Posted: Friday July 21, 2006 12:41PM; Updated: Friday July 21, 2006 5:10PM
He's the Juan
At age 22, lightweight champ Juan Diaz (right) is already reminding some of the all-around fighters of the '50s and '60s.
Sure, Sugar Shane Mosley looked sweet on last Saturday's HBO pay-per-view card, dominating Fernando Vargas for six rounds before finishing him off with a cracking left hook. And yes, the prospect of the rejuvenated Mosley taking on Mayweather is suddenly no longer the mismatch it would have seemed a year ago. (For the record, I'd rather see Mayweather defend his IBF and IBO welterweight belts against the lesser-known but probably more dangerous Antonio Margarito. And I'd rather seeMosley -- who, let's face it, was in with a shot fighter in Vargas -- take on IBF junior middleweight champ Cory Spinks.)
But what really got me excited on last Saturday's show was watching Juan Diaz in action.
Diaz, the WBA lightweight champion (30-0, with 15 KOs), retained his title with a ninth-round TKO of Randy Suico, and his performance was really more of a recital than a fight, a young virtuoso's showcasing of his talent on a major stage.
And Diaz has some serious chops. At age 22, the pride of Houston is hardly an imposing figure; he's baby-faced, with a smooth-muscled, stocky build (his nickname of Baby Bull seems predicated more on his physique than on his fighting style). But he has thrillingly fast hands and puts his punches together in remarkably accurate four-, five- and six-punch combinations.
"He's a throwback to the guys of the '50s and '60s, who worked hard to develop all their tools," says Ronnie Shields, the former junior welterweight contender who is Diaz's trainer. "He's like a jewel that's just being polished."
The only thing Diaz is missing is a truly big punch. If he had one, he'd be on his way to being a true all-timer. I got the sense that referee Joe Cortez stopped the bout against Suico not because Suico was badly hurt (though, admittedly, he could easily have been at any moment given the number of punches he was taking), but because Diaz was simply in another league.
Diaz, whose regimen under fitness trainer Brian Caldwell includes weight training and swimming (alongside dog-paddling senior citizens at a Houston Jewish Community Center), is superbly well-conditioned.
"I had caught a cold a few days before the fight and I got a little winded," Diaz told me earnestly to explain why he seemed to take the seventh round off against Suico. "I needed to catch my breath." Indeed, he went back to tattooing Suico with renewed vigor in the eighth.
I can't wait to see Diaz in action again. (There's a sort of reassuring comfort to seeing such a young fighter who's so well-schooled. It makes one think that there just might be hope for this sport after all.) His manager, Willie Savannah, who guided Shields during his ring career and has been with Diaz since the fighter was a young butterball in the amateurs, says he'd like Diaz to fight again in November.
First, though, is the matter of Diaz's promotional contract. Diaz has been with Top Rank since turning pro, but that deal expires next month and both Savannah and Diaz are eager to see what offers follow.
Of course, if the whole boxing thing doesn't work out, Diaz will still have something to fall back on. A junior government and criminal justice major at the University of Houston Downtown, he plans to go straight to law school upon graduation and from there into practice and, eventually, politics.
"I tell him he's going to be governor someday," says Savannah.