Diaz vs. Malignaggi: Head to head
JUAN DIAZ vs. PAULIE MALIGNAGGI
When: Saturday, Aug. 22
Where: Toyota Center, Houston
TV: HBO, 9:45 pm. ET (live)/ PT (delayed)
Weight: Junior welterweight (140 pounds)
Title(s) at stake: None
Also on the card: Malcolm Klassen vs. Robert Guerrero, 12 rounds, for Klassen's IBF junior lightweight title; Daniel Jacobs vs. Ishe Smith, 10 rounds, middleweights.
Height / Reach: 5-6 / 67
Turned pro: 2000
Record: 34-2 (17 knockouts)
Trainer: Ronnie Shields
The Ring rating: No. 1 lightweight
Titles: WBA lightweight (2004-08, lost it to Nate Campbell); WBO lightweight (2007-08, lost it to Campbell); IBF lightweight (2007-08, lost it to Campbell).
Biggest victories: Lakva Sim, July 17, 2004, UD 12 (wins WBA lightweight title); Acelino Freitas, April 28, 2007, RTD 8; Julio Diaz, Oct. 13, 2007, TKO 9 (adds WBO and IBF lightweight titles); Michael Katsidis, Sept. 6, 2008, SD 12.
Losses: Nate Campbell, March 8, 2008, SD 12 (lost WBA, WBO and IBF lightweight titles); Juan Manuel Marquez, Feb. 28, 2009, TKO 9 (for vacant WBA and WBO lightweight titles).
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Turned pro: 2001
Record: 26-2 (5 knockouts)
Trainer: Serif Younan
The Ring rating: No. 5 junior welterweight
Titles: IBF junior welterweight (2007-08, vacated)
Biggest victories: Edner Cherry, Feb. 17, 2007, UD 12; Lovemore N’dou, June 16, 2007, UD 12 (wins IBF junior welterweight title); Herman Ngoudjo, Jan 5, 2008, UD 12; N’dou, May 24, 2008, SD 12.
Losses: Miguel Cotto, June 10, 2006, UD 12 (for WBO junior welterweight title); Ricky Hatton, Nov. 22, 2008, TKO 11.
Skills: Malignaggi is known as a boxer but he has underrated toughness, a penchant for grappling and he sometimes smothers his punches when in close. Diaz is often called a relentless brawler, which is only half true. He does display non-stop aggression but he delivers it with underrated skill and technique. Both fighters are solid boxers who work everything off good jabs but often rely on their grit and determination as much as their skills. Diaz has better upper-body technique (he delivers his punches with more leverage and keeps his gloves up); Malignaggi has better footwork and lateral movement. Diaz blocks punches better; Malignaggi turns away from punches better. Neither fighter turns his hook or right cross over, but both have nice, well-timed straight rights.
Power: Neither fighter possesses knockout power, but Malignaggi basically brings amateur-level pop to the world-class pro ranks. The Brooklyn native has not scored a stoppage since a sixth-round TKO of Kevin Watts win 2003. Diaz hasn’t scored any cold knockouts of world-class fighters but his hands are heavy and busy enough to have forced titleholders Acelino Freitas and Julio Diaz to quit on their stools. Diaz also repeatedly stunned Juan Manuel Marquez in their slugfest in February.
Speed and athletic ability: The two are surprisingly close in speed and athletic ability despite Diaz’s squat, pudgy appearance. Diaz has underrated quickness and probably delivers combinations faster than Malignaggi does. However, the former junior welterweight titleholder likely throws faster straight single punches, such as the jab and right hand. Malignaggi is the more fluid athlete when he elects to get on his toes and utilize the ring. He’s at his best when operating from a distance, which gives him a chance to take advantage of his excellent hand-eye (and foot-eye) coordination and allows him to get into a rhythm. When Malignaggi is in the zone, he has everything but punching power.
Defense: Both are surprisingly close in defensive prowess despite Diaz’s ultra-aggressive style. Although Diaz is a volume puncher who risks committing to his opponent’s body, he keeps his hands up and his feet are not stationary when he gets in close. Diaz can circle his opponent as he attacks on the inside and this ability keeps all but the most seasoned vets from zeroing in on him. Although Malignaggi is a reflexive boxer by nature, he has a few flaws that open him up for right hands: he keeps his left hand low (and usually jabs from his hip) and he backs straight out with his hands down and his head up. However, when he’s able to establish his jab (and distance), Malignaggi is very good at turning and twisting away from incoming punches even as he backs away or circles his opponent. He also hides his chin well when he’s in close (usually while tying his opponent up).
Experience: Diaz doesn’t just have eight more pro bouts, he’s faced the far better competition, especially over the past 2¾ years, during which he’s fought (in succession) Freitas, Diaz, Campbell, Katsidis and Marquez.
Chin: Both fighters are coming off high-profile stoppages but those losses were to elite veterans. Both fighters have proven the ability to take hard punches from strong fighters. Diaz took the shots of Lakva Sim, Freitas and Katsidis. Malignaggi absorbed the punches of Cotto, Ndou and Ngoudjo.
Conditioning: Don’t judge Diaz by the spare tire he has around his waist; just look at his incredible work rate against top-rated opponents in bouts that go into the late rounds. That should tell you all you need to know about his conditioning.
Wear and tear: Diaz edges Malignaggi in experience because he’s faced more top-level fighters and his losses to those veterans were particularly punishing. Diaz probably absorbed more damage in his losses to Campbell and Marquez than Malignaggi did in his losses to Cotto and Hatton.
Corner: Diaz has consistency and superior experience in his corner. Ronnie Shields has been Diaz’s head trainer for years, missing only one of the fighter’s last 20 fights. Shields, a former 140-pound contender and title challenger, has worked with the likes of Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Mike Tyson and the late Vernon Forrest and Arturo Gatti. Malignaggi traded in Buddy McGirt (who replaced the Brooklynite’s longtime coach Billy Giles after the Cotto fight) for Serif Younan, a budding young coach who trains out of the Coney Island Boxing Club, shortly after his loss to Hatton. Malignaggi is the first world-class pro fighter Younan has served as the head trainer.
Outcome: Diaz will come out blazing and press Malignaggi harder than the New Yorker has ever experienced. However, Malignaggi will survive by tying Diaz up on the inside and employing grappling tactics that will both frustrate and slow down the hometown hero enough for him to get his jab and footwork working. Malignaggi will have his moments in the middle rounds, landing his jab and a single head-snapping hooks and straight rights, but he will catch his share of long-range punches from Diaz. The form of both fighters will fall off as fatigue sets in during the late rounds. Both will be desperate to win the final rounds but Diaz, spurred on by a loud Houston crowd, will dig a little deeper and close a little stronger.
Prediction: Diaz by unanimous decision.