By Rich Mancuso
Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz was that fighter known as a commodity, the kid from Houston, Texas who lived at home with his mom and dad. He could do no wrong and was on his way to stardom while pursuing a degree in political science at the University of Houston.
Then, as the mean sport boxing can be, Diaz got in the ring with seven-time champion Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas. After that fight for the WBO World Lightweight title that Marquez won by unanimous decision, the sport he loved was viewed differently.
Diaz would take that long hiatus. Boxing was no longer his passion. He pursued his college degree and became a family man. But you can’t keep a fighter down too long and Saturday night at the Casino Del Sol in Tucson Ariz., the 32-year-old super lightweight begins the quest for that passion again on the Top Rank promoted show that will be televised on UniMas.
He says about the hiatus and return to the sport: “After that loss against Marquez, I did not want anything to do with sport of boxing. Felt I wanted to be the best , beat the best and I can be the best.”
He said, “ I don’t want to do this.” But the former and unified WBA, IBF and WBO lightweight champion always wanted to be in the ring. As they say, boxing is a passion and Saturday night, Diaz (44-4-0, 20 KO’s) begins that quest against the 27-20- 16 KO’s that Cesar Vasquez brings to the table.
This is not the first fight back. Diaz, known as “The Baby Bull” because of his power and speed returned to the ring in March after a two-year layoff. In between the Marquez fight he tried to find that passion again and got the unanimous decision in two fights and TKO’s in two others.
But there was a gap, and in March that passion returned with a stoppage over Fernando Garcia in the ninth round in the scheduled 10- rounder. It really wasn’t a retirement as Diaz still had that desire, but the sport has seen more than one take a hiatus and return, and it’s not always about the money.
Boxing is that desire to strive and succeed. The “Baby Bull” like so many others, including the eight-division champion Manny Pacquiao, was aware that some time away is the best thing for that passion to return. The only flaw is not having the similar skills, but Diaz says fans and the fight world will see that same fire and ability finish off an opponent as the quest for another championship begins.
‘There is one spot open for another belt,” he says about the trophy case at home that displays his previous championships and accomplishments in the ring. “After I retired two and a half years ago, I was 29-years old. Felt I was too young to let the sport go. The fire came back and I felt the need to become a world champion again.”
He was young enough to get back in there. “And here I am,” said Diaz Thursday after the final press conference in Tucson where the prevailing questions were asked as to, why return to a sport that at times can be brutal in and out of the ring.
“I am still aggressive,” he says, “Come forward and throw a lot of punches to beat the body.” Diaz said instead of throwing a high percentage of punches, something that can hinder a fighter on the comeback trail, there are less per round but placed better and with more accuracy than in the past.
Diaz started a small business in the trucking industry during the hiatus and is a family man, with two boys of nine and eight years old, and a two year old daughter. They give him the passion also, and winning is the only objective, or as they say was it worth it? He doesn’t talk about the possible disappointment that boxing can sometimes deliver.
It’s about the passion and delivering the punch that will hopefully bring another title to that trophy case. “I’m always looking for the knockout,” he said. “That doesn’t come, I gotta stay focused on the game plan and let it come naturally. Whatever happens, as long as I get the win.” And there is that message, that “The Baby Bull” is back in a division that has some good competition with WBC champion Jorge Linares.
“I have to win Saturday and start calling out the guys. My resume speaks for itself. My boxing style also give me the edge that people want to see. Boxing is missing the champion that will come forward. I will be aggressive and give fans what they want.”
And if the “Baby Bull” has the same style, and works his way back up the ladder with success. he will be that well-needed exciting fighter that will have no problem with the sport giving him a well-deserved welcome back.
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images