Juan Manuel Marquez came close to beating Manny Pacquiao last year, which is why he is heavily favored to defeat Juan Diaz. But if styles make fights, Diaz may be a bad fit for Marquez, and he could spring an upset.
When Shane Mosley fought Antonio Margarito in January, the prevailing logic was that because Mosley lost to Miguel Cotto (whom Margarito beat), then Maragarito should win the fight against Shane. What the odds makers who tagged Mosley a 3.5-1 underdog failed to consider, however, was that Margarito's straightforward, one-dimensional style was tailor-made for a multi-skilled opponent with an iron chin like Shane.
Now, similarly faulty logic is being applied to Juan Manuel Marquez's fight with Juan Diaz on Feb. 28 in Houston. Last year, Marquez lost a razor-thin split decision to Manny Pacquiao - the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world - so the thinking goes that the Mexican should find Diaz easier to handle. The problem with that reasoning is that Diaz is a different style of fighter than Pacquiao, and he presents a new set of problems, some of which the 35-year-old Marquez (49-4-1, 36 KOs) may not be able to answer.
Chief among these issues for Marquez is that Diaz's game consists of applying constant pressure and throwing a high volume of punches as he continually crowds his opponent. Diaz likes to fight at a pace he is comfortable with but his opponents are not. That's why the Houston native's longtime manager, Willie Savannah, is confident enough with his fighter to predict victory in no uncertain terms. "I guarantee you Juan is going to beat Marquez, and it's going to be a one-sided fight," Savannah says. "The world is going to see the very best Juan Diaz they have ever seen. Our game plan is pressure, pressure and more pressure."
The 25-year-old Diaz (34-1, 17 KOs) is a different animal than Pacquiao. "Juan is going to fight Marquez all night long," Savannah says. "Pacquiao only fights in spurts. He pressures you and then backs away." When Pacquiao did back away from Marquez, he gave the Mexican the room he needed to do what he does best - box and score points. If Diaz is on his game, he will not allow Marquez that space and could effectively shut him down. In order for Marquez to get away from Diaz, he would need swift feet, which he doesn't possess.
At 35, Marquez moves well enough against most fighters, but will need to do better against the fleet-footed Diaz. The energy Marquez expends trying to keep Diaz at a distance could carry a bigger price tag than he can afford, leaving him fatigued as the fight heads into the late rounds.
"I'm one of those people who don't think any athlete gets better with age, just more experienced," Savannah says. "If people got better with age, there ain't no need to create Viagra. There's a 10-year difference in age here. I sure don't expect to see a fighter who's going to be 36 in August keeping up with Juan."
One of the few who believe Savannah may be right is HBO commentator Larry Merchant. "Diaz, who is younger, more aggressive and will be fighting before a big home crowd, can win," he says. "I'm not saying he will win, but I think there's a serious case for his chances."
Merchant is aware, however, that the age and energy advantage Diaz enjoys can be negated by a wily older boxer, as we have seen twice in the last four months. "Just keep in mind that veteran boxers like Hopkins and Mosley looked years younger versus opponents who came straight to them," Merchant says, referring to Kelly Pavlik and Margarito respectively.
Marquez is undeniably one of the wiser older boxers in the game. He has been fighting professionally for 16 years and has been trained by the great technician Nacho Beristain. But along with 16 years of wisdom comes 16 years of mileage. For Diaz to beat Marquez, he will have to be on top of his game, which he wasn't last year when he lost his three belts to another significantly older fighter, 36-year-old Nate Campbell. In that fight, he was distracted by an ongoing contract feud with promoter Don King and fought most of the night with a severe cut over his left eye. Diaz was outworked by Campbell, who threw an astonishing 1,145 punches - the 10th highest output in fights tracked by CompuBox - and connected on 414, the 12th most connects ever recorded by the punch stat service.
Still, Savannah is confident his young fighter will be up to the task this time. "Juan is in tremendous shape," he says. "I have never seen him so focused. I always thought he was 100-percent focused for his fights, so now he is 200-percent. Juan knows this is the toughest fight of his life, and at 25 he's ready for his breakout fight."