Juan Diaz was not the Baby Bull Saturday night. Instead he was a fistic artist who painted a red and purple canvas onto the face of brave but badly outclassed Michael Katsidis for 12 punishing rounds at the Toyota Center in Houston.
Yet once the judges' scorecards were tabulated somehow Diaz barely escaped with a split decision, which frankly should be used by the Texas Boxing Commission as proof positive that Houston is not a place where a visitor has to fear losing to a hometown decision. Remarkably judge Glen Hamada not only scored the bout 115-113 for Katsidis but managed to find a way to give him the final five rounds, a judgment that seemed to fly in the face of the facts and the fact of Katsidis' battered and blemished face.
Judge Gale Van Hoy scored the bout a more respectable 116-112 for Diaz while Levi Martinez got the winner right at least but still had it way too close at 115-113 for Diaz.
How these things happen is baffling at times but that's why someone came up with eye glasses. Now all those judges need is to be outfitted with them.
Both fighters were coming off the first losses of their careers so each was seeking to reassert himself in the lightweight division against a strong opponent but it was Diaz who managed to do it with a relentlessly technical assault that left the Australian with his left eye slit open along the lid, his mouth filling with blood from a cut lip and his right cheek badly swollen, discolored and leaking plasma down his face for much of the night.
Somehow Katsidis' cornerman, Brandon Smith, didn't seem to notice any of this damage because he kept telling his fighter how well he was doing despite the fact one eye was closing by halfway through the match and he had by then been converted into a punching bag with feet by Diaz's movement, his jab and his faster hands on the inside.
"That's why you commentate and they judge,'' Smith would say later when asked about the scoring. "It was a close fight but the first judge (Hamada) had it right.''
Not so, mate. Diaz was nothing short of brilliant all night, landing a stiff jab nearly 400 times that set the tone of the fight from the outset. He also literally boxed circles around Katsidis, slipping his punches and then countering him with nasty uppercuts at close quarters and a hard jab and right hand behind it at distance.
"I was going to throw more combinations but the jab was working so good (he didn't bother),'' Diaz (34-1, 17 KO) said after his hand was raised.
Katsidis (23-2, 20 KO) may have been the harder puncher but power meant little because he was seldom in position to land with authority. Diaz was either beating him to the punch or drilling him with a jab that was far more than a range finder. The latter was a mind numbing punch that kept stopping Katsidis' initial charges and then moved him where ever Diaz wanted him to go.
Katsidis tried all night, as is his way, but there was a tinge of desperation to what he attempted from the fight's earliest moments and the more he sought out ways to open up Diaz's tight defenses, the more Diaz changed the shape and color of his bruised and swelling face until the final bell ended what had been a one-sided statement that Diaz' loss to Nate Campbell might have been an aberration but Katsidis' stoppage at the hands of Joel Casamayor was no accident.
"I'm shocked this is what a judge said,'' said HBO Boxing After Dark commentator Lennox Lewis after the decision was announced. "To me, he won every round.''
Perhaps he did but in the end Juan Diaz barely won the fight ... unless you talked to anyone in the Toyota Center except Katsidis, Smith or Glen Hamada, a trio one could easily call the three blind mice were Katsidis not so clearly a man not a mouse.
That was as clear as the victory margin of Juan Diaz.
In the semi-main event, Rocky Juarez fought like a man well past his 28 years but he still found a way to overcome a consistent beating from Jorge Barrios over eight rounds to pull out a victory by slicing open the side of Barrios mouth after beating him down with body shots that suddenly seemed to empty Barrios' tank in Round 9.
At that point, Barrios was in command of the action despite having had two points deducted for highly questionable low blows but once Juarez began to land consistently to the body everything began to change. Barrios (47-4-1, 34 KO) slowed markedly, his mouth hanging open as Barrios fought to suck in enough air to clear his lungs of growing exhaustion.
He never succeeded and Juarez finally caught him with several nasty shots to the face as his mouth hung open in the 11th round. Suddenly Barrios was bleeding badly just as a short right hand to the ear sent him tumbling to the floor. When he arose, his mouth was spouting blood as if a crimson-colored fountain had been turned on full blast behind his lips. The ringside physician and needed little time to ponder Barrios' dilemma before he stopped the fight midway through Round 11.
"I started off slow but once I started landing good body shots his punches weren't effecting me as much,'' Juarez (28-4, 20 KO) said. "Barrios is very dangerous. I knew I had to be careful, landing my body shots accurately and slowly pressuring him, pressuring him.''
Although that is precisely what Juarez did there is no denying he looked old, slow and unable to pull the trigger through the fight's first eight rounds. Barrios surprised him by boxing rather than brawling and Juarez admitted this caused him some confusion as he tried to adjust his planned strategy but the fact is he looked longer in the tooth than a 28 year old fighter should.
"I was very surprised,'' Juarez said. "Barrios is not a fighter who comes out and boxes. At times I didn't understand why he was landing some of his shots.''
Eventually that didn't matter because Rocky Juarez began to land some of his, particularly a growing torrent of body shots that broke down Jorge Barrios until his mouth was filling with his own blood and all the fight had been punched out of him.
Posted 12:00 AM | Sep 7, 2008
HBO BAD - Sept. 6, 2008
Juarez vs Barrios