Photos by Sumio Yamada
JUAN DIAZ vs JOSE MIGUEL COTTO
A series of aborted dates has meant unaccustomed inactivity for Juan Diaz but the unbeaten Baby Bull from Houston, TX finally returns to the ring in a significant fight when he defends his lightweight belt against another undefeated boxer, Jose Miguel Cotto, on the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Zab Judah undercard.
Diaz, 22, has boxed just once in 15 months, a four-rounds blowout in a non-title bout.
An eagerly awaited fight with Ebo Elder last April was cancelled when Diaz was cut in sparring, then a match with his WBA official challenger, Lakva Sim who stopped Elder in an elimination bout in September was on and off three times for reasons that included Sim being cut and then what could for simplicitys sake be called promotional difficulties.
All Diaz wanted to do was fight, and it must be a good feeling for him to have a championship match signed, sealed and delivered.
Diaz is a young fighter, one who is still maturing, and it should not be too difficult to make up for lost time assuming that all goes well against Cotto.
The Puerto Rican brother of junior welter champ Miguel Cotto has won 27 fights in a row (19 KOs) and is clearly the puncher in the fight.
Cotto, 28, fights in a similar manner to his more illustrious brother: hands up, moving ahead, always looking to deliver punches with good form especially
the left hook and uppercut and like Miguel he is a strong body puncher.
Diaz (28-0, 14 KOs) is the quicker, busier fighter, more of a volume puncher, sharper and faster with the left jab.
Each man has come back a better fighter after close calls earlier in their careers, Diaz against Ubaldo Hernandez and Eleazar Contreras, Cotto against Fernando Velardez.
Diaz had a tough eight-rounder against the more experienced Ubaldo Hernandez in September 2001, a fight in which he suffered a cut and was dropped. He became emotional after the fight, not yet 18 and a bit bewildered at finding himself bloodied and a bit mentally and physically drained from the gruelling battle.
Diaz had another tough fight when in May 2003 he was knocked down by the classy and crisp punching Eleazar Contreras, but once again he rallied strongly, pulling out the close but unanimous decision with a fists-pumping final-round attack.
In light of the knockdowns he suffered against Hernandez and Contreras it looked as if Diaz might be in for a desperate struggle when he challenged the durable and heavy-handed Lakva Sim for the WBA belt in July 2004 but he rose to
the occasion, fighting at a higher level than anything he had previously shown as he outboxed and practically outclassed the Mongolian in a wonderful display of fast-paced, high-activity boxing.
Since then Diaz has twice successfully defended against veterans, widely outpointing the ex-champ Julien Lorcy of France and pasting a lethargic Billy Irwin (the Canadian was washed out physically after having suffered a severe
bout of flu, his camp later told me) in nine rounds.
Now Diaz, instead of meeting an older fighter at the end of his career Lorcy and Irwin never boxed again goes in against an unbeaten puncher who is in his physical prime.
Cotto has knocked out eight of his last nine opponents and in his last fight he broke down Diazs old opponent, Ubaldo Hernandez, in seven rounds, caving in the Mexican journeyman with left hooks to the body.
He has been having things all his own way lately, but Cotto, like Diaz, has shown he can grit it out to prevail in a tough fight, having come back from difficult moments to win a split decision over Fernando Bobby Boy" Velardez back in August 2000, a fight in which Cotto suffered a swollen left eye but pulled out the win with a strong last round after wearing down Velardez to the body.
Cotto was to have boxed in a junior lightweight title eliminator against Manuel Medina last year but failed to make weight. I have a feeling that he could be a little tight at the weight even as a 135-pounder.
The punching power of Cotto has to be respected, but although Diaz has been dropped twice he got up and fought right back.
I expect to see Diaz looking to jab, get off with combinations and try to move off to the sides, not staying right in front of the heavier-hitting Puerto Rican; Cotto will no doubt be looking to keep the pressure on Diaz and try to slow him down with body punches.
Diazs inactivity might be seen as cause for concern but his trainer, Ronnie Shields, said over the phone from Houston that the boxer stayed in training despite fights failing to materialise in the past year. Hes been very frustrated by everything but youve got to work the kinks out in the gym the gym is the most important thing," Shields said. If you do the proper things in the gym I dont think it really matters youve been off so long.
I envision Juan Diaz winning pretty easily. The kid [Cotto] is a good fighter but I dont think hes in the class of Juan he dont really impress me."
Shields said that Diaz has been looking so sharp in the gym he had to slow him down in the last couple of weeks. Hes really looking good, his weight is already there, hes ready," Shields said. This fights gonna be about speed. The other kid might rise to the occasion but I still think Juans speed will be too much for him."
I also believe that Diazs speed of hand and foot will be a big factor. Diazs left jab and high punch-output can offset Cottos advantage in hitting power. It would not be a surprise to see Diaz hurt in the fight but I believe he will be able to box and fight his way through any moments of crisis to win a unanimous decision.