12 Rounds with ex-world champion ‘Baby Bull’ Juan Diaz
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to fight or retire for good” – Juan Diaz
Juan Diaz first started boxing at the age of 8 and went on to have over 100 amateur fights, losing only five in a career that saw the young fighter qualify to represent Mexico at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
As Juan was only 16 at the time, it was announced he wouldn’t be allowed to compete in Sydney, so the “Baby Bull” decided to delve straight into the pro ranks three months before his 17th birthday.
He duly despatched Rafael Ortiz, who was four years his senior, with a first round KO and went on to win his next 23 fights, capturing the WBC Youth World Lightweight Title along the way.
In July 2004, Juan was allowed to fight Lakva Sim on his home soil in Houston, Texas, for the WBA Lightweight Title. He dominated the Mongolian to dethrone the champion in his first defense.
Juan followed up the title victory with another one-sided points victory, this time over the experienced Julien Lorcy, and knocked out Billy Irwin and Arthur Cruz in 2005 to remain undefeated going into 2006.
Three successful defenses followed in 2006, including inflicting a first defeat on Jose Miguel Cotto, brother of Miguel Cotto, undefeated in 27 contests before that point. Juan won unanimously on all three judges’ scorecards.
Almost three years after acquiring his first world title, Juan had the prospect of adding the WBO version to his now renamed WBA Super World Title as the incentive when matched up against (38-1) Acelino Freitas in Connecticut in April 2007.
Juan fought a superb pressure fight on the night, and a 31-year-old Freitas didn’t seem able to cope with the pace of the fight in what turned out to be the last boxing match of his career, failing to make the bell for the ninth round.
Sixth months after adding the WBO belt to his WBA Super Title, Juan would take on namesake Julio for another chance to add a 135lb title to his haul. This time, the IBF Lightweight Title was on the line in Illinois.
Both men stood toe to toe for seven rounds. Still, Juan’s all-action no-holds-barred style and accuracy finally told as in the eighth round Julio started to give ground and eventually retired on his stool at the beginning of the ninth.
It turned out to be Juan Diaz’s defining night as the victory meant he was WBO, IBF, and WBA Super World Title holder, the number one lightweight in the world, and into the pound for pound world top ten.
Juan didn’t rest on his laurels, though, and traveled to Mexico to take on former two-time world title challenger Nate Campbell, who had lost five times in his career and wasn’t thought to be a threat to the 33 fight unbeaten unified champion.
Amidst rumors on manager squabbles and a split from Don King, many thought Juan’s full focus might not have been on the fight.
Campbell took Diaz’s titles by sheer work rate and desire, opening a cut on Juan’s eye in the sixth, which worsened round by round.
Although judge Ric Bays gave the bout to the champion after twelve hard-fought rounds, the other two scored it in Campbell’s favor, and he took the three titles back to Jacksonville, Florida.
After six months, Juan returned along with the new promoter’s Golden Boy in September 2008 to take on Australian Michael Katsidis for the lesser-regarded, vacant IBO Lightweight Title back on home soil in Houston.
Katsidis was on the back of the first loss of his career against Joel Casamayor and never really got into the fight. Diaz dominated for the full twelve rounds, marking up the Australian eyes, lip, and cheeks in the process.
In an amazing judging decision on the night, experienced judge Glen Hamada managed to score the bout 115-113 to Katsidis, who had really never really threatened the former unified champion.
By contrast, Levi Martinez scored it 115-113 to Diaz, but it still seemed a bit too close for what had been witnessed in the ring, with final judge Gale E. Van Hoy getting things a bit more realistic with a score of 116-112.
That win for Juan meant another chance to claim the lightweight world title was in the offing, and the WBO and WBA sanctioned a match-up against two-weight world champion Juan Manuel Marquez for Diaz’s former and now vacant lightweight Titles.
Despite starting strong and catching Marquez with some solid left hands, Diaz was again cut midway through a fight that seemed to affect him, and after two knockdowns in the ninth round, the referee called a halt to the enthralling contest.
The bout was named “Fight of the year 2009” by ring magazine and had fans calling for a rematch, which was ruled out when Diaz stated he would now be moving up to Light-Welterweight.
After his second defeat in three contests, the Diaz was keen to get back to winning ways in August 2009 when he took on former IBF Light-Welterweight Champion Paulie “Magic Man” Malignaggi, once again at the Toyota Center in Houston.
Both fighters incurred cuts early on in the bout, whilst Diaz’s punches didn’t seem to affect at 138lbs that they did at 135lbs as Maliganaggi boxed well and seemed to throw more leather.
With the press row at ringside scoring a tight victory for the “Magic Man,” Juan was given a unanimous victory. The judges scored the contest 118-110, 116-112, and 115-113 as he claimed victory in his maiden Light-Welterweight contest.
Malignaggi was incensed by the decision and complained profusely to the crowd and HBO commentary team about the manner of what he called a “hometown decision,” which quickly prompted a rematch to be arranged at a neutral venue.
Four months later, in December 2009, Diaz v Malignaggi II took place at the UIC Pavillion in Chicago, Illinois, with Malignaggi seemingly having the movement to keep him away from Juan’s rough center the ring style.
Malignaggi stayed on the outside and seemed to grow in confidence, even unprofessionally taunting Juan and scoring a controversial knockdown in the tenth, which was to all but the referee, an obvious slip.
Eventually, after the twelve rounds, Malignaggi got his revenge as the ringside judges scored the bout 116-111 on all three cards, inflicting the third loss of Juan’s career all in the space of 18 months.
Juan then immediately moved back down to lightweight and signed on for a much-anticipated rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez for his old WBO and WBA Super World Titles, to take place at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in July 2010.
After a slow start to the contest with both fighters waiting for the other to make a mistake, the fight exploded in the fourth with Marquez catching Diaz with an uppercut and rocking the 26 year-olds head back took Diaz a couple of minutes to recover from as Marquez poured forward.
Marquez again had Diaz in trouble and holding on in the sixth, with Juan showing only flashes of the brilliance he showed to gain the unified titles just three years previously.
Overall though, both men left everything in the ring once again, and only the fact that Marquez threw almost twice as many punches as Diaz meant that the decision went his way, but no-one could ever question Juan Diaz’s heart or his skill.
In his ten year career to date, Juan Diaz has never ducked anybody and has always given 100% for every minute of every round he has boxed.
Juan has recently announced he will be back in the ring this summer after a self-imposed absence. He is coming back at the lightweight limit and has his eyes on his old-world titles.
Juan Diaz took part in our 12 Rounds Interview series.
(ROUND 1) How did you first get into boxing, Juan?
“I started boxing at the age of 8. My father introduced me to the sport of boxing.”
(ROUND 2) What was your Amateur record?
“I had 110 fights, won 105, and only lost 5.”
(ROUND 3) Who influenced you as a young boxer?
“My favorite boxer was Julio Cesar Chavez, on whom I based my boxing style.”
(ROUND 4) Toughest opponent you have faced?
“Toughest opponent to date has been Ubaldo Hernandez from Mexico City, who I split decision beat in 2001 over 8 rounds.”
(ROUND 5) Who would you want to fight in the future?
“I am uncertain about my boxing career at this point. I am not sure if I will fight or retire for good.”
(ROUND 6) Which fight do people ask you about most?
“The first Marquez fight, people know I lost the fight but still ask me what happened? which I hate.”
(ROUND 7) Best fight you have seen?
“Morales v Barrera.”
(ROUND 8) There is talk in the UK of a possible match-up with John Murray, have you heard anything of this?
“Have not heard anything about a possible fight with John Murray.”
(ROUND 9) What’s your motivation?
“My motivation is my family and their well being.”
(ROUND 10) What would you change in Boxing?
“I would change boxing managers and promoters who take advantage of boxers.”
(ROUND 11) Mayweather or Pacquiao?
(Round 12) Finally…tell us something we don’t know about Juan Diaz.
“In 2011, the whole world will know something about Juan Diaz, so stay tuned.”