Inside of a boxing ring, Israel Vazquez is a snarling, menacing sort who throws punches like he's trying to knock over a building.
Everything about him is hard. When he was only 17, he was a professional boxer knocking out men nearly twice his age.
"He is strong and he hits hard – extremely, extremely hard," former super bantamweight champion Oscar Larios, who lost two of three fights to Vazquez, once by first-round knockout and the other time by third-round stoppage.
Rafael Marquez knows all about that power. He's spent the last year of his life either in the ring with Vazquez or preparing to fight him. Vazquez had him on the floor in each of their first two bouts and stopped him in the sixth round of their epic rematch on Aug. 5 in Hidalgo, Texas.
Caution, it would seem to most wise men, would be prudent for Marquez when he climbs between the ropes on Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., for a third crack at Vazquez and the WBC super bantamweight championship.
Marquez, though, sniffs at the thought. Fear or intimidation, he says, aren't factors.
"When you come from where I come from, you learn what tough means at a very early age," said Marquez, who is No. 10 in the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound poll.
Marquez and his brother, Juan Manuel, the reigning WBC super featherweight champion, grew up the son of a fighter in a tiny home in the gritty Mexico City suburb called Iztapalapa.
Crime was rampant and drug dealers ruled the streets.
"You have to learn how to take care of yourself pretty fast," he says. "It's beyond tough there."
Early on, he didn't have his older brother's natural sense of movement and defense in the ring, but he also had a snap to his punches that Juan Manuel lacked and which Rafael quickly turned into a weapon.
"He would catch guys and he would always just stop them where they were and they didn't really want to get hit by him much any more," said Nacho Beristain, the brothers' trainer.
He made his pro debut in 1995 when he was just past 20 years old. Boxing regulation is loose in Mexico, to say the least, and he faced Victor Rabanales, a former bantamweight champion who only six fights earlier had fought for the world title.
Rabanales was 39-14-2 at the time of the bout and stopped Marquez in the eighth round. Imagine a high school sophomore being asked to guard Shaquille O'Neal in the low post and you'll have an idea of what Marquez faced.
He fought largely in the shadow of his brother, Juan Manuel, who by 2001 was clearly among the best featherweights in the world.
But Rafael made his own mark when he defeated Mark Johnson on Oct. 6, 2001. Johnson had long been regarded as one of the best pure boxers in the world and, even though he was beginning to get a bit old at that stage, was still being avoided by most of the elite in the bantamweight division.
Rafael Marquez never hesitated when the bout was offered to him, though.
"Those are the kinds of guys you have to beat if you want to win a (championship) and if you want to be considered the best," he said. "I don't worry about who I'm going to fight. I have people who are there to take care of that for me. I figure they know their jobs. I let them do their jobs. I do mine."
His job will be to keep Vazquez, boxing's answer to an angry pit bull, from getting too close to him and using his physical strength.
In the first fight, last March 3, Marquez was magnificent as he peppered Vazquez with combinations that kept Vazquez from rushing in and which ultimately broke his nose and forced Vazquez to quit.
His timing was off slightly in the rematch and Vazquez managed to cut the distance. That was the difference in turning around the result in a bout that was chosen as the Yahoo! Sports Fight of the Year for 2007.
Marquez, who promised the rubber match would be a classic, insists he has the answer to getting things back on track.
"I think I can control the tempo," Marquez said. "I did it in the first fight. I just have to keep my rhythm and throw the right kind of combinations that I have been working on in camp. I can fight Vazquez in close situations, but I don't want to expend too much energy doing that. I will engage him when I set him up for it. He will feel it when I put the pressure on."
The pressure has been on Rafael Marquez most of his life. This is a guy who was kidnapped at gunpoint in 2002, shoved in the trunk of a car and feared he was going to be riddled with bullets.
Nothing he's going to see from Vazquez in the ring on Saturday is going to make him too uncomfortable after that.
"There are challenges everywhere you look in life," Marquez said. "This is just another one for me. I'll be fine with it."