Diaz past the battle of wounded knee, ready to battle on
Many thought David Diaz's career was over after he absorbed a frightful beating from Manny Pacquiao in 2008, but only a knee injury kept him out of the ring. The former lightweight titleholder is back in a high-profile bout – vs. Humberto Soto – on the Pacquiao-Clottey pay-per-view undercard on Saturday. Photo / Chris Cozzone-Fightwireimages.com
A quick glance at David Diaz’s line-by-line record reveals a 15-month layoff following his June 2008 knockout loss to Manny Pacquiao. If you saw the Pacquiao-Diaz fight, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Chicago veteran took an extended break. The most spectacular offensive fighter on the planet dished out nine rounds of one-sided punishment against an opponent with the heart of a lion and the head movement of a quadriplegic.
But the 15-month vacation wasn’t for the reasons you would assume. It wasn’t because Diaz needed time to recuperate and rejuvenate. It wasn’t because a doctor prescribed rest, rest and more rest.
Diaz felt physically and mentally recovered from the savage Pacquiao beating within a matter of days. If it were up to him, he would have fought again in 2008. But the gods of good health had other plans, and the freak-injury gods were in on those plans as well.
“For being laid out like I was against Pacquiao, my body, it was good, man,” Diaz told RingTV.com. “The Monday after the fight, I was back in the gym, and everyone was like, ‘What are you doing here?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I’m thinking about just working out.’ They’re like, ‘Get the heck out of here!’ They kicked me out of the gym. So I was just relaxing, wanting to get back in the gym a couple of weeks later, and then it was one thing after another with my knee.”
First the doctors discovered two pieces of loose cartilage in Diaz’s knee, which meant scheduling arthroscopic surgery for September of 2008. The surgery was a success, but the rehab wasn’t, as Diaz admits “I didn’t do my rehab right.” That set the timeline back a bit, and then it reached rain-cloud-following-him-around status in December of 2008 when Diaz re-injured the knee.
He didn’t re-injure it sparring in the gym. He didn’t re-injure it doing roadwork, or even playing a game of pick-up hoops. He did it shoveling snow.
“A lot of people think that I was down and out because I took 15 months off,” Diaz said. “Nah, that’s not what it was. Yeah, the spirit was down because I didn’t accomplish what I set out to accomplish, and that takes a little bit of time to get back up from. But I did get back up from it, and the layoff was just because of injuries that had nothing to do with the Pacquiao fight.”
As those who’ve followed Diaz’s career closely know, the 15 months of inactivity he experienced between losing to Pacquiao and winning an untelevised 10-round decision over Jesus Chavez last September didn’t even represent the longest layoff of his pro career. In 2000, he was burnt out on training, struggling to make weight and dealing with the emotional hardships of his brother dying and his mother falling ill. He ended up out of boxing for more than two years in his physical prime before launching his first comeback.
The repeated stops and starts have created an odd career trajectory for Diaz. He was a prospect with an Olympic pedigree when he turned pro at age 20 but has made all of his significant paydays in his 30s.
Diaz was unusually slow out of the gate. Through his first six pro fights, he hadn’t knocked anybody out. And it wasn’t as though he was feather-fisted; later in his career, he enjoyed a streak where he knocked out 11 opponents in a row. He just couldn’t quite get anything to fall into place early on.
And that makes it downright remarkable that of all the 1996 U.S. Olympians, a much heralded class when they turned pro, Diaz is probably the second most relevant in 2010. Obviously, Floyd Mayweather tops that list. And you could make a case for Eric Morel above Diaz, though the aging bantamweight technician certainly hasn’t been in the high-profile matchups the last few years that Diaz has been in.
Aside from Mayweather and possibly Morel, Diaz has clearly outlasted the rest of his Olympic teammates, an unlikely scenario if you’d asked anyone in 1996. Or in 2000. Or even in 2005.
David Reid and Fernando Vargas are both long gone. Antonio Tarver is active as a broadcaster but hasn’t fought in 10 months and hasn’t won in two years. Nate Jones, Lawrence Clay-Bey and Albert Guardado Jr. are ancient history. Zahir Raheem is more recent history. Terrance Cauthen is still active but never reached contender status. And Rhoshii Wells was shot and killed in 2008.
There have been triumphs and tragedies among the 1996 Olympians, but perhaps the greatest surprise is that Diaz, who wasn’t even expected to make the team (he upset Zab Judah in the finals of the Olympic Trials), is still trucking along.
“I never would have predicted that, not at all,” Diaz admitted. “Some of my Olympic teammates, they didn’t have long careers, but at least they made money. That’s an easy exit sign. I made an exit too like 10 years ago, but I didn’t have no money! So now we’re back in it, and trying to find the exit with the money.”
This Saturday night, Diaz faces a critical challenge with regard to his hopes of cashing out on his terms. The 33-year-old lightweight takes on Humberto Soto in the chief undercard bout beneath Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey at Cowboys Stadium.
Diaz is the underdog in the fight. One message board poster called him a “sacrificial lamb.” If that’s so, then it makes a win for Diaz that much more noteworthy and positions him for the payday he’s after.
“I have to win,” he acknowledged. “It’s a big step back if I lose. We’re aware of that, and that’s why I’m going to go in there and put my heart and soul into this fight.”
We wouldn’t expect anything less from Diaz.
His career hasn’t always been predictable. This is a guy who got hurt worse by shoveling snow than by eating Pacquiao’s punches. This is a guy who watched Olympic teammate Reid win a gold medal, then outlasted him as a pro by eight years and counting.
But when you talk about heart and soul accompanying him to the ring, that is predictable with David Diaz. Soto might find Diaz easy to hit on Saturday night. But he definitely won’t find him easy to discourage.
ÔÇó I can count on probably one hand all the boxers I’ve ever interviewed who displayed a sarcastic sense of humor, but David Diaz is among that rare minority. I had to do an over-the-phone double-take when he insisted, “I was robbed in the Pacquiao fight!”
ÔÇó Ladies and gentlemen, your Teddy Atlas-ism of the week: “The testing is going to be in the pudding tonight.” By the way, if you’d like to laugh at my own verbal stumbling as I, ironically enough, attempt to pronounce the word “Atlas-ism,” check out last week’s episode of Ring Theory.
ÔÇó Raise your hand if, heading into Saturday night’s fights, you thought Juan Urango would suffer a knockout while Vic Darchinyan would fail to score one?
ÔÇó Sometimes you go into the reading of a decision just knowing that it’s going to go to the guy who was expected to win before the fight. The Lenny Zappavigna-Fernando Angulo fight was one of those situations where the skeptic in me rose to the surface and I would have been surprised if the right fighter had gotten the nod.
ÔÇó In the promo for the Pacquiao-Clottey pay-per-view during Saturday’s HBO broadcast, it struck me as odd that Bob Papa’s scripted voiceover referred to Pac-Man as “one of boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighters.” Why undersell a fight featuring a boxer whom every respectable journalist currently considers the P-4-P king? I’m trying to figure out what the answer could be. But I’m having trouble thinking over the sound of Floyd Mayweather cracking a whip in the background.
Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected] You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine.