The decision to become a professional was never in doubt for welterweight Sammy Vasquez, Jr.
Despite having an offer to be a reserve for the 2012 Olympics, Vasquez forewent the London Games. He viewed the offer as being nothing more than a sparring partner rather than getting a chance to compete for his country.
Instead, Vasquez turned pro in April 2012. Already at his 15th fight, Vasquez is set to make his debut as a headliner on Fox Sports 1 Friday against another undefeated fighter, James Stevenson.
“I had bigger aspirations to turn pro,” Vasquez said. “I was just done with the amateurs. I know I can be up there with the top guys. I know I can win a world title. I know how much I’ve progressed from the amateurs to where I’m at now.”
Vasquez pointed to being a smarter fighter than he was in the amateurs, setting up shots better for knockouts. He also said that moving from fighting everyday for a week to weighing in one time and fighting one time has made it easier as a pro.
Activity, however, has been a strong point for Vasquez. Stevenson will be his fifth fight this year, as well as his third undefeated fighter faced. While the undefeated fighters Vasquez has faced don’t have the best resume, Vasquez hopes that his willingness to face risks this early in his career will impress fans.
Vasquez said he doesn’t know much about Stevenson (21-0, 14 KOs) and that he’s going in dark. At this stage of his career, Vasquez, who trains out of Colorado Springs despite being from Pittsburgh, is just focusing on improving as a fighter.
“We go right into training camp a week after my fights and we build off what I’ve already gained,” Vasquez said. “For me, [staying active] isn’t really an issue. I’ve remained healthy so I’m able to go back-to-back like that.”
In a news release this week, Stevenson said of Vasquez, “He’s jut another guy to me. He breathes just like I do and puts on his boxing shoes one at a time. The guys I’ve seen him fight aren’t on my level, so to be honest I think he’s taking a big step up too!”
Vasquez, 28, is another former prized amateur that Mike Tyson and his promotional firm have signed. Unlike Erickson Lubin, however, Vasquez was signed to a contract after being asked to fill in on Tyson’s cards.
Vasquez fought Berlin Abreu in May 2013 for Tyson and then again appeared on his card, fighting Juan Rodriguez, Jr. in April. The 28-year-old fighter said having Tyson watch him was motivation to earn a promotional contract.
“Mike Tyson is the knockout king so they obviously liked what they saw when I was knocking guys out,” Vasquez, who has 11 knockouts, said. “It was crazy. You’re talking about one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. You’re so excited inside and it’s honor to fight for him, but when I’m around him I have to act like I’ve been here before.
“It’s a big boost of confidence when someone like that wants to see you fight,” he said.
As an amateur, Vasquez made it to the Olympic qualifiers where he lost to welterweight Errol Spence and later Amir Imam. When Vasquez was asked to be a reserve for the games, it’s only because Imam turned down the spot.
But it was his track to the amateurs that has made Vasquez’s story different from most. Like a lot of boxers, Vasquez picked up a pair of gloves at nine-years old because of being bullied. However, Vasquez then went years without boxing when he joined the National Guard in December of 2003.
Vasquez served two tours of duty in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 and is a sergeant for the U.S. Army.
“My family wasn’t rich and I knew going into the National Guard they would pay for my tuition,” Vasquez said. “Did I think I was going to Iraq? No. Did my dad think that? No, but that’s what I had to do and I was okay with that.”
Vasquez added, “It’s not everyday a 20-year-old goes to a third world country and sees the stuff that he sees. I could have been partying it up, but I chose a different route like most people in the military. That’s just the way it goes.”
It’s only a matter of time before Vasquez steps up in competition. Ideally, he would like to fight twice more before the year ends. The Stevenson fight matters to him because on the line is a UBSA trinket, which will help Vasquez get ranked by the IBF if he wins.
“To be honest, you have to get ranked,” Vasquez said. “You get ranked and then you can start stepping up your competition. But right now, I’m in the big leagues and I’m a nobody. I’ve got to earn my right to fight those guys.”