damage from the continuing assault of Lopez’s jab, Lopez switched his point of attack, feinting with the jab to draw Calderon’s attention to one side, then uncorking the left uppercut behind it. Here, another curious side effect of the height difference proved to be bad news for Calderon, as rather than do something as simple in its effect as catching Calderon on the chin, the uppercut instead landed at an awkward angle and scuffed the right eye of the bleeding fighter, which opened up a nasty diagonal gash right on the eyebrow.
Calderon was bleeding from both eyes now, his face bright red, blood pouring down his face and at such an angle that it assuredly affected his vision. Lopez, smelling blood figuratively as well as literally, continued to aim his shots where they would not only continue to do damage, but send sprays of blood and sweat everywhere, giving the judges the impression that they were doing more damage than they were.
The commentators picked up on it, one even comparing the fight to the film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Another left hand, this one a straight one, opened up a cross-hatched diagonal cut right on top of the one that had been opened by the uppercut, and the effect was somewhere between a butterflied shrimp and an “X marks the spot” cliché from a pirate treasure map.
As the bell rang and the third round ended, the ringside doctor took a look at the cuts and said “you’re gonna bleed out, kid.” Even Diaz, as great as he was, could only meekly accept the doctor’s judgment. Ricardo Lopez, an all-time great among the smallest of men on the biggest of stages, could probably have just finished Ivan Calderon the old-fashioned way, but slicing and dicing him like a master chef did the trick too. All the moment needed was some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
RESULT: LOPEZ TKO3 (CUTS) CALDERON.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. takes the Historical Fight Night stage, but this is not the Floyd we know and love at 147 pounds in his thirties. This is young Floyd Mayweather, the 130-pound version of the man, the devastating counter puncher who was a knockout artist before age and weight blunted his ability to get knockouts. He takes on Azumah Nelson in the main event.
Our co-feature is a middleweight fun fest, as Sumbu Kalambay takes on Alan Minter in one of those “not every ’70s vs. ’80s fight has to be Hagler-Monzon, you know” kind of co-features. Kalambay gets a bit of short shrift in the discussion of the middleweight historical record, but then again, so does Minter, so this battle of underrated combatants could provide some fun for the viewing audience.
As always, Historical Fight Night airs at 6 PM Eastern, 3 PM Pacific, every Friday on The Boxing Tribune. You can support us on Patreon, where your donations help make this column better and better every week, and you can also get access to Let’s Make History, the weekly behind-the-scenes blog where your columnist explains the rationale behind the results and goes a little deeper into the philosophy of the Sweet Science.
Thank you for reading, and see you next week!