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A Test Of Will

Juan Diaz and Julio Diaz are widely considered two of the three best lightweights in the world, the other being Joel Casamayor. But unlike Casamayor, who owns victories over elite fighters, neither Diaz does. The only thing certain about who will finally add a signature victory to his record in this fight is his last name will be Diaz.

Two champions, same weight division, both named Diaz. There the similarity ends. Style-wise, they couldn't be more different.

Juan is a relentless brawler. Julio a classic boxer-puncher. Both are very good at what they do. This unification fight will probably come down to one intangible: when both fighters are forced to dig deep, who has the power to impose his will.

Will power is something the 24-year-old Juan has in spades. He is a relentless wrecking machine who always comes forward. He throws a high volume of punches and most remarkably, gets stronger in the championship rounds.

Julio's will power is more subtle. It comes from his superior discipline and the artful way in which he pursues the science of boxing. He is a precision puncher who does not waste shots, a surgeon with gloves. If he throws, he generally connects. Julio's game depends on him dictating the tempo and style of the fight.

Juan has the perfect record, 32-0. Julio is 34-3. But two of those losses came at the hands of better fighters than Juan is at this stage of his career, Angel Manfredy and Jose Luis Castillo.

If Juan has flaws, so far nobody has been able to expose them. Julio, on the other hand has been shown to have difficulty with fighters who do exactly what Juan does best, apply constant pressure.

Julio first demonstrated his vulnerability to pressure -- and a questionable chin -- in 2002 when he fought the undistinguished but hard-punching Juan Valenzuela, who was 14-4 at the time. When the bell rang to start the fight, Valenzuela came out charging, throwing everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at Julio. Battered around and unable to escape, Julio was toast with just under two minutes gone in the first round, and the referee stopped it.

The next time Julio would meet a fighter who would not give him breathing room it was one of a much higher caliber. Castillo was at the height of his power in 2005 when he defended his title against Julio. For 10 rounds Castillo stalked the elusive Julio, who was hard-pressed to utilize his superior foot and hand speed to stick and run. The times when Castillo managed to corral Julio, the hard-hooking champion dealt out some serious pain. Castillo's power eventually took its toll and Julio never made it out of round 10.

If Juan has flaws, so far nobody has been able to expose them. Julio, on the other hand has been shown to have difficulty with fighters who do exactly what Juan does best, apply constant pressure.

For this fight with Juan, Julio has made it clear he has no intention of going toe-to-toe with the "Baby Bull." "I'm going to box him," Julio said. "You can't hit what you don't see."

In that regard, Julio fights a lot like Floyd Mayweather Jr. Call him Mayweather Lite. But unlike the unbeaten Mayweather, Julio has not always been successful turning a fight into a boxing match in the center of the ring.

It is also worth noting that before facing Castillo, Julio said basically the same thing he did for this fight: "One of the best ways to beat Castillo comes natural to me. Be a boxer, [be] intelligent and out box. That's my natural style."

Juan has one glaring flaw. Whenever he corners an opponent, Juan sometimes abandons precision punching and lets fly a torrent of wide, looping power shots. More often than not, this is how he immobilizes and breaks down an opponent.

But when throwing wide, Juan leaves his whole middle open for counter attack, especially from a precision puncher. Julio throws nothing but clean, crisp shots. Should Juan morph into a wild Ricardo Mayorga, Julio has the skill â€" at least on paper -- to exploit him. The question is when a Juan Diaz is assaulting you, will you even be able to fire back.

Juan and his longtime manager/trainer Willie Savannah, are very much aware of this weakness.

"We've been working on that for his last five or six fights," said Savannah, who began training Juan when he was a roly-poly, eight-year-old kid. "He does throws those wide punches when he gets excited. We've been teaching him he's got to be able to get under control. He gets a guy on the ropes and goes crazy."

One way to keep an excitable fighter under control is having a calm trainer with world class experience like Ronnie Shields. Unfortunately for Juan, who has been trained the past 16 fights by Shields, he will not have him in his corner this time.

When Evander Holyfield got his championship shot against Sultan Ibragimov, the four-time world champion asked Shields to train him for what could be a history-making fifth grab of a heavyweight belt. As luck would have it, Holyfield's fight is the same night as Juan's, Oct. 13. Savannah forced Shields to make a quick choice, and Shields reluctantly parted ways with Juan.

In Shields' place, Savannah has inserted Derwin Richards, who has worked with Juan since he was eight and was Shields' assistant during those 16 fights. Richards, however, has no experience as a chief second, and is not known for being calm in a corner.

"Ronnie did have a very calming influence," Savannah said. "Derwin is more animated. We've been working with Derwin to be more calm. And I will be in the corner, too."

Shields was also a master game planner. Will that skill be missed? Savannah says no.

"Ronnie was very good at making a game plan," Savannah said. "The trouble with Juan is, when he gets in the ring, the game plan goes out the window. He is going to fight his style. He is going to jump on Julio's ass like he did with (Acelino) Freitas."

Although Julio's chin is somewhat vulnerable, Juan does not have much knockout power. Of Juan's 16 stoppage wins, all but one came by TKO. He wins by wearing down opponents. In order to do so with the elusive Julio, Juan will have to cut off the ring.

Juan demonstrated he could do just that this past April against Freitas, a former elite power-puncher turned boxer at the tail-end of his career. Freitas boxed effectively for the first six rounds, but eventually Juan's constant pressure wore the Brazilian down. Once Juan got inside, Freitas was punished unmercifully in the seventh and eighth rounds. He quit on his stool before the ninth.

Another possible problem for Juan is that Julio has the ability to switch from orthodox fighter to southpaw, often doing so throughout a fight. Savannah is not worried.

"We knew that Julio likes to switch sides a lot, so we had two sparring partners come in who could do that. Juan is comfortable with it," Savannah said.

Savannah has also prepped Juan to take advantage of flaw he says he has detected in Julio's style.

"When Julio tries to escape, it's always to his right, which is why he kept running into left hooks from Castillo," Savannah said.

Juan has a very good left hook.

On paper, Julio has a distinct size advantage. At 5'-9, Julio is three inches taller and also has a three-inch reach advantage, 70-67. Savannah brushes that off as of no consequence.

"That really doesn't matter," Savannah said. "In 90 per cent of Juan's fights, he's been the shorter fighter. The taller they are, the more body they have to expose. Julio being tall works to the advantage of Juan."

One thing is for sure, this should be an exciting fight because both boxers have made it clear this will be a defining moment.

"I've won some big fights," Julio said. "I am a two-time world champion and the current IBF champion, but I haven't gotten the attention that Juan has. I want what he has and I'm coming to get it. I want to be a unified world champion."

Juan says: "I think this is going to be the fight of the year, and maybe the fight of the century, because both Julio Diaz and I want to win so bad. They will have to take me out of the ring on a stretcher for me to lose this fight.

Muhammad Ali once said: Champions aren't made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them-a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill."

"The trouble with Juan is, when he gets in the ring, the game plan goes out the window. He is going to fight his style. He is going to jump on Julio's ass like he did with (Acelino) Freitas."

Juan Diaz vs. Julio Diaz

HBO BAD - Oct. 13, 2007

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