Professionally, David Diaz hasn’t had to worry about second chances. Until he lost his WBC lightweight title to Manny Pacquiao in June of 2008, Diaz had but one loss and that was to Kendall Holt over three years prior to the Pacquiao fight. Both fights ended in stoppages but when you consider the type of grittiness “Dangerous David” brings into the ring, losses via stoppage are somewhat weirdly testament to the Chicago-born-and-bred fighter’s style and personality, not a detriment.
On March 13th, on the undercard of Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey (televised on HBO PPV, 9 PM ET/6 PM PT), Diaz, 35-2-1 (17), continues his post-Pacquiao comeback with a golden opportunity to regain the belt he lost in his first defense since beating Erik Morales in August 2007. Diaz’ opponent, Humberto Soto, 50-7-2 (32) with one no-contest, was recently on the lips of fans who would’ve preferred to see him challenge the most recent holder of that specific strap, Edwin Valero. However, the House of Sulaiman decided that Valero, as a lightweight titlist, should be relegated to holding a different title, their “champion-in-recess” variety, due to injuries sustained in his February win over Antonio DeMarco and Valero’s own dedication to remaining at 135.
When the WBC’s version of the title was rendered vacant shortly after the Valero fight, Diaz and Soto got the call to action. Needless to say, Diaz was a little surprised.
“Actually, I was, yeah. There had been rumors before but nothing was ever brought up to my attention so I didn’t think anything of it. [But] it’s not the ideal time,” Diaz admitted to Maxboxing last week. “Hey, but when you get a title shot, I mean, you make it your ideal time. You just have to make the best of it and work hard. We’ve always been hard workers so it’s just something we have to do.”
Although the opportunity arose at shorter notice than Diaz is accustomed to, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t know a thing or two about his opponent. If you ask him, he downright knows what to expect. At the same time, he also believes Soto might just know as much about him. Diaz and Soto’s last opponent was the very same fighter, Jesus Chavez. And Diaz has quite a bit in common with “El Matador,” in style and geography.
“I think Chavez is more my style of fighting,” Diaz says, when asked if either he or Soto benefited from facing Chavez in preparation for the March 13th fight. “It’s a lot better for Soto to face someone like that. With Chavez, it was just a barnburner between me and him. (Laughs) It was just a barnburner and we were just trying to knock each other’s heads off and we’ve become incredible friends. So, it was an interesting fight and Chavez is a guy I respect with all my heart and who I looked up to because, as everybody knows, Chavez is really a Chicagoan. He was raised out here in Chicago and he was one of the first guys [Diaz looked up to] to make it out of Chicago.”
But wait…wasn’t there some sort of beverage up for grabs after Diaz-Chavez? A beer, perhaps?
“Yes, we sure did! We went out afterwards and we hung out and it was fun,” said Diaz, referring to the “beer summit” that was hinted at during the Diaz-Chavez post-fight presser. “Actually, the next night, we ran into each other at my trainer’s restaurant and we ate dinner together with his wife. I’m very proud to have shared the ring with him and he’s a good friend. A very good friend.”
A very good friend who loves brawling as much as Diaz does, when the situation presents itself. That’s something that Diaz considers adjusting when facing Soto, who might be expecting a style similar to Chavez’ when Diaz enters the ring. But the urge to brawl might wind up amalgamating with the urge to divert from Soto’s expectations.
“Be a cool, and calm, collected bomber. That’s what we gotta do,” said Diaz. “We gotta brawl when we wanna brawl and make him [Soto] do that, you know, and make him fall into our plan; not us into his. If we can do that, I think we’ll be successful. We see him as a good, disciplined boxer, actually, where he’s able to use his reach and his stature. So to dent his armor, it’s just gonna take persistence of me staying in his chest. Even though he likes to fight in there, I just think we’re gonna be a little bit stronger than him on the inside.”
As highly regarded a fighter as Soto is, a mild consensus exists that proclaims “La Zorrita” as somewhat overrated; a guy who’s only good enough when not in an elite in-the-ring situation. Diaz doesn’t agree.
“You know, I’ve seen him fight and I think he’s good. I think he’s a great fighter, but overrated, I don’t think he is. He’s a tremendous fighter. I’m a guy who likes to give credit where credit’s due and what he’s done, he’s been a champion at 130, fought pretty good guys and you’ve gotta give him his respect for that.”
Since it’s been a couple of fights past the Pacquiao stoppage, this writer asked Diaz if there was anything positive he might have gleaned from the experience. Is there something he learned in such a firefight that could be used against Soto?
“Well, see, Pacquiao was a totally different fighter [than Soto]. His speed was tremendous and that’s the thing that got me,” said Diaz, with absolutely no remorse in his voice. “I don’t think Soto’s that fast (laughs) so it’s gonna be a different fight. I think that’s why this fight is pretty good for us, because of that nature. Even though Soto’s taller than I am, I’m more used to fighting taller guys and longer guys. So, it’s gonna feel a little bit sort of comfortable, in a sense of fighting a guy like that, where with Manny, it was like, speed, hold and move. I couldn’t catch the guy. I was throwing punches; he wasn’t there. So if we don’t get none of that speed or quickness, I think we’ll be alright. We’ll be in the fight. Just as long as I’m in the fight, I think I got a good chance to win.”
“Manny’s success has actually helped me even more. I went in there and I lost to the pound-for-pound champion so I have nothing to hang my head or be ashamed of or anything,” Diaz continues when assessing his own standing against the Filipino, showing classiness he’s renowned for. “I mean, this guy [Pacquiao] has done better against supposedly better fighters, so I feel pretty good. The motivation and everything is still there. I still wanna be world champion so, God willing and everything goes right, we’ll become champion and go from there.”
It’s the duty of any good writer to ask questions on the hot topics of the day and when considering Pacquiao- or a fighter who experienced Pacquiao’s fury- the question on alleged P.E.D. use just had to be asked. What exactly is Diaz’ expert opinion?
“Aw, man…honestly, honestly, I don’t buy into that. I don’t think the guy’s doing anything like that. First of all, the guy’s a God-fearing person and for someone [like Pacquiao] to do something like that, it’s just hypocritical. Saying that, I honestly don’t think that he’s done anything,” Diaz argued. “About him going up in weight, I mean, really, how much has he gone up? Not a lot. His fights have been at ’44, fighting guys at ’47. He’s made guys come down a little bit, you know what I’m saying? Maybe THAT’S his trick. He makes these guys offer to cut the weight that are really not supposed to be in that division, to begin with, understand? With [Miguel] Cotto, he couldn’t make ’44 or ’45 in God-knows-when but he could barely make ’47, you know? So maybe he [Pacquiao] knew just how to get these guys involved so much in that they wanted him. He’s a tremendous fighter and a good person.
“I do not think at all that he’s done any performance-enhancing drugs. Think about it. Ever since Barrera, the guy’s been a machine, you know?” asserts Diaz, frustration rising in his voice. So, it’s like not anything has changed for him. The only thing that has changed has been probably his weight, and it’s not by that much, guys. You know, 20 pounds…who doesn’t gain 20 pounds after a fight, you know what I’m saying? And if he’s gone up from ’22 to ’26 to ’47, now to ’44, that’s only about 20 pounds, man. The guy’s doing something unbelievable and, yeah, you’re always gonna have your naysayers who say he’s doing this and doing that. Until the guy’s done something that’s proven, leave him alone; let him do what he’s doing. You’re not gonna find a bad thing from me to say about Pacquiao. He’s a nice guy.”
As quick as Diaz is to defend his conqueror and friend, he’s equally quick to jump to the chance to avenge his loss, should the opportunity present itself in the future. However, Diaz recognizes the next opportunity might come only with a little extra currency on the line.
“That’s something that I would love to happen, since he’s blowing up everybody out of the water and, obviously, since he fought [Juan Manuel] Marquez, that was his last distance fight. I think we would love that opportunity and I just gotta bring something to the table that would [make him] wanna fight me. So, maybe this title and a couple of more and that could solidify my chances of me getting a rematch with Pacquiao.”
Diaz’ mission is a multi-task, at the very least. Gathering a slew of belts is on his to-do list anyway so expect him to stick around the lightweight realm a little longer. “Yeah, I definitely do [want to stick around 135]. It’s been a dream of mine to become undisputed. That has a nice ring to it. So, that’s one of my goals, whether it be [at] ’35 or ’40, just to become undisputed and that’s something I wanna build now and move forward with it.”
Although he’s only fought twice since the Pacquiao fight, you wouldn’t know it from Diaz’ walking-around weight and physical appearance. Just this past January, Diaz worked the corner of undefeated 140-pound Chicago prospect/friend Ivan Popoca and very well could’ve leapt into the ring himself to take care of business had not Popoca been prepared for his fight (win via TKO 3) against Federico Flores Jr. OK, maybe that’s a bit much but Diaz obviously doesn’t let himself go. When asked, his focus wasn’t on himself but Popoca, who he’s known for years.
“With Ivan Popoca, I’ve known him since he was about nine years old, so it’s more like a ‘big brother/little brother’ thing. And I’ve always felt that way ever since I seen Ivan [first] fight,” Diaz recalls. “Ivan was a ten, 11-year old kid and I was already 15, 16, and I would tell him, ‘Man, I can’t wait ‘til you get to my weight class.’ I’m like, ‘We’re gonna have some good sparring sessions.’ This kid was so awesome as a junior. He was slick like Roy Jones, had that movement and everything. Now, fast-forward a couple of years, he still gives the heart and determination and the hard work that he’s always had and that’s what I like. He helps me and I try to help him as much as I can with the knowledge of the business and how to work at it and to just keep going on and not to lose hope. I mean, he knows my life story, what has happened to me, and he says, ‘I can do it because David did it. I can do it myself.’ So, he’s a good kid and I expect a lot of great things from him to come for the next couple of years.”
In those next couple of years, David Diaz still plans to be here and still plans on fighting. But he also has an honest assessment of his own abilities that he hopes can carry him to victory against a Mexican national fighter, a Texas crowd and Texas judges, who seem to have a hairy eyeball or two on them at all times, these days. The former titlist believes he has what it takes to gain him the victory while opening a new door to opportunities that will ensure him more title shots, title defenses and bigger paydays; ultimately keeping him in a ring long enough to perhaps share another card with Popoca someday (their first being the Diaz-Chavez card in September of last year).
“We just gotta do our job in the ring and really, really put our pedal to the metal and go all out, be in great shape. Let that take care of that. If it comes out to be a bogus call or whatever, we can just go back to the tape and see it right there. You can’t control what some people are gonna do. But for me, it’s always been a ‘How did I leave that ring?’ Did I leave it with 110, 120% in the ring and did everything I could that I possibly could have done to win or did I half-ass it? Or did I f**king just start bullsh**ting around and not TRY to fight? If I know that I went in there and I did everything I could’ve done then I’m happy with my performance. And if there’s somebody else who thinks otherwise, hey, God bless you. (Laughs)”