Thursday, June 08, 2023  |



Night belongs to Marquez

Fighters Network

HOUSTON – Fight fans in Houston were treated to two terrific fights – two of the best of the year – but their hearts were broken as their native sons came up short on Saturday night.

However, they have no reason to be ashamed of Juan Diaz, who arguably gave Juan Manuel Marquez the toughest fight in the future hall-of-famer’s career before getting caught and knocked out in the ninth round of their world lightweight title bout.

The same goes for Rocky Juarez, who fought the best fight of his eight-year pro career but had to settle for a draw against Indonesia’s talented Chris John in their spirited featherweight title bout.

Both Diaz (34-2, 17 knockouts) and Juarez (28-5, 20 KOs) are skilled and courageous. Diaz is 25. Juarez is 28. They are young. They will be back.

However, the night belonged to the old man from Mexico. The manner in which the 35-year-old world lightweight champion withstood the torrid pace set by Diaz and eventually came back from the young challenger’s relentless, swarming attack was nothing short of miraculous.

Anyone who doubted Marquez’s hall-of-fame credentials must now give the Mexico City native his long overdue respect. Marquez (50-4-1, 37 KOs) is arguably an all-time great fighter.

He’s won titles in three divisions: featherweight, where he held multiple belts; junior lightweight, where he beat fellow Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera to win it; and lightweight, where he knocked out borderline hall of famer Joel Casamayor to earn THE RING championship.

Marquez went 0-1-1 in two fights with Manny Pacquiao that produced 24 classic rounds of action and drama, and many observers believe he should have won both bouts.

Saturday night in Texas, he turned back the challenge of the second best lightweight in the world in what might be the most impressive performance of a career that began in 1993.

Many among the 14,571 that packed the Toyota Center thought Marquez was on his way to being stopped by Diaz in the same manner the Houston native overwhelmed former talented titleholders Acelino Freitas and Julio Diaz.

Diaz pressed and worked over Marquez for four brutally one-sided rounds, repeatedly stunning the champion along the ropes, and then went tit for tat with the master technician in rounds five, six and seven, landing most of the punches of consequence.

However, no disrespect to Freitas and Julio Diaz, but Marquez has more than talent and he’s more than a mere titleholder. Marquez is among the proudest champions ever produced by Mexico, and his skill and technique is on par with Bernard Hopkins.

Marquez’s ring generalship is so tight that fans and the media often overlook his warrior’s heart.

Marquez, who fought with a cut and swelling over his right eye, had the look of a tired old fighter after the sixth round. Only his intense pride kept him in the fight.

He’s a practitioner of the Sweet Science, but the warrior’s mettle is there. Just ask Diaz, whose right eye was cut by an uppercut from Marquez in the eighth round, which was the opening the champion needed to change the complexion of the bout.
Marquez, suddenly spurred on by the sight of Diaz’s blood, landed another uppercut and two hooks that wobbled the bold young challenger before the end of the round.

In the ninth, Marquez was finally punching with the authority a fighter with 54 bouts should. A right hand to the temple hurt Diaz and set him up for follow-up punches that put him flat on face. Only Diaz’s incredible heart and conditioning allowed him to get up. However, the master fighter measured him for a right uppercut that instantly caused him to collapse, ending the bout with sudden, chilling finality at 2:40 of the round.

“I got caught by a good punch,” Diaz said afterward. “There was nothing I could do. I thought I was ahead by a round or two. The cut hurt me. The blood was dripping into my right eye and I couldn’t see.”

Diaz should hold his head up. He’s a damn good fighter, as Marquez acknowledged after the fight.

“I feel extremely happy because I beat the best,” Marquez said afterward. “(Diaz) came to work, he came to box. He hurt me with one of his body shots. He was strong and he threw a lot of punches, but I knew how to contain him.

“The fight was even and then I started moving and avoiding his punches. When I got the first knockdown, I knew I had to go at him with everything I had.”

Everything he had was more than enough for Marquez to retain his lightweight title and No. 2 position on everybody’s pound-for-pound list.

Marquez would like nothing more than a third shot at the No. 1 pound-for-pounder, Pacquiao. However the Filipino icon has a May 2 fight with junior welterweight champ Ricky Hatton, and Marquez doesn’t believe either fighter will face him when they are done with their business. So the he is looking at another future hall of famer, who happens to be “retired” at the moment.

“If Floyd Mayweather is the best, I want to fight the best,” Marquez said.

Go ahead and make Mayweather the favorite in that potential showdown, but don’t count Marquez out. A true champion can never be counted out.


The co-featured bout of the Golden Boy Promotions card was not nearly as dramatic as the main event, but it was an excellent 12-round featherweight contest – one that ended up in a unanimous dead heat.

Juarez’s quest for a title belt continues.

The 2000 Olympic silver medalist came up short in three previous title bouts against future hall of famers Marco Antonio Barrera and Marquez, and he suffered the same fate against John, who was fighting in the U.S. for the first time.

Juarez walked John (42-0-2, 22 KOs) down for most of the bout, jabbing the taller titleholder well from the outside and landing hard body shots and right hands to the head, but his effort was only good enough to earn a draw by indentical scores of 114-114.

The skilled Indonesian boxer, who employed a stick-and-move strategy that would have made Muhammad Ali proud and heaped considerable damage on Juarez’s face in the middle, retained his WBA title, and the Houston native came up empty handed once again.

“I thought I won the fight,” said Juarez, who needed to win the last two rounds on all three judges’ scorecards to salvage the draw. “I gave up in the middle rounds, I lost some of them, but it was a great show (for Houston).

“I wanted to win the title in front of my hometown fans, but the rounds go by so fast you don’t realize the fight is almost over. I came out hard in the last rounds, and I thought I won them.”

Juarez, who suffered cuts and considerable swelling around both eyes, almost willed himself to a victory. His late-rounds rally was impressive, as was John’s athletic prowess, durability and boxing skills.

“I can handle Rocky,” John said after the fight. “I didn’t run. Everyone thought I would run, but I didn’t. I thought I dominated him. He was a tough guy, but I thought I won easy.”

The ringside press was split over which featherweight deserved to win the contest, with scores as divergent as 116-112 for both fighters.

One thing that everyone could agree on was that it was a quality bout between two quality fighters.

Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]