Sad to say, but boxing news this summer has been absorbed with the question of whether or not Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather were actually in negotiations about the fight that they do not plan to have. Much to the glee of Dana White and the UFC, boxing's capacity for self-destruction seems boundless. That moan aside, there is a bout in the offing that deserves a click on the pay-per-view order button.
This Saturday, July 31, Juan "Baby Bull" Diaz (35-3, 17KO) will challenge 36 year old, Juan "Dinamita" Marquez (50-5-1, 37KO) for the lightweight title in Las Vegas. This will be their second meeting. The first contest, in February 2009, ended in a ninth round stoppage for Marquez and was tabbed the fight of the year by Ring magazine. Though they are both coming off losses, Diaz and Marquez are two of the most accomplished boxers in the world and there is every reason to believe that their encore will be as enthralling as their initial encounter.
A three-time world champion, Diaz recently graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in political science. His mother wanted him to be a lawyer and his father dreamed of himbecoming a world champion. Diaz is going to please them both. Unlike some of his pugilist colleagues, he has passionate interests that stretch far beyond the arena. As soon as the final bell rings on his career -- and Diaz assures that it will not be long -- he plans to attend law school.
Diaz qualified for the 2000 Mexican Olympic team and then the verdict came down that he was too young to compete in the Games -- but not too young to fight for pay. He immediately turned professional. I asked Diaz what it was like to campaign as a pro at a mere 16. He laughed, "To tell you the truth, it was pretty easy, only because I was so naive. I really didn't know what I was getting into. I didn't have to think about it." Diaz is only 26, but he has been collecting checks for his punches for a decade now. I pressed him to tell me how his experience of the fight game has evolved. "It is," he said, "much more stressful now. There is so much pressure to win; to get to the next level and the big money fights. The only time that I feel free of the pressure is when I go to sleep and dream of winning this big fight."
There are, of course, many who do not see any redeeming qualities in the art of hitting and avoiding being hit, but don't tell that to this recent college graduate. "Boxing," insisted Diaz, "has taught me that when you want something you have to put in hard work and be disciplined. You have to be consistent, to show up every day, even when you are tired or in a bad mood. You have to keep at it. And not get discouraged. It is the same in life."
Questioned as to how he had strength of will to manage college life while pursuing and defending world titles, Diaz noted, "It was very hard. There were a lot of nights when I wanted to hang around with my friends and just kick back, but I would have a midterm or a paper due. So I would just tell myself that there would be time off in the future." And once again, he would look forward to the hour when his head would hit the pillow and he could dream himself away from his daily mental and physical grind.
In college, Diaz's favorite course was a class on civil liberties. The son of Mexicans who worked unstintingly at multiple jobs, Diaz recently published an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle on the topic of immigration and the controversial Arizona law. Said Diaz, "I understand that it is the responsibility of legislators to protect the interests of the people they represent. I know that illegal immigrants can put a lot of pressure on health care and education. We have to have immigration laws. But the Arizona law infringes on the natural rights that everyone has. Being questioned without probable cause is a violation of rights. It is terrible for immigrants to go around frightened all of the time. I know the economy has a lot do with it, but American attitudes have really hardened and gone south on the issue of immigration."
In his everyday life, Diaz moves fluidly between the classroom and the gym; now he did the same in our conversation, pivoting from politics back to the fight. A left hook artist, Diaz revealed, " The last time I was aggressive -- which I always have to be with my style. But I wasn't thinking. I was much too square and easy to hit. And Marquez is such a smart fighter. I was just rushing in, he turned and found an angle and I got caught. In this fight, I have to think and be aggressive at the same time." At the suggestion that aggression and calmness are not exactly a natural pair, Diaz chuckled and noted, "That's true but you can be both. I am going to be both on fight night -- calm and aggressive."