It’s an all-too-familiar story, really.
A young boxer goes from prodigy to prospect, from prospect to contender, from contender to champion.
When his career is over, however, whether or not he has fulfilled his aspirations in the ring, he often ends up going somewhere else: From paycheck to paycheck. Or worse, penniless and out on the street.
Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz is not going out like that.
Diaz (34-2, 17 KO’s), who takes on Paulie “Magic Man” Malignaggi (26-2, 5 KO’s) Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston (HBO, 9:45 EST), has taken steps to ensure he doesn’t end up another cautionary tale in a sport littered with them.
A recent college graduate – a rarity in his line of work – the Houston resident has a plan he hopes will allow him to remain relevant in the ring for many years to come while at the same time ensure his prosperity outside of it. That plan entails him paying close attention to his past, present, and future, all of which will be in play on Saturday night when he makes his debut at 140 pounds against the former IBF champion Malignaggi.
“I’m ready, I’m excited, and I can’t wait,” said Diaz during a break from training. “It’s been a long training camp, I can tell you that.”
If Diaz is to prevail on Saturday, he first he must confront his past. Specifically, his defeat in February at the hands of former champion Juan Manuel Marquez, who took Diaz’s WBA and IBF titles by force via ninth-round TKO before vacating them to move up to 140 pounds and a big-money fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in September.
In reviewing his performance against Marquez, the 25-year-old Diaz (he turns 26 in September) realized he made a critical error in that fight, failing to give the man who went toe-to-toe with reigning pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao his due as a puncher.
“I underestimated Marquez’s power early on,” said Diaz, who was winning on one judge’s card and tied on another when the fight was stopped in the ninth round. “I figured I could walk through all of his punches and it didn’t turn out to be that way.”
That severe miscalculation cost Diaz the fight, as he repeatedly ignored his corner’s pleas to stay away from Marquez after being hurt by one of his punches. Instead, the former champion tried to slug it out in what he called a ‘dream action fight’, to disastrous results.
Diaz insists he is a better fighter because of that loss, even if the lesson was learned ‘the hard way’. And by remembering what happened in the past, he is determined not to repeat it, which for him means not abandoning the game plan once he gets hit.
“A lot of times I would get too anxious and just start throwing punches,” he said. “I would get hit and I would want to fight. But this time around I’ve been concentrating on putting pressure but staying calm and under control. I think it’s going to be a big factor in my fighting (going forward).”
Ready to put that theory to the test is Malignaggi, the fiery 28-year-old from Brooklyn who has earned a reputation for his heart as well as his hand speed. Having already suffered tough losses to Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto, Malignaggi sees in Diaz a huge opportunity to thrust himself back into the conversation of serious title contenders. He is Diaz’s present and is expected to use his quickness and defense to mount a serious challenge on Saturday night.
“I expect him to use angles and use the whole ring to his advantage,” said Diaz. “I know he’s going to try and outbox me.”
As for his future, the Houston resident has already taken matters into his own hands.
To begin with, he split with Don King, which in it and of itself could be viewes as a smart career move, and signed with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions in 2008. The new relationship has been smooth so far, with Diaz not only happy with his raised profile, but also with the way his business has been handled.
“When they say they’re going to do something they do it,” said Diaz of Golden Boy. “I can really focus on training instead of having to argue back and forth about the contract.”
Next, following his manager Willie Savannah’s advice, Diaz set himself up with a retirement account, giving him a nest egg that he expects will carry him through his golden years and help offset the cost of medical bills he might incur from a life spent getting hit.
“He’s been a great advocate for saving money for the future,” he said of his long-time manager.
He also has a couple of businesses that he runs with his brother, one a painting company and the other a real estate firm. Still, the most significant thing Diaz can do to impact his financial future is win this fight and do so convincingly. A dominating performance would put him in position for a lucrative payday against one of the superstars in the 140-pound division.
“I feel very excited that I’m in there and I’m being mentioned with those guys like Marquez and Manny Pacquiao,” said Diaz. “I’m ready to get in there and mix it up with them.”