Marquez Downs Diaz in Classic Battle

MARQUEZ DOWNS DIAZ IN BRUTAL BATTLE

Juan Manuel Marquez solidified his status as the best lightweight in boxing and the second best fighter in the world by knocking out Juan Diaz in an instant classic.

The bout was billed as “Supremacy” in that the winner would undoubtedly reign supreme at 130 pounds. Marquez had defeated Joel Casamayor to become the linear champion in September while Diaz was one loss removed from owning three of the four titles in the weight class. It was a fight fan’s fight that was not only significant (the WBA and WBO sanctioning bodies didn’t hesitate to put their vacant titles, lost on the scales by Nate Campbell two weeks ago, on the line to be awarded to the winner) but also downright thrilling.

Diaz, fighting in front of his hometown crowd in Houston, Texas, pressured Marquez from the opening bell, dragging the champion into several exchanges when Marquez’ back was on the ropes. Diaz clearly won the round after drilling Marquez into the ropes with several well placed shots to the head. So dominant was Diaz in the first round that he shouted in Marquez’ direction following the bell while Marquez could do little else but look away, appearing almost embarrassed to have been hit flush so often so early. Compubox’s count told the story as Diaz had broken the 100-punch mark for the first round, and Marquez fell five punches short of doing it himself.

A left hook from Diaz backed Marquez into the ropes a minute into round two, and the challenger proceeded to unleash combinations to the head. Marquez tried to pull away along the ropes but got caught with another huge left hook that buckled his legs. Diaz went all out from there, doling out blow after blow on Marquez in the corner, though the champion was bent on firing back. Marquez tried to fight back with one body punch at a time, but Diaz unloaded on his head with more combinations. The champion managed to survive and even finished the round strong, though he was thoroughly beaten for the most part.

With a ten year age difference between them, anyone watching the bout unfold would be forgiven for thinking there was no way the 35-year-old Marquez could possibly keep pace with the 25-year-old Diaz, but in between rounds, trainer Ronnie Shields gave Diaz some baffling advice, suggesting the challenger take the next round off and box, despite almost having Marquez ready to go in the second. Diaz obeyed his corner and took his foot off the gas for the first two minutes or so, letting Marquez get a good confidence-building round in the books to keep him in the fight. The exchanges eventually came, however, and the fighters managed to pack enough punches into a minute and change to give the feeling that they had brawled the entire three minutes.

The crowd had been on its feet for most of the fight to that point and remained that way in round four as Diaz pummeled Marquez on the ropes, but the champion began finding the range to counter punch effectively from that position. Diaz smashed Marquez into the ropes with a three-punch combination to the head, but Marquez fired a five-punch combination in return, most of which missed. Diaz then answered with a hard one-two to Marquez’ mouth as the fans screamed in approval of an absolute war, and Diaz picked up another brilliant round of warring that may have put him up as much as four rounds to nothing on some scorecards.

In round five, Diaz was back to smacking Marquez’ head about with choppy shots from both hands whenever the champion found himself with his back on the ropes. They weren’t as damaging of blows as the shots Marquez would land, but Diaz connected far more frequently and kept Marquez in a defensive position. A vicious exchange occurred on the ropes as Marquez scored with a right to the head but took a head-turning left hook in return. Diaz finished the round strong, bulling Marquez into the ropes and rattling off a three-punch combination to the head. Another terrific left hook landed for Diaz in the final seconds, capping another round for the challenger. To make matters worse for Marquez, he had suffered a cut over his right eye from the many left hooks he had been absorbing.

Seeing his title slip away, Marquez took a stand in the sixth round and willingly traded shots with Diaz in several memorable two-ways. At one point, Diaz slowed enough for Marquez to fire three consecutive uppercuts in an epic round that the champion appeared to edge. A brutal exchange of left hooks opened the seventh round, and Marquez got the better of it as he began to take over the fight as the challenger continued to tire. The center of the ring was Marquez’ playground, where he landed some terrific combinations to the suddenly defensive minded Diaz. With his mouth hanging open and sucking wind, he punished Diaz’ body with a pair of blows before coming upstairs with two crushing straight right hands to the head. Seven rounds into the most intense of paces, the older fighter’s rally had finally begun.

Marquez kept the momentum going into round eight when he crammed Diaz with a pair of uppercuts, one of which opened a cut over Diaz’ right eye, thus evening them up on bloodshed. Motivated by the sight of his own blood, Diaz went right after the champion, creating more wild exchanges. With blood running down the faces of both men, Marquez snapped home another hard uppercut on Diaz, and just when he appeared to have taken over the fight for good, was pounded into the ropes by a rally from Diaz. Marquez punched back into the lead with a three-shot volley to the head of the challenger. Two perfectly timed left hooks shook Diaz up with thirty seconds to go, but, rather than tie Marquez up, Diaz decided to slug it out, even scoring with one of his left hooks before the bell.

The fight was even heading into the ninth round for all intents and purposes, reflecting the perfect clash of styles that had been unfolding. The crowd welcomed the sound of the bell almost as though the fans knew it would be the last round. Despite being hurt in the previous round and sporting the worse of the two cuts, it was Diaz that went on the attack first and was winning the round until walking into a crushing right from Marquez, followed by a one-two and an uppercut through the gloves. That was enough to finally put the kid down as Diaz doubled over, drew back, and plummeted forward onto his hands and knees, his upper body going between the ropes.

Referee Rafael Ramos, who hadn’t had to interject in the fight a single time until that point other than to tell the fighters to watch their heads, began the count, but Diaz made it back to his feet, albeit on shaky legs, by the count of four, looking more furious than hurt. Diaz walked back into the fire and absorbed two uppercuts and a body shot from the feverishly offensive champion. Marquez pulled back and unleashed one more uppercut that caught Diaz on the side of the head, and the challenger hit the canvas in a flash, crumpling onto his back. Ramos decided not to let Diaz get up a second time and held him down with one hand while waving the bout off with another, giving Marquez the most electrifying win of his already storied career.

Diaz nodded to indicate he was okay while treated by the ringside doctor on the canvas. Meanwhile, even though their local favorite had fallen, the Houston fans applauded Marquez on a terrific win and an amazing fight that will certainly be the frontrunner for Fight of the Year for the foreseeable future. It was the best lightweight clash since Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo waged war in 2005 and the best fight in boxing since Marquez’ younger brother Rafael traded bombs with Israel Vazquez for twelve rounds last March.

At age 35, Marquez has staked his claim as the best lightweight in the world and may have run out of worthy opponents. A weight class that was the best in boxing only months ago has now lost its best fighters to other divisions, and most of the remaining contenders are scheduled to work out the best among them in a tournament in April. Marquez now plans to join Manny Pacquiao and Nate Campbell in climbing to 140 pounds, where he will undoubtedly look for the winner of the huge showdown between Pacquiao and reigning champion Ricky Hatton. Given how difficult his fight schedule has been and how he has pulled out some stellar victories, Marquez has certainly earned that payday and deserves the opportunity.

Diaz will lead the remaining lightweights as the best of the bunch should he continue boxing, but it’s been said before: his style doesn’t suit him for a long career in the sport, and he’s often talked about attending law school in the near future. While this fight was huge for boxing and gave the fans what they always want, a fight between the two best fighters in a division, it may ultimately leave the lightweight division in a state of disarray as new contenders, considered second rate to men like Pacquiao, Marquez, Diaz and Campbell, fight for the crown. The welterweight division should take notes.

JOHN GETS STUCK WITH DRAW AGAINST JUAREZ

In his first appearance on United States soil, undefeated Indonesian and WBA Featherweight Champion Chris John, who holds a unanimous decision victory over Juan Manuel Marquez, appeared to edge Rocky Juarez but had to settle for a draw after a late fight rally by the challenger.

Juarez, also a native of Houston, was getting his fourth title shot after coming up short twice against Marco Antonio Barrera in 2006 and against Marquez in 2007. Knowing he needed to get off to a quick start against the stylish boxer, Juarez came out and had a good first two rounds by focusing his attack on the champion’s long body.

John found his rhythm in the third round and landed an assortment of punches. Working behind his jab, he mixed in straight right hands, left hooks and uppercuts on the challenger. Juarez landed a hard straight right and left hook in round four, but it was his only good moment in a round otherwise dominated by the boxing and moving of John, who evened up the fight.

Round five produced some quality action as Juarez blasted John with a right hand only to have John come back with a straight one of his own that instantly opened a cut over Juarez’ left eye. John shot some more punches through Juarez’ guard and picked up the round. Round six, too, was a close one until John came on, counterpunching beautifully on the backfoot and piling up the points. Juarez started well in the seventh round only to be out punched by John down the stretch once again, and the champion picked up his fifth round in a row, beginning to put some distance between them.

John landed more than Juarez in round eight, but Juarez got in his licks as well and made them count as they were clearly the more damaging blows and may have been enough to grab the round. Juarez did even better in the ninth, clocking John with some flush power shots while being out hustled. The tenth round followed the same trend, all three of them rounds John appeared to win but rounds that Juarez could have been credited as having won based on his power punching.

John’s corner acknowledged that Juarez may have been picking up the rounds, or perhaps they were worried about getting robbed on the road, but either way, they urged John to win the last two rounds to secure the victory. Instead, it was Juarez who came up big, blasting John with some left hooks to the head and one to the body that visibly stunned the champion. With the crowd chanting, “Rocky” and urging him on, Juarez landed a pair of straight rights to John’s head. Juarez poured on the attack, walking a now retreating John down and slamming his head back with some vicious right hands. The champion managed to stay on his feet and slugged it out with Juarez past the bell, leaving a big twelfth round before them.

Content to go to war to save his title, John brawled with Juarez throughout the last round and was doing well until Juarez clocked him with some combinations against the ropes. The champion kept punching and took a huge right-left combination from Juarez that snapped his head about. John held his own for a while in the center of the ring but had to resort to holding in order to stay on his feet and make it out of the round and the fight.

All three judges saw the bout as a draw, 114-114, which was not a bad call given how close some of the mid-late rounds were. A Juarez victory would have been leaning towards unacceptable, but a draw likely means a rematch, which means they will have a chance to settle the matter beyond dispute. And it ended up being a very exciting bout as well, so there would be money in a second fight, making it worth both men’s while.

With 43 wins and no losses, a draw doesn’t hurt John, who looked terrific in his U.S. debut until late in the fight when Juarez grew desperate. He punched fluidly for ten rounds and looked relaxed, sometimes even happy in the ring. Juarez comes up short once again in a title fight, but thanks to his inspired comeback and the unsatisfying verdict, he’ll likely get another shot against John in the near future.

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