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Boxing Conference Call: Juan Diaz vs. Ebo Elder

BY Rick Folstad ON March 23, 2005
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Odds are, God isn’t picking sides in this fight.

Don’t expect him to toss in some kind of holy intervention after the opening bell, or to sprinkle a little spiritual blessing in the final minutes of the 12th round when it’s toe-to-toe. You can be pretty sure God is not going to give a holy nod to either fighter in this one because that would be taking away all the fun. And you‘ve got to figure that even deities like to have a good time once in awhile.

Instead, God is probably going to settle into the best seat in the house, kick his feet up, light a Montecristo and wait to see what happens, just like the rest of us. This fight is just too good to tinker with.

Start with Juan Diaz (27-0, 13 KOs). The WBA lightweight champion, he’s one of the youngest fighters ever to win a lightweight championship. Polite, religious and felony-free, he’s 21 and still lives at home with his folks, a la Beaver Cleaver. He has an 11 p.m. curfew set by his mother and enforced by his father, he attends classes twice a week at the University of Houston, and he believes in heroes, which is what he is growing up to become.

“I see myself as a role model for kids on the street,” he said. “I think people should realize boxers can do great things. They don’t just get hit in the head.”

Now training to defend his title against Ebo Elder (22-1, 14 KOs) on April 23 at Caesar’s Palace (ESPN pay-per-view), Diaz has this crazy, noble idea that he can make a difference in the fight game, if not the world.

“I stay on the straight (and narrow) because of school,” Diaz said on a conference call Tuesday. “I have to come home because I might have to study for a government test (one of his classes) on Wednesday. I live at home with my parents and I have an 11 p.m. curfew. After 11, they call me up. School and living at home. Those are the two things that help me be who I am.”

Wait a minute. The lightweight champion of the world still eats mom’s cooking, is in bed before midnight and still lives with his folks? You can’t make this stuff up. It’s too good, and so is Diaz. He belongs on the cover of Boys' Life.

Then you get to Elder, who claims the greatest night of his life was the night he lost his first and only fight. And he praises God for allowing him to lose.

“That loss was a wake-up call for me,” he said.

Elder claims that losing that fight saved him from a divorce, kept him close to his father, and prevented his family from breaking up.

“Losing that fight was the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “And God allowed it to happen.”

Apparently, God really does work in strange ways. Elder was stopped in the first round by a journeyman named Ubaldo Hernandez back in 2001. He’s 6-0 since the loss. But he says he knew a year ago that he would be getting his big chance.

“After the Oscar Diaz fight (in March of last year), a prophet in my Dad’s church said my seventh comeback fight (since the loss to Ubaldo) would be for a world title and we’d win it,” Elder said. “We chose to believe in what we heard.”

If you haven‘t figured it out yet, Elder might be a little more pious than most of us. He’s never more than a sentence or two away from God. Respectful and polite like Diaz, he’s pretty sure the winner of this fight has already been decided and he’s the guy who was picked.

“I’ve been dreaming of this (title) fight since I was 6,” he said. “I predict I’ll win. It’s been spoken. As far as I’m concerned, it’s already in the books. It’s my calling right now. I have to do what I can do, but God comes through and takes up the slack.”

Diaz is also a very religious guy, but he doesn’t expect God to be standing in anyone’s corner.

“If I don’t win that night, it’s going to be because Ebo is a better man,” he said. “God is just going to step aside and let the best man win.”

And like the rest of us, he’s probably expecting to see a great fight.

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