By Cliff Rold
The news came quietly this week.
Considering the source, perhaps the better word would be humbly.
Not yet 28 years old, Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz announced he was calling it a career on Monday, June 13. This being boxing, there is every reason to think it won’ stick. History says former fighters inevitably are seduced by the call of the ring, entranced into becoming current fighters once more.
Bet the exception this time around.
There is no intricate personal knowledge of Diaz here, no more relationship than anyone else who watched his fistic endeavors unfold. No, it’s just a hunch based on what was observed from start to finish.
Part of a strong debutante class in 2000 that featured Jermain Taylor, Rocky Juarez, Ricardo Williams, Brian Viloria, and “Panchito” Bojado, Diaz ends his paid tenure near the head of the class. Men like Williams and Bojado were more physically gifted, but they lacked a certain something Diaz possessed.
That something was evident from early on.
When Williams and Bojado suffered early career upsets, their disappointment was evident but all too non-plussed. When Diaz came off the floor to barely save his “0” with a split decision over Ubaldo Hernandez, he couldn’t make it through the post-fight interview without choking back tears.
Being sports followers, boxing followers in particular, collective fandom had its laughs at the moment. For some it was evidence Diaz was just too soft for the hardest of games. It was irrelevant that Diaz had turned pro little more than a year earlier at 16, that on the day of the Hernandez bout he was still a few weeks shy of 18.
The kid wasn’t going to cut it.
Except he did.
We would learn throughout the 2000’s that those tears reflected a passion boxing always needs more of. He had good but not great hand speed, wasn’t a huge puncher, and could be hit, but damn if he didn’t leave it in the ring and get every ounce out of his talents that he could. For certain he developed one of the better combination punching, steady pressure attacks of his generation.
His generation was probably part of the problem in appreciating him.
Diaz was, relative to boxing, born too soon. He became a boxing star. Had he come of age during the 1980s, 50s, 30s…he’d have been one of the biggest stars in sports. How could he not? His demeanor was, for lack of a better word, wholesome; he fought like hell; and he was going to college.
And he graduated.
Part of the hype around him included those academic pursuits, later his studying for the LSAT’s.
LSAT’s in boxing?
Born in a day better attuned to the sweet science, Diaz might have ended up on the cover of Life Magazine. He was what has become so rare in sports in 2011.
Diaz was the kind of guy a parent could point to as an example, a role model.
What he got living in his time wasn’t so bad. Main event bouts on Showtime and HBO ensured his tuition was paid for and then some. He came up one belt (WBC) short of winning all four of the major alphabet belts at lightweight and for a stretch was regarded as the best 135 lb. fighter in the world. He’d have been favored to best the man who reigned as WBC and lineal champion for most of their shared title time, Joel Casamayor.
The cagey Cuban didn’t seem to want anything to do with Diaz.
Acelino Freitas did. Diaz retired him. Julio Diaz did and found the “Baby Bull” one more mountain at the top of the class he just couldn’t climb. He added their WBO and IBF belts, respectively, in 2007 to the WBA belt he’d picked up in 2004 with a memorable coming out party against rugged Mongolian Lakva Sim.
The wheels came off from there. The wheels always come off somewhere. Veteran Nate Campbell took his belts in a career best performance in early 2008. A bounce back win over tough Michael Katsidis set the stage for Diaz’s greatest fight.
And his worst defeat.
With the fight basically even, Diaz was stopped in round nine of what would go on to be the 2009 choice for Fight of the Year by Ring Magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America. The great Juan Manuel Marquez proved too much for a Diaz who may have fought the finest fight of his life. Coming up short on a day like that is usually a sign of the end nearing.
It was the case.
While Diaz would win his next fight against Paulie Malignaggi, the scoring was controversial enough to force a rematch. Diaz came up well short. The same was true in the rematch with Marquez last year, though he kept his feet throughout.
He might not go down as a capitol “G” great fighter, but no one can say it wasn’t a great career. 35 wins, only 4 defeats, and already a radio show, his own LLC, and a trucking company.
In his farewell statement, Diaz wrote, “Though my fighting career is ending, in many ways, it feels like my professional career is just beginning.”
And a quality chapter in the story of boxing closes.
But wait, there’s more…
Divisional Ratings Update: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Puerto Rican Day Parade Eve: http://www.boxingscene.com/del-valle-gonzalez-continue-nyc-boricua-invasion--40248
Picks of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--40327
Cliff’s Notes… Lebron James is better than Michael Jordan (at choking). Seriously, maybe he should change that tat to read “Chosen Two” because he’s second best…Dirk Nowitzki says give him five years, and he might prove a lot of liars…Green Lantern comes out this weekend. Someone take away Blake Lively’s cell camera. Wait, don’t…I totally think David Haye should wear the beheading t-shirt into the ring with Wladimir Klitschko. Why not? If he wins, the shirt gets even funnier (and it’s already hilarious). If he loses, hey, yep, still hilarious…Sergio Martinez now has his champion’s walkover payday in place. Sure, opponent Darren Barker is probably more competitive than Martinez nuking someone like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. would be, but so what? Good for Martinez after some tough fights but the argument about who has faced the toughest consecutive competition in boxing just ended. Carl Froch won.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]