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Three for all

CARSON, Calif. – The losing camp, as often happens, was howling protests. Rafael Marquez and his team complained about a low blow called against him in the 10th round of his WBC super bantamweight title bout Saturday at the Home Depot Center against Israel Vazquez.

Marquez moaned about referee Pat Russell's decision to call a knockdown on him in the 12th. He was none too happy about the scoring of judges Max DeLuca and James Jen Kin, who saw the fight for Vazquez.

Promoter Gary Shaw was incensed and vowed to protest what he called Russell's mistakes to the WBC in hopes of overturning the loss. Had one of Russell's calls gone Marquez's way, he would have gotten a draw. Had both of those calls gone for Marquez, he, not Vazquez, would have won a split decision and regained the championship.

DeLuca had it 114-111 for Vazquez, the same score as Yahoo! Sports. Jen Kin scored it 113-112 for Vazquez, while Tommy Kaczmarek had Marquez winning 114-111.

But what everyone on the Marquez side was missing was that it simply didn't matter. This was such a magnificent competition that the outcome truly didn't matter.

"I was thinking as the fight was going on that this was one of those bouts that was so extraordinary that it rendered the result insignificant," said Al Bernstein, who called the bout for Showtime.

It was such an extraordinary exhibition of boxing before a delirious sellout crowd of 8,014 that it almost completely overshadowed their first two fights, each of which was a nominee for 2007 Fight of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America.

The men showed more heart, courage and desire in the first minute of the first round than either Wladimir Klitschko or Sultan Ibragimov did combined in all 12 rounds of their heavyweight unification bout a week earlier in New York.

Marquez was no loser, despite suffering the fifth defeat of a career that almost certainly will land him in the International Boxing Hall of Fame when he's through. He faced a bigger, stronger man and competed on even terms, punch for heavy punch, for three minutes of all 12 rounds.

When Marquez floored Vazquez with a right hand in the fourth, the fighters' backs had yet to touch the ropes. There were no more than five clinches all night, despite each of them taking exceptional amounts of punishment.

Vazquez twisted his right knee in the seventh round and was walking around with a large ice pack attached to it. His face was so swollen and misshapen that it looked like he had been attacked with a sledgehammer. Marquez's left eye was a slit, his cheeks were puffy and he moved gingerly because of the contusions that covered his body.

"This was everything boxing should be about," Shaw said. "It was beyond spectacular. It was beyond exciting. I looked around at the start of the 12th round, and other than the people from the (California Athletic) Commission, everyone in this place was standing.

"This might be the best trilogy in the history of this sport. And I believe that these fights have guaranteed both of them a place in the Hall of Fame. They were Hall of Fame fights, Hall of Fame rounds, and I'm pretty safe in saying that they're Hall of Fame fighters."

When Marquez and trainer Nacho Beristain complained about being robbed, it only detracted from the magnitude of the event. Marquez felt he won the decision even with Russell's two calls but was angered by the point deduction and the knockdown call in the 12th.

Russell had warned Marquez at least three times earlier in the fight for low blows. As they were fighting in a neutral corner in the 10th a round Marquez clearly was winning he landed a hook that landed on Vazquez's hip.

Russell ruled it was below the belt and took a point away; Marquez claims it landed on the belt. Shaw said he watched a slow-motion replay four times and came to the same conclusion.

But because Russell had been warning Marquez so frequently, he was all but compelled to take a point.

"It's always very hard to take a point away, especially in a close fight," Russell said. "I had to do what I had to do to be fair. It was an easy decision for me to make. It was a continuous thing. I warned him several times. Finally, I had to take a point away."

Russell, who did as magnificent a job of officiating as the boxers did of fighting, was in the spotlight unnecessarily in the final round. Vazquez came out as if he felt he needed a knockout and was pummeling Marquez around the ring.

It was the type of round that could have been scored 10-8 for Vazquez even without a knockdown.

But with fewer than 15 seconds left, Vazquez unloaded a crushing left that sent Marquez staggering backward, where he banged into the corner pad. Russell correctly ruled that the corner held Marquez up and called the knockdown.

The Marquez side, though, disputed that contention, pleading Marquez should have been allowed to fight his way through the trouble.

"In a bout of this magnitude, the fight should have been allowed to go to its logical conclusion," Shaw said. "If Vazquez would have knocked him out, so be it, because it would have been a logical conclusion. But it was like Russell gave him a standing 8, and there is no standing 8 in the rules in California."

The controversy marred what had been the kind of night that keeps boxing relevant. Despite all the things that turn off some from the sport, there comes a fight every now and then like Vazquez and Marquez put on Saturday that gives the sport a reprieve.

It's a fight that calls for a rematch yet again, though in fairness to the fighters, they need some extra time off. A fourth bout in December wouldn't be a bad way to end the year.

"I already have the perfect name for the fight: Four to Settle the Score," Shaw said. "Another fight is definitely called for after that, but this isn't the kind of fight you can come back from. These guys deserve some rest."

No doubt about that. After three grueling fights and 25 bitterly contested rounds in the span of a year, they earned a few months off for carrying the sport on their tiny backs for a while.

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