Best I Faced: Juan Diaz
Aggressive pressure fighter Juan Diaz unified three of the four lightweight titles during an excellent title run in the mid-to-late 2000s.
Diaz was born in Houston, Texas on September 17, 1983.
“Shortly after I was born, my parents couldn’t afford to stay here, so we went back to Mexico and lived in Huitzuco, Guerrero, Mexico for six years,” Diaz told The Ring. “I even went to school there for one year. My younger brother was born in Mexico during that time.
“Then my dad came to the U.S. by himself and got a decent job and once he was able to save up some money, he brought us back to Houston.”
Although the Diaz family were reunited it was still a difficult time for them.
“My parents weren’t economically stable,” he said. “We had to walk everywhere. We were sharing a mobile home with my aunt and uncle, who had a family. Each family had a room and we would sleep on the couch. It was a humble and simple life. They persevered and had two jobs at one time and raised us and gave us the necessary things we needed.”
As a child, Diaz had a healthy appetite, weighing 120-pounds, that and his father’s love of boxing brought him to the gym at 8-years-old.
“[My father] found the Willie Savannah boxing gym in South Houston,” he said. “We went and checked it out and it was love at first sight for me.
“I started training, when I was 8, I had my first amateur fight at 120-pounds, a whole year went by and there weren’t any 120-pound 8-year-olds to fight me. When I was 9, I got my second fight. That’s when my family and Mr. Savannah said, ‘If you really want to fight, you need to lose some weight.’ That’s when I got on a diet and lost weight.”
Diaz excelled as an amateur, going an impressive 105-5, winning 13 gold medals. The youngster went to his ancestral home of Mexico in the hope of representing them at the 2000 Olympics.
“At the time I was 16, I said, ‘I’m going to be three months shy of 17 to go to the Olympics,'” he explained. “We fought at an International tournament, there were 16 countries and they had to vote to make an exception for me to fight [at the Olympics]. 14 said, ‘Yes’ and two said, ‘No,’ The United States because they had Ricardo Williams at 139-pounds and Puerto Rico, they had Miguel Cotto. Those two countries voted to not let me in and that’s why I didn’t go to the 2000 Olympics.”
Diaz didn’t want to wait four-years for the next Olympics, and due to his age, turned professional with a first-round knockout in Mexico June 2000. He had his first three fights in Mexico, earning $400 a fight, before he was of legal age to fight in America.
Diaz, who graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, moved through the ranks winning his first 24 fights over a four-year period.
WBA 135-pound titlist Lakva Sim from Mongolia was enticed to Texas in July 2004.
“I was 20-years-old, I had gone through some adversities, I had been knocked down and cut in previous fights but I felt invincible,” said Diaz, who won a 12-round unanimous decision.
“The fact I was able to do it at home, in front of my hometown people, it was the cherry on top of the cake.”
“Baby Bull” turned back former two-time WBA 135-pound titlist Julien Lorcy (UD 12) and grizzled veteran Billy Irwin (TKO 9) in Texas but cracks were appearing in his relationship with his promoter.
After just one non-title fight in over a year Diaz got back to work making three subsequent title defenses and began working with Don King. He met WBO beltholder Acelino Freitas in a unification in April 2007.
“People tell me I’m crazy but he just didn’t hit hard, I was walking through his punches,” he said. “No disrespect to him, I expected more. He has shown he has power but to me, I just didn’t feel that punching power everyone was talking about. After that constant pressure, he retired after eight rounds.”
Next, Diaz met IBF ruler Julio Diaz in October 2007.
“That was another fight which made me feel I was invincible at the time,” said Diaz, who stopped his namesake in nine-rounds. “I was on cloud 9, I felt like nobody could stop me at that time.”
It didn’t last long and soon he began having issues with King, which led to Diaz facing Nate Campbell in Cancun, Mexico in March 2008.
“My contract was up with Don King and I was not going to re-sign,” he explained. “I was getting between $600,000, $700,000 a fight and I wanted a signing bonus and more money per fight, since I was undefeated and had three of the major belts. He didn’t want it, [he wanted to] cut my pay in half, no signing bonus and sign for four years.
“Don King got really mad, he said, ‘I was trying to make you the next Julio Cesar Chavez’, instead of fighting in Houston, he took the fight to Mexico.
“I was in the dressing room, I didn’t get a physical, no drug test, nothing. They didn’t check my hand wraps; they threw me in the men’s restroom and said be ready at 8.”
It wasn’t his night and a late charge from Campbell saw Diaz lost his titles by 12-round split decision.
The proud Texan returned with a hard-fought win over Michael Katsidis (SD 12). That set him up for a fight with Juan Manuel Marquez in his hometown in February 2009.
It appeared the bigger, stronger Diaz may overwhelm Marquez in the early going. However, the Mexican assassin is as cerebral as they come.
“Marquez came with a great resume but I was sure I was gonna beat him, but things turn out different,” said Diaz, who was ahead on one of the scorecards before the legendary Marquez made the necessary adjustments to knockout Diaz with a perfect right uppercut in Round 9. The fight was later named Ring Magazine Fight of the Year.
“Marquez was such a great, smart fighter and there’s nothing we could have done.”
Diaz split a pair of fights against Paulie Malignaggi (UD 12/ L UD 12) up at 140-pounds. But he feels he should never have moved up in weight.
Back at his natural 135-pounds, he met Marquez in a rematch in July 2010.
“I think my heart wasn’t in it, I took the fight hoping for a better result but it didn’t happen.” explained Diaz, who lost a 12-round unanimous decision.
Diaz retired for nearly three-years before mounting a comeback, he won seven fights before stepping away for good.
“When I came back, I had the fire,” said Diaz (42-4, 21 knockouts). “I was ready to go but I was older and started getting more injuries which prevented me from doing what I needed to do. I just decided, ‘I’m done.'”
Diaz, now 38, is married and has three children. Still based in Houston, he owns a delivery business called JD Express.
He graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
Julio Diaz: He had a great jab, gave me a lot of trouble trying to get in. I had to do a lot of head movement in order to get to him, especially as he was taller.
Julien Lorcy: He was very awkward and slick. If you see him in the ring it seems like he stays there and doesn’t move that much. He had a helluva defense, I had a little bit of trouble landing shots with him.
Paulie Malignaggi: He was very fast; he was pretty elusive. He couldn’t really punch but he had great hand speed.
Fernando Angulo: He could move, every time I would punch, he would take a step back and use weird angles. Great footwork, in and out, back-and-forth, side-to-side.
Juan Manuel Marquez: He’s by far the smartest guy I ever fought. Marquez has one of the best boxing IQs of all boxers, this guy can figure you out. You may be beating him and then all of a sudden, he finds little weak spots and starts working on them and wins the fight. He’s not the fastest, he’s not the strongest, his foot movement is not that great but he’s such a great counterpuncher and when you’re that good a counterpuncher you don’t have to have that much speed, that much power, it’s just about the way you land punches.
Michael Katsidis: That sucker could punch and he was physically strong, he was like a little tank.
Ubaldo Hernandez: Believe it or not, it was a guy from Mexico, in my 12th fight, by the name of Ubaldo Hernandez. It was the first time I got knocked down in a fight. It was the first time someone hit me so hard I blacked out. I finished the fight and I don’t even remember finishing the fight. That’s one of those guys, where if they learn how to harness their power and learn how to be accurate – like Marquez – those guys can be killers. He had heavy hands.
Lakva Sim: I was like, ‘Either I can’t punch or this guy can really take a punch.’ I kept hitting him with hellacious uppercuts. I couldn’t believe he didn’t go down.
BEST BOXINGS SKILLS
Marquez: This guy always keeps his hands up, great boxing stance, counterpuncher, ring generalship. He’s a complete fighter, one of those guys who has everything.
Marquez: The best I ever shared a ring with was Marquez. He’s going to go down in history as a Hall of Famer. I’ve got to give credit to him because this guy can figure anybody out. His best quality is he has a heart of steel and the cojones of an Italian bull. This guy’s been dropped, cut, damn near killed by different fighters, who came very close to beating him but he finds within him a way to come out on top.