When Sammy Vasquez fights on Showtime Friday night, he will be boxing for a lot more than the fans in attendance and that network's television audience. For the second time, Showtime will share the broadcast of Vasquez's fight with the Armed Forces Network, affording more than 1 million service members a chance to watch.
Vasquez served two tours of duty in Iraq. He is the main event in Friday's ShoBox, The New Generation tripleheader that airs live at 10 p.m. from CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. He meets Emmanuel Lartey in a 10-round welterweight bout.
"It means so much to have my brothers and sisters in my corner and supporting me every step of the way," said Vasquez, who is from Monessen, Pennsylvania.
"The military has helped me get to this point in my career and it's a huge honor to represent them. I can't wait to make them proud this weekend. I think it's important for them to see someone who has been to the same places as them, who's had his boots on the ground just like them. It's good for them to see someone come home and who is trying to achieve his goals."
Vasquez served in the National Guard from 2003 to 2012 and was deployed to Camp Habbaniyah in Iraq for his first tour from 2005 to 2006. He later returned to Iraq for a second tour from 2008 to 2009. During his second tour of Iraq, he spent time in Fallujah and Taji. He said the Armed Forces Network was an important part of his tours.
"Watching the Armed Forces Network gives you a piece of home," said Vasquez, 28. "When you are over there, you don't get a piece of home too often. You are super busy. So when you can sit down and watch something from home, it really helps."
Lartey is Vasquez's toughest competition to date. Lartey (17-2, 8 KOs, 1 no-contest), who is from Ghana and now lives in Brooklyn, is a durable boxer-puncher. His only two losses have come against former Olympians Felix Diaz and Errol Spence.
"He's a tough fighter," said Vasquez, who is 17-0 with 13 knockouts. "He can take a shot. He's a well-rounded fighter. I want to push him more. I want to take him to places in the ring that make him feel uncomfortable. I definitely see some mistakes and I am trying to expose them."
Vasquez was an all-Army and all-Service champion and was an alternate for the U.S. Olympic team in 2012. He earned a spot in the military's elite World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which helped land him a berth at the 2012 Olympic trials. But it didn't come without a risk.
"My service contract was going to end before I made it into WCAP," Vasquez said. "So I re-enlisted not really sure I would make WCAP. But when I did, it helped me tremendously. When I joined the military, it definitely helped me become the man I am today. It makes you grow up fast. It's definitely a reality check. But it's been worth it."