Juan Diaz did not grow up in wealth, but he never wanted for food. In fact, when he first showed up at a gym in Houston begging to box, he was eight years old and a roly-poly 110 pounds. But he too was hungry.
Saturday night, Diaz, just 23, proved the hungrier warrior as he thoroughly dominated his multi-millionaire fellow belt-holder, putting on relentless pressure until the 31-year-old Freitas quit on his stool after the eighth round.
It was a stunning end to what had been a non-stop action fight, with the younger man, as is his style, constantly coming forward, throwing a high volume of punches and barely showing signs that he had worked up a sweat.
Freitas, once a relentless, toe-to-toe punishing fighter as a junior lightweight, came out from the opening bell as a stick and move boxer, using foot movement and precision punches to hit and run. It was the same style he had employed against Diego Corrales in 2004. For six rounds against the power-punching Corrales, Freitas constantly moved and boxed and scored points. But after six rounds in which he was ahead on the cards, he began to tire, and when Corrales knocked him down three times in the 10th round, Freitas did a "No Mas" and quit.
This time, against a younger and determined fighter, Freitas -- who had temporarily retired after beating Zahir Raheem last year in April -- was winded by the third round and looked to be an accident waiting to happen.
Needing to keep the fight in the middle of the ring to utilize his boxing skills, Freitas (38-2) signaled his stamina problems by constantly letting the unbeaten Diaz (32-0) move him into the ropes. On the ropes, Freitas was able to catch his wind, but he also caught a torrent of punches from Diaz, who worked both the body and head while demonstrating a solid, high-glove defense that prevented Freitas from doing any damage.
The fight turned decisively in the fifth round, when Diaz hurt Freitas with a right hand against the ropes that wobbled him. Diaz tried to finish him off with a flurry of punches, but the older champion survived the round. The writing was on the wall, however. Diaz stepped up the pressure the rest of the way, and Freitas was clearly in survival mode. When Freitas quit, Diaz had landed 222 of 585 punches (38 per cent) and dominated the final four rounds, outlanding Freitas, 125-56.
Freitas, whose warrior image took a heavy hit when he quit on the canvas against Corrales, surely will take a bigger blow after retiring on the stool against Diaz. There is little doubt the Brazilian, an icon in his country the way Manny Pacquiao is in the Philippines, will hang up his gloves.
Diaz, young and with the world ahead of him, told HBO's Max Kellerman after the fight that he wanted to unify the belts in the 135 pound division, and also indicated he'd love to get it on with another relentless attacker, Pacquiao, who fights at 130. That would be a tremendous match-up. For now, Diaz has entered the ranks of elite fighters, and his crowd-pleasing style is sure to make him a superstar.
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