Last year Juan Manuel Marquez's powerful right hand knocked Juan Diaz out of a grueling battle that would later be named 2009's Fight of the Year. Now the two heavy-hitting lightweights are sharing a bill once again-and with both fighters coming off career-damaging setbacks, you can expect them to leave it all in the ring.
"I think the rematch will be just as exciting as the first fight," says Emanuel Steward, legendary trainer and HBO analyst. "It will be like Barrera and Pacquiao. It's in their nature. We've got two fighters who are real warriors."
By the time they enter the ring, anticipation in the Mandalay Bay Arena should be at a fever pitch, thanks to a power-packed, three-fight undercard. "This is without question the most stacked pay-per-view card we have ever put on," says Oscar De La Hoya, president of Golden Boy Promotions. The opening bout features former featherweight champion Jorge Linares (28-1, 18 KOs), who will be looking to rebound from a shocking first-round knockout when he faces perennial contender and Olympic silver medalist Rocky Juarez (28-6, 20 KOs). The second fight sees Robert Guerrero (26-1-18) taking on Cuban legend Joel Casamayor (37-4-1) in a battle of former champions. The final bout before the main event will pit two undefeated fighters battling for a vacant world title. All eyes will be on rising star Daniel Jacobs (20-0, 17 KO), when he takes on Russian Dmitry Pirog (16-0, 13 K0s) in a fight which could have major implications for the moribund middleweight division.
In the Marquez-Diaz rematch, both boxers are coming off devastating losses, and they should be hell-bent on regaining their luster. "Both fighters have something to prove," Steward said. "They must look impressive. Their credibility is at stake because both guys have lost in humiliating fashion."
Diaz, more than Marquez, is in a make-or-break situation. Counting his first career defeat to Nate Campbell in March of 2008, Diaz has lost three of his last five fights. Some say he only escaped another defeat in his first bout with Paulie Malignaggi because of hometown scoring. In the rematch at a neutral site, Malignaggi took Diaz to the cleaners, winning in dominating fashion. "Juan Diaz may be 26 chronologically, but as a fighter he looks like he's 30," says Bob Papa, the play-by-play announcer for HBO's Boxing After Dark. "He's in sort of an in-between land. On one hand you know he's not going to get any better, and on the other you can't say he's shot. What you can say is he has probably peaked."
De La Hoya does not agree. "Whether he wins or loses, Juan Diaz will probably still fight again because that's the type of warrior he is. He wants to become world champion again. He has something to fall back on; yes, he can become a lawyer, but he's on a mission right now. That mission is to beat the guy that beat him because he knows he can do it."
Marquez has plenty of incentive to not let that happen. He's fully aware that he must win to remain on the pound-for-pound list, where's he been a mainstay for more than three years. The 36-year-old future of Hall of Famer has lost two of his last four fights, and in both victories he teetered on the brink of defeat before pulling out late-round TKOs. Marquez hasn't looked like a top-tier fighter since March of 2008, when he lost a very close split decision to Manny Pacquiao.
Perhaps that slugfest with the now pound-for-pound king took its toll on Marquez. In his next fight he had to go all-out late to beat the 39-year-old Casamayor. In the 11th round, ahead on just one scorecard and tied with the Cuban on two others, Marquez scored a TKO with five seconds left in the round.
Marquez also needed a late surge against Diaz, who had dominated most of the earlier rounds. Diaz began to tire and Marquez found that extra reserve to win a 9th-round TKO with the scorecards very close. Not only was that extra something missing in his last fight against Floyd Mayweather, the rest of his game seemed to have gone south from the opening bell. Never before dominated in four losses spanning a stellar 16-year career, Marquez was overwhelmed by Mayweather in a virtual shutout.
"Marquez is not the same guy he was seven years ago, or even three years ago," Papa says. "When you watch Marquez fight now, in your mind's eye you have a vision of Juan Manuel Marquez and how he will react in the fight. So you watch and you wait for it to happen, but it doesn't. Maybe he hits the switch but the light doesn't go on."
"Floyd was just too big and too fast for him. I don't think you can say that his fight with Floyd is a true indication of where he is now."
Steward doesn't see it that way. He dismisses the Mayweather fight as an aberration, a combination of a mismatch and Marquez's decision to put on weight (142 pounds). "For Juan Manuel, his loss to Floyd was almost embarrassing," Steward says. "He thought he had to put on weight to fight Floyd, but in putting weight on a frame that couldn't handle it he lost some speed. He was in the ring with a very fast fighter and the reduction of his own speed cost him. Floyd was just too big and too fast for him. I don't think you can say that his fight with Floyd is a true indication of where he is now."
It might be overstating the situation to say Marquez and Diaz are fighting not to lose, but it isn't that far off, given their recent history. What may separate these boxers is a subtle difference in what's at stake. "I think it will be another kind of thrilling slugfest, and at the end my gut tells me that Marquez might find a way to win," Papa says. "As much as I love Diaz, he has options in his life. Marquez may be fighting for more."
The undercard also features some intriguing story lines. Linares, a Venezuelan who lives in Japan, won his first 27 fights and a championship. He was considered one of the sport's future superstars until he suffered a stunning first-round TKO loss to also unbeaten but unheralded Juan Carlos Salgado last year. In his comeback fight, Linares only managed to win a lackluster majority decision over a boxer with seven career losses, including defeats in three of his last four fights. Linares badly needs to defeat Juarez in convincing fashion in order to put himself back on track to stardom. But Juarez, like Casamayor, has never been an easy out. Five times Juarez has earned shots at a title, and has come up short in each instance. Four of those losses came at the hands of elite fighters, including a split decision to Marco Antonio Barrera, followed by a close unanimous decision defeat in their rematch. Juarez also lost a razor thin decision to Humberto Soto, currently a top tier lightweight champion. Two of the other losses were to Marquez and unbeaten champion Chris John.
Guerrero has lost just once in his career, a surprising split decision in 2005 to journeyman Gamaliel Diaz. Since then, Guerrero has won 10 straight with two no contests. Always popular, Guerrero gained many more fans when he cancelled a scheduled fight with Michael Katsidis earlier this year to go home and help his wife battle cancer. Casamayor, meanwhile, may be 39, but he's still a very difficult challenge for any fighter. He has won six of his last seven fights and in his four career losses nobody was able to dominate him. Two defeats were by split decisions to Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. The late round TKO by Marquez was a fight that was up for grabs at the time. His lone unanimous decision loss was to Acelino Freitas, but the scores were 112-114 on all three cards. As for the Jacobs-Pirog matchup, fans will be wondering if "The Chosen One" can truly be the one who restores glamour to the foundering middleweight division. "The division has been waiting for four years for a star to come along and Jacobs could be it," Steward says.
Posted 12:00 AM | Jul 21, 2010
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