Israel Vazquez chuckled at the notion that he's any kind of a star. He is, he insisted humbly, just another guy trying to use his talents to make a living.
And while Vazquez isn't a star of the order of boxers such as Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr., he and Rafael Marquez share something that few other fighters do.
"We gave the people two good shows," Vazquez, the WBC super bantamweight champion, said of his pair of 2007 fights with Marquez.
And they're not done yet, despite the fact that their first bout was the best of the first half of 2007 and their rematch was the best of the second half of the year
. On March 1 in Carson, Calif., they'll hook up a third time in what figures to be a history-making bout.
If the fight, which will be televised live on Showtime, is anywhere close to the first two, Vazquez and Marquez will join boxing luminaries such as Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield, Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano, and Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti in putting on one of the greatest trilogies in the sport's history.
"I never imagined I'd be in this situation where people would talk about me with guys like that," Vazquez said. "I'm living a dream."
It's a black and blue dream, but a dream nonetheless. And it's more of a dream for fans of a good fight, who get those kinds of scraps too infrequently these days.
The March 1 fight will be their third in just under a year, making it the most compressed of the great series. Ali-Frazier occurred over a period of more than four years, as did Morales-Barrera.
Ward-Gatti took only 13 months to complete, but Bowe and Holyfield extended their battles over three years. Even Zale and Graziano, two of the toughest men ever to step into a ring, needed 21 months to complete their epic series.
Marquez, though, said he won't be bothered by the lack of recovery time. Because he lost the last fight, he doesn't seem to have a similar amount of joy in what he's been part of as does Vazquez.
Marquez stopped Vazquez after the seventh round in their first bout, on March 3 in Carson. But in the Aug. 4 rematch in Hidalgo, Texas, which was chosen as the 2007 Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year, Vazquez evened the score by stopping Marquez in the sixth.
The Fight of the Year seemingly means little to Marquez — now, anyway — who said through gritted teeth that the outcome in the next bout will be dramatically different. "I don't consider that a knockout anyway, because I was fine," Marquez said. "You get punched. You get hurt. You keep fighting. I don't know why the referee stopped the fight, because I was OK."
Being part of boxing history, he says, is fine by him as long as he comes out of the series with the belt and a 2-1 advantage.
He sounds remarkably similar to the way Morales sounded heading into his rubber match with Barrera, whom he disliked intensely.
Marquez watched those fights closely and got a thrill from them, but did offer that his bouts with Vazquez surpassed them.
"We didn't leave anything to the imaginations, because we finished the fights," Marquez said. "There were no judges or anything. They were two great fights and we fought until it was over."
Many times, when fighters are preparing to face each other for the third time, they know each other so well that they understand how to cut off openings and the bouts tend to be more tactical and less action-packed.
But when fighters are as skilled as Ali and Frazier and Bowe and Holyfield and Morales and Barrera, that isn't the case.
And Vazquez, who says a switch in trainers from Freddie Roach to Rudy Perez was a significant reason for his improvement from the first fight to the second, thinks he and Marquez have the skills to put on a slugfest.
The third bout is still more than a month away, but he's already thinking ahead.
"I'm going in with the idea of putting on a great show and giving the people what they want," he said. "We know each other very well, but we also know how to fight, how to give a performance people want to see. We don't run around.
"So I think we have to have another (great) fight. And after that one, why not do it a fourth time?"