For those of you who spent $55 to watch Shane Mosley preserve his brain cells last night against Manny Pacquiao, my condolences go out to you if the main event was all you saw. Because the Jorge Arce vs. Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. bout on the undercard was unreal. It oozed with subtext: Mexico vs. Puerto Rico; heavy underdog vs. champion; an aging warrior hunting for glory in a higher weight class vs. the son of boxing royalty trying to vault himself into the superstar ranks.
From the opening gong of the super bantamweight championship, it was clear that Arce and Vazquez had no interest in avoiding violence. Arce, the rougher, cruder fighter, pressed the action and threw punches in volume, even after a terrible gash opened on the side of his nose. The undefeated Vazquez boxed with polish and precision, which is how you fight when your father is a former world champion and issuing instruction from your corner. For 10.5 rounds, Vazquez looked liked the better man — fast, efficient and intelligent, willing to engage when necessary and raking the Mexican with counter left hooks. But Arce kept coming, like some relentless Sinaloan machine, kept mauling Vazquez on the ropes. In the waning rounds of the bout, with the scorecards deadlocked, he only intensified his effort. In the eleventh, he hurt Vazquez, who wobbled back to his stool. Whoever took the twelfth would win the fight.
The bell sounded. The fighters embraced. Arce resumed his assault. For 11 rounds, it had been impossible to root against him. He was older and less talented. Vazquez was younger, smoother, less ugly, more privileged. Nobody expected Arce to win. But he had seemingly chosen to die rather than lose. I mean that quite literally. You could see it. You might not approve of it but you had to respect it. Arce had been walking through punches all night to get close to Vazquez and now he'd done it again, pushing the Puerto Rican against the ropes and uncorking a relentless flurry, mixing in shots to the body and punches to the head, wild and without pause, badly damaging his opponent.
And here's what makes boxing a unique sport: If you'd been watching this fight from the beginning and, like me, had no vested interest in the outcome, you probably would have been pulling for the underdog Arce. It's the standard emotive response. You would have appreciated Arce's grit as he took the fight to Vazquez. You would have admired his desire to win, to finish. But right around 2:19 of the championship round (04:30 on the video above), as Vazquez's head snaps back repeatedly and his eyes go glassy and he tries valiantly — there's no other word for it — to survive against a meaner, more-experienced fighter, you might also find yourself, without warning, screaming at the kid to hold on, to punch some distance between himself and Arce so he can recover and keep his belt and continue as the only man to hold a title in the same weight class as his father. You might realize that Vazquez isn't just trying to survive for himself, he's doing it for his dad. Even his ring alias is an homage to his father: "El Hijo del Orgullo de Puerto Rico." The son of the pride of Puerto Rico. And maybe then you wonder if Arce isn't the only one willing to die.
Which is why as disappointing as it feels when Vazquez's father steps on the turnbuckle to throw in the towel to save his son, you also respect that. You admire that, too. Doing commentary at ringside, former light heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver summed up the moment with a phrase that under other circumstances would sound cheesy but under these came off as wise: "Love stepped in." And there you have it. A bloody tribute to a father and a son on Mother's Day. Yeah, it's a little off. But it's the closest thing I've got.