|Everybody Wants Some
By Coyote Duran, DoghouseBoxing.com (Feb 28, 2009) Photo © Will Hart/HBO Sports
By golly, the Boxing Gods got it right. On Saturday night, our prayers get answered when we see a lightweight championship fight that should live up to its billing and then some. One fight removed from his loss to former multiple beltholder Nate Campbell, Juan Diaz, 34-1 (17), faces 'The Ring' World Lightweight Champion Juan Manuel Marquez, 49-4-1 (36), at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas in what's sure to be the proverbial barnburner.
The facets are there for the pundits to pick apart from the skills of both men to the belts that are on the line. The latter is especially intriguing because of the timing. And for the creeping stealthiness of the sanctioning bodies, the timing is perfect.
Originally, the sole belt up foe grabs was 'The Ring's' championship. This changed after Campbell lost his WBA and WBO straps on the scale 24 hours prior to facing Ali Funeka (Campbell voluntarily dumped his IBF belt prior to the Funeka bout). The belts hardly collected dust before the two organizations jumped on the bandwagon; offering their booty (Treasure or asses? You decide, Howlers...) to sweeten the fight. Like that was necessary.
The alphabets know what time it is. They were THIS close before when Diaz and Campbell were their representatives. As they held these alphabet titles, they were sold as the real deals while Joel Casamayor was swept under the rug while he held the real championship. Now that Marquez holds 'The Ring' belt, the alphabets are clamoring for validity and now is their chance. Now, all of a sudden, Marquez-Diaz is championship material. Funny how that works when certain parties get involved.
If nothing else, consider the confusion the WBA happily doles out. Currently, the WBA's 'regular' lightweight beltholder, Namibian Paulus Moses (unranked by 'The Ring' at lightweight), 24-0 (17), isn't even looked at twice for full 'promotion' to whatever the highest stature in the WBA's belthood bouillabaisse dictates. Why? Because what the WBA calls a 'super champion' brings in more coin since the distinction comes with the caveat that said 'super champion' holds at least one more major alphabet belt in the process. How convenient. A WBO belt just happens to be on the line. Odds are, a fighter will pay every sanctioning fee to keep the 'prestige.' 'Regular champions' aren't in the position to make demands. They only get a shot at the 'super champion' if both still have their straps after 18 months. It's rarely happened. Think Bernard Hopkins vs. William Joppy. Sorry, Paulus.
One has to wonder if the WBC will follow suit now that Manny Pacquiao has officially vacated their version of the 135-pound belt. As it stands, the WBC's numbers one and two at lightweight are Edwin Valero (unrated by 'The Ring' at lightweight) and Antonio Pitalua (rated number five by 'The Ring'), respectively. However, money talks as always, and money will be generated on Saturday night and every sanctioning organization available will be waiting with outstretched hands. Unfortunately, fighters...champions believe in these belts and sometimes reform of an essentially good idea in championship belts isn't enough.
What clearly outshines the greedy machinations of the alphabets is the fight itself. There are so many possibilities to consider and every one of them is good. Marquez-Diaz is a fine example of intricate strategy meeting intestinal fortitude. Marquez, a brilliant counterpuncher, will have to deal with a number crunching puncher in Diaz. Distance is key for Marquez to thrive but if his output is predicated on Diaz' own output, then someone's bound to drop from exhaustion or a concussion. Luckily for Marquez, Diaz isn't known for power. That distinction goes to 'Dinamita.'
Marquez is such the anomaly in that his power willingly escorted him from featherweight to lightweight. And fewer opponents could've been more risky a division initiation than Casamayor. By the same token, the crafty Cuban also served as the best gauge for Marquez' power to devastating results. Casamayor's downfall wasn't attributed just to power he couldn't deal with because he's fought fighters that had beatdown-inducing power. Marquez changed the game by beating 'El Cepillo' at his own game and comboed the hell out of the former champion en route to two knockdowns and an 11th round TKO win. In his lightweight debut, Marquez was the total package. It's suspected that the same package sent Manny Pacquiao packing.
Marquez needs badly to stay on the outside and make a mark on Diaz's middle to open 'The Baby Bull's' guard (and when does Diaz finally graduate to full-grown 'Bull'? Is there a committee who handles nickname transition?). Close proximity is Diaz's primary key to victory. In close quarters, with perhaps the exception of Pacquiao, there's no other fighter-in-his-prime Marquez has faced that delivers the brand of heat Diaz delivers.
Sometimes the heat isn't hot enough.
Against Nate Campbell, Diaz defied his own consistency as Campbell was uncharacteristically consistent. Part of this can be attributed to Diaz' struggle to separate himself from promoter Don King. As conscientious as is Diaz, there's little surprise in thinking the out-of-the-ring battle might have done more damage than the actual fight itself. Diaz let a historically, if not recently, inconsistent fighter literally beat him to the punch; specifically robbing Diaz of a fight-defining jab and de-bunching his punches. Campbell was never better.
As a still very young 25-year old fighter who has spent almost an entire career at 135 pounds (save for a handful of fights right after turning pro), Juan Diaz' experience in reaching the distance, title fight -and there have been quite a few- or not, shaped his approach against Michael Katsidis (ranked number seven at lightweight by 'The Ring') in what served as a comeback fight for both.
Diaz, a born volume puncher, became a jabbing machine; tailor-making an approach that negated Katsidis' power. Not exactly a boxer-par-excellence, Katsidis makes up for it with sheer balls and the willingness to mix it up; even at his own expense. Against Diaz' style last September, 'Michael the Great' was merely one-dimensional. For Diaz, the Katsidis fight became a risk on paper in hindsight and an eye-opening declaration of responsibility. Juan Diaz was back.
If you lay out what Marquez and Diaz have to offer this fight and each other, the sensibilities of a chess match come to mind. More realistic a metaphor would be a chess match during a Slayer concert. The give and take will be in attendance but the pace'll make you bang your head.
Less to consider is the venue. Houston, Diaz' hometown, hosts the fight. Over the past five years, including the Marquez fight, Diaz will have fought in Houston only three times and his only decision thus far, a split against Katsidis, hinted against homecooking. If Diaz wants this win, he'll have to get it on his own steam. Marquez will only make this fight harder to score. Marquez also has recently said he wasn't worried about getting jobbed and that speaks volumes about his self-confidence and how he perceives Diaz. There’s work to be done and Marquez is no fool.
The careful approach needs to be employed against Diaz. Face-first tactics won’t cut the mustard but distance and movement will. If Marquez can combine the two and touch the body, in addition, he’ll have a good formula. Making the counterpunch come off with aggression and an almost ‘strike first’ impact will carry the fight for Marquez. If he paces himself in those early rounds that he typically uses as a warm-up period, Marquez will gradually widen the gap in scoring. Watching the Campbell fight wouldn’t hurt either.
Pressure is as pressure does and Diaz makes it happen in volume. Not a knockout artist by any means, Diaz makes up for it in accumulation. Close is better and that hard jab brings in the catch. Remember, boxing skill brought it home against the brawling Katsidis. Diaz doesn’t fight his opponent’s fight. He becomes the antivenin.
Being a virtual noob, Marquez also has to realize how experienced Diaz is in this weight class. Were the fight at 130, a division that Diaz could probably easily make, the odds might sway heavily in Marquez’ favor. This isn’t a luxury to have, unfortunately.
What’s not unfortunate is what this fight gives to fans of the lightweight division and that’s a clear picture of a legitimate, linear world champion. Something everybody wants in every division. Just as well, wants don’t always mesh with needs and the extra belts that mysteriously showed up for their appointment…well…we just don’t need.
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