Report and photos by John DiSanto
Philly Boxing History (.com)
A true crossroads fight is brewing in Chester, PA. On Friday night, Philly’s favorite warhorse, Victor Vasquez and rising prospect Naim Nelson will face off in a 10-round bout for the Pennsylvania Lightweight Championship at Harrah’s Racetrack and Casino in Chester, PA. The match is an intriguing one with the battle tested Vasquez, 15-6-1 (7 KO) bringing the grit and experience, while the young Nelson, 7-0 (1 KO), brings the undefeated record and the fresh legs. On paper, the fight is a tough one to call. Each fighter can win it, but both need a good night and the right plan to pull it off.
Vasquez is famous around Philly for his grueling inside wars. He can box but usually before long his fights become wars, complete with lumps, bruises, and blood – both his and his opponent’s. Vasquez is proficient at breaking his opponents down with good body work and tremendous toughness. However, he can be out-boxed, especially by tall movers.
Nelson is a boxer that can be described that way. He has speed and could conceivably stay at a distance and give Vasquez fits. But can he do it for 10 rounds?
The basic question of this bout is timing. Is this too much too soon for the still developing Nelson, or will it be too little too late for the well-worn Vasquez? It is one of those fights that could truly go either way.
Both fighters are raring to go for the could-be-classic-clash, but the rest of Philly was rather surprised that the fight was even made. Both fighters are facing risks that many other boxers would avoid. Perhaps that means that this one will be really good, with two men willing to fight for their boxing future.
Promoter Joey Eye was planning to have Vasquez in the 10-round main event, and was looking for worthy opponents that would get the fight sanctioned for the state title.
“We were looking for guys, looking for guys, but we were coming up with blanks,” Eye said. “Then Doc Nowicki (Nelson’s manager), who has a couple other guys on the card, offered Nelson. He said, ‘hey you don’t have anybody yet, could we get Naim Nelson to fight him?’ I said, I like that; that’s a great fight, but I got to make sure it can get approved.”
The concern was Nelson’s experience level. He has just seven pro bouts, fifteen less than Vasquez. Plus he’s never had a fight scheduled for more than six rounds. Would the ever-tough PA commission go for it?
“I got in touch with Greg Sirb (Executive Director of the PA Boxing Commission),” Eye said. “He said, ‘let me look it up and get back to you’. About a day or two later, he said ‘yes, I’ll approve that fight for the state title’. And here we are.”
If you ask around town, opinion on the fight is all over the place. Both fighters have their supporters, but everyone seems convinced the fight will be memorable.
“Styles make fights,” Eye said. “This could be like a poor man’s Ali-Frazier.”
Let’s hope it is!
Victor Vasquez has shown everyone who’s seen him in the ring that he is a true warrior who’s never been in a bad fight. In 2010, not one, but two of his bouts were nominated for the Briscoe Award as the “Philly Fight of the Year”. But he’s been at it long before the Briscoes were ever handed out.
“I’ve seen him fight quite a few times,” said Naim Nelson about his upcoming opponent. “He’s like a Philadelphia staple, you know? He’s tough, brings a lot of pressure. Aggressive. But I’m training hard for him. I should be ready.”
Naim Nelson is a boxer. He tends to stick and move, but has begun ruffling a few feathers in recent fights. Because he’s so young, and relatively new to the sport, his style is not yet set in stone. He changes a little from fight to fight, but he keeps getting better.
“I think it’s a really big step up for Naim, and I think it’s a ballsy thing for him,” Joey Eye said. “I give him a lot of credit. Victor is a tough customer.”
“I give everybody respect,” Vasquez said of Nelson. “There ain’t no way to get around it. (To be a fighter) you have to have heart or just be crazy. So I give everybody respect.”
Nelson will bring height, reach and age advantages into the ring. He also has the type of style that can be trouble for Victor. The question is whether he can execute in what surely will be the toughest fight of his life.
“Everybody I fight looks like an action figure,” said the 5-foot, 5-inch Vasquez. “They’re always bigger than me. But it’s been proven, muscle can’t win fights.”
“I’m meeting a lot of people who are saying that Naim’s going to kick his ass,” Eye said. “And then I’m getting the other side – Victor’s too strong, too powerful for him. Too much pressure, too much experience. But you don’t know.”
“He likes to break opponent’s wills,” Nelson said of Vasquez. “He likes to apply a lot of pressure. So first of all, I have to make sure that I’m in excellent shape, being as though I’m fighting Victor, and this is my first 10 rounder. So just being in shape, not letting him impose his will, and trying to impose my will, hopefully that should help me win.”
“I really don’t know much about him,” Vasquez said. “My job is to train and that’s it. I don’t watch video. Some people say that’s wrong, but I was taught to adapt in the first minute or two of the fight, in the ring. (My trainer) always told me they can’t do anything different after that.”
“You got to try to set the tone,” Nelson said about this fight. “He’s a more experienced guy. So the worst thing you can do with a guy who has that much experience is to let him get to thinking and doing what he wants to do. So I got to force the tempo. He’s still young. I think he’s only 28 or 29, but I’m 22. So I’m a little younger, so I’m going to try to make him work right from the opening bell.”
Vasquez seems to have the same approach, and it appears he’ll do the same thing when the first bell rings.
“I start my game plan,” Vasquez said. “I go right in there. If it’s there for the taking, I’m gonna take it. If I gotta go to work, I’ll go to work. Usually the guys I fight always start with fire, and then the fight starts.”
This fight is one that will come down to what actually transpires in the ring. There are many questions that the fight should answer about both fighters at this particular time in their respective careers.
“I’ve been the six round distance twice,” said Nelson. “But I can do 15 rounds in the gym. So hopefully I should be able to do 10 in the fight.”
“Everybody knows me as a brawler, but I can box too,” said Vasquez. “I showed that against Tyric Robinson. Tyric was taller than me, and I boxed very well against him. You have to understand. The brawl is in every Philly fighter. You will always dig in your pocket for that. Some people do it better than others. Some people box better than others. I’m going to use everything in my ability to do what I got to do.”
And what Victor Vasquez has to do in this fight is win. Where Naim Nelson’s career could endure a loss to Vasquez right now, and be explained by over-eagerness and a lack of experience, Vasquez could only be derailed by a loss to a 7-0 fighter, no matter how promising that fighter is.
Vasquez is the type of fighter who will draw a crowd every time he puts on the gloves. Like Arturo Gatti, wins and losses will never affect his fan base. But to keep his dream alive, the dream to graduate to the next level in the sport, Vasquez needs to beat Naim Nelson in typical Victor Vasquez fashion.
So much of the pressure is really off Nelson. If he falters against Vasquez, who would be shocked? However, although the match seems a bit premature for him, like many young fighters, Nelson feels he can’t afford to fail is he wants to keep moving up in the game.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Nelson said about the match and having the state title at stake. “I’m real anxious, I’m real excited about it. It’s a minor belt that I hope to use to propel me to bigger and better things.”
“I’ve got losses, but I learned with every loss,” Vasquez said. “I didn’t have much of an amateur career. So those losses were my amateur career. Is it too late? Well I started late. You never know when I’m going to peak.”
The fight between Vasquez and Nelson just might be the best local match in quite a while. It’s certainly one of the most intriguing pairings to come along lately.
“It’s going to be something to watch,” said Vasquez.
“Wow! This is Victor Vasquez,” Nelson said. “He’s tough, but I think I can beat him, and I want to fight him.”
A poor man’s Ali-Frazier? We’ll find out Friday night.
To read more about the Philly fight scene – past and present – visit www.phillyboxinghistory.com.