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Malignaggi let Diaz know that junior welterweight won’t be easy

22
Aug

The aggression of Juan Diaz (right) was rewarded by the judges who scored Saturday's competitive fight with Paul Malignaggi (left) for the former unified lightweight titleholder. However, Malignagi's strong showing let Diaz know that the 140-pound division will be a lot harder to conquer than the 135-pound division was. Photo / Naoki Fukuda

Juan Diaz has been there and done that in the lightweight division.

The 25-year-old Houston native has won three world titles, dominated veteran beltholders Acelino Freitas and Julio Diaz, and engaged Juan Manuel Marquez in what is still the leading candidate for Fight of the Year in a losing effort in February.

Aside from a rematch with the Mexican legend, there was nothing more for Diaz to prove at lightweight. That's why the college grad’s manager and promoter targeted the junior welterweight division even before Saturday’s 12-round bout with former 140-pound titleholder Paul Malignaggi.



There is no shortage of young, hungry junior welterweight titleholders who would make for fascinating matchups against Diaz, including Timothy Bradley, Amir Khan and Devon Alexander.

However, Diaz’s performance against Malignaggi is an indication that the 140-pound division might be a lot tougher for the pudgy pressure fighter than lightweight was.

Diaz defeated Malignaggi by scores of 115-113, 116-112 and 118-110 in front of a hometown crowd, and arguably partisan judges, at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Diaz got the job the done, landing the more effective blows in the majority of rounds, but he did not exhibit his usual relentless form or put forth a dominating effort against the speedy stick-and-move specialist from New York.

From the onset of the HBO-televised bout, Malignaggi not only neutralized Diaz’s normally high punch output and signature body attack with a quick jab and lateral movement, but he was also able to shove the naturally smaller man back with his left shoulder and forearm.

Both fighters sustained cuts over their left eyes after two rounds of action but Diaz suffered a particularly nasty gash over the smaller cut — caused by either a Malignaggi elbow or an accidental head butt, depending on who you ask — which may account for some for his uncharacteristically measured effort. But most of the credit should go to Malignaggi, who turned in his sharpest performance since his title-winning effort against Lovemore N'dou in June of 2007.

Diaz took advantage of Malignaggi’s defensive flaw of pulling back with his hands down, landing double and triple left hooks to the Brooklynite’s body and head throughout the bout, but he never threatened to seriously hurt or overwhelm his quicker and bigger opponent.

That does not bode well for Diaz (35-2, 17 knockouts) if he ever faces Bradley, Khan or Alexander.

All three 140-pound titleholders have fast hands. Bradley’s physical strength and conditioning are second to none. Khan’s constant lateral movement makes Malignaggi look like a plodder. Alexander’s southpaw jab and counter-punching ability will give any fighter fits.

And Bradley, Khan and Alexander have considerably more “pop” in their punches than Malignaggi, who only has five knockouts among his 26 victories.

Malignaggi (26-3, 5 KOs) believes the Diaz fight should have been the 22nd decision victory of his hardluck career, but he saw a screwing coming in Saturday’s bout.

For weeks leading up to the fight, Malignaggi complained to anyone who would listen about the deck being stacked against him. He conceded the location, the weight (agreeing to a 138¾-pound catchweight) and the size of the ring (a small one that favored the pressure fighter). All he asked for, but did not receive, were neutral judges.

Gale Van Hoy, who scored the lopsided 118-110 tally, is from Texas. The referee for the bout, Laurence Cole, is also from Texas (and is the son of the head of the state’s boxing commission, Dickie Cole, who insisted on the officials for Saturday’s bout).

Malignaggi complained about Raul Caiz Sr., who turned in a reasonable 115-113 scorecard, because he believed the California official is too close to Diaz’s Los Angeles-based promoter Golden Boy Promotions.

David Sutherland, who scored the bout 116-112 for Diaz, is from Oklahoma, but he’s also relatively inexperienced in judging world-class bouts.

HBO’s “unofficial official” Harold Lederman scored the bout 115-113 for Malignaggi. HBO commentator and former heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis also thought Malignaggi won the fight, stating that boxer “controlled the fight with his jab.”

“At least somebody scored the fight right,” Malignaggi said during his post-fight interview with Max Kellerman after being told of Lederman’s scorecard. “Raul Caiz is Golden Boy’s gopher … and he had the closest scorecard!”

When asked if he would like to fight Diaz again, Malignaggi continued his tirade on the politics of the sport.

“Of course I’m not going to get a rematch,” he said. “Boxing is full of s__t! Diaz can call out the winner of Mayweather-Marquez. I gotta take anything that will come my way because I lost to Diaz. I’m an opponent now.”

There’s truth to Malignaggi’s words, but hopefully his strong showing against Diaz ensures that he’s a high-profile opponent.

If Bradley, Khan, and Alexander can’t get their mitts on Diaz, they would have no problem testing their mettle against a well-known former titleholder like Malignaggi.

But one of the trio will probably fight Diaz sometime next year.

Never mind what Malignaggi said. Diaz is not going to call out Floyd Mayweather. Anyone who goes life and death with Malignaggi is getting wiped out by Mayweather.

Diaz did call out Marquez during his post-fight interview. But after the war they waged in February and the huge pay check Marquez will receive against Mayweather in September, it’s doubtful that the future hall of famer would grant Diaz a rematch.

That fight would be a step backward for Marquez, even though fans would love to see it.

But what fan wouldn’t want to watch Diaz challenge Bradley, who has an aggressive style like the Houstonian?

“I would make that fight in a heartbeat,” Bradley’s co-promoter Gary Shaw told RingTV.com a few hours before the Diaz-Malignaggi fight. “The only stipulation I have on that fight being made is that it has to happen on Showtime.

“But it would be great fight for Tim and Juan, a great fight for the sport and for the fans.”

After the bout Shaw was disgusted with Van Hoy’s scorecard, “118-110? That was terrible!” and even more eager to make a fight with Diaz.

Shaw said Bradley, who is coming off a third-round TKO of Diaz-conqueror Nate Campbell, will return to action on a Showtime-televised card on Dec. 5.

Possible opponents include Bradley’s mandatory challenger Lamont Peterson and Khan.

“Tim is willing to travel to the UK for that fight, which (Khan’s promoter) Frank Warren thinks he might be able to make into a stadium fight,” Shaw said.

The first half of 2010 is open for both Bradley and Diaz, who deserves a rest after two tough fights in 2009.

Actually, Diaz deserves a vacation for taking on the best fighters in the 135-pound division while finishing up college.

Since the start of 2007, Diaz has only fought top contenders, titleholders and the true champion of the lightweight division, battling Freitas, Diaz, Campbell, Michael Katsidis, Marquez and now Malignaggi in succession.

It hasn’t been an easy road but Diaz has always delivered compelling fights for the fans.

The junior welterweight division promises more compelling matchups and an even harder road.

Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]

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