“Baby Bull” Juan Diaz faced his defining fight when he squared off against Juan Manuel Marquez, the great Mexican fighter. Marquez was the best of the lightweights and the Baby Bull knew that greatness was in offing only if he defeated Marquez.
In the undercard, Rocky Juarez faced the most definitive fight of his career for if he lost to Chris Johns, he would simply become an opponent; a former prospect with potential unfulfilled. Johns had already defeated Marquez for the feather weight champion in a close controversial fight but Johns rarely step foot outside of the Pacific Rim. This was to be Johns’ introduction to the United States audience and he was the mystery man in this fight.
The first round saw a determined Juarez jabbing and pressing but by the end of the second round, John started to take control with his boxing skills. John threw volume of punches and accurate punches pounded Juarez’s face. A John right cut Juarez left eye and while John is not a big puncher, his jab does have snap, enough of a snap to keep brawlers off. After the fight, Juarez had two swollen eyes alogn with a cut.
In the middle rounds, John boxing skills appeared to overwhelm Juarez. While Juarez occasionally nailed John with solid shots, John threw and connected on twice as many punches. HBO Harold Lederman scored the fight 8 rounds to 4 but John’s corner told their charge after the ninth round, win the last three rounds. They realized that they were fighting in Juarez hometown and figured that any close rounds would go to the Houston native.
Going into the final two rounds, John had the momentum and fight in hand but Juarez fought like man possessed. Viewing this as a final opportunity, he needed to these rounds not just to win a title but salvaged a career. Juarez punished John as his punches forced John backward. In the final minutes, John looked like a weary fighter for the first time as Juarez attacked a retreating John. Ronnie Shields, Juarez corner man, told his fighter, “Listen to the fans, and knock this guy out.” With chants of “Rocky, Rocky, Rocky” in the background, Juarez went for one last attack. John boxing skills kept Rocky off balanced for the first minute but halfway through the left round, Juarez hurt John for the first time in the fight and from this point, he pounded John as John countered in desperation.
The judges call the fight a draw. Juarez punches had more pop but John punches were more accurate and his boxing skills more pronounced. Lederman felt John ring generalship should have prevailed but in the end, both fighters have a draw on their record but John still is the champion. For Juarez, this fight put his career in microcosm. He came up just short and Max Kellerman noted, “Juarez is a B plus fighting in a division and era dominated by A fighters, including Chris John.”
Juan Manuel Marquez has always been a fighter in other shadows. For many years, he was the guy often ignored when discussion about great Mexican fighters for those discussions often centered on Erik Morales or Marco Antonio Barrera. Marquez often felt the slights and now fight with every slight embedded in his mind.
The first round saw both men fighting at a fast pace with Diaz moving forward ripping body shots and Marquez countering with body shots of his own. Diaz stunned Marquez with a hook that buckled the Mexican knees but Marquez rallied quickly as he threw accurate rights. Diaz forced Marquez on the rope. The first two rounds saw both fighters throwing 100 punches per round as Diaz forced the pace. As the early rounds moved forward, Marquez found himself working and throwing more punches than what he was used to. Marquez is a fighter who controls his opponents with solid boxing techniques and while Diaz was the aggressive fighter, Marquez punches appeared to be harder but at the age of 35, could he keep this pace?
At the end of the fifth round, Marquez came back to his round with a cut over the right eye from a left hook. As the fight approached the halfway mark, one got the feeling that they were watching a classic as both fighters pounded each other while showing skills not often seen in a bout.
Halfway through the seventh round, Marquez nailed Diaz with four punch combination but thirty seconds late, Diaz unleashed a combination that concluded with a left hook and Diaz chased Marquez down the rest of the round as Marquez attempted to counter moving backward. At the beginning of eighth round, Marquez open a cut over Diaz right eye with a left upper cut. With thirty second left, Marquez nailed Diaz with a left hook that staggered the young Houston fighter. In the beginning of the ninth round, Diaz nailed Marquez with several combinations and appeared to have the fight back in hand before a four punch combination starting with a right hand sent Diaz down with 35 seconds left. Marquez, the old veteran, did not allow Diaz to survive the round as he finished Diaz off with a left uppercut.
This fight showed Marquez was not only the best lightweight champion but one of the top pound for pound fighters. Marquez adjusted to the younger fighter style and in the eighth round, he found a home for his left upper cut. Despite fighting a fast pace fight or a faster pace that he used to; he imposed his will after the sixth round. Marquez brilliance has been often understated but now he is the best Mexican fighter and he is the last of great generation of Mexican fighters over the past decade. Morales and Barrera are no longer in the ring but Marquez still has the skill of an elite fighter and after defeating a younger fighter; Marquez shows no sign of slowing down. He didn’t show the sign of aging but like a fine wine; he keeps getting better.