Back during the golden era of boxing the lightweight division was a guarantee for excitement with warriors like Ike Williams, Henry Armstrong, Beau Jack, Lou Ambers and numerous others.
Julio and Juan Diaz are itching to bring back that excitement to the division. But they are
total opposites. Other than their last name both Juan and Julio Diaz are extreme opposites inside and out of the ring.
But opposites attract like negative and positive electric charges.
It’s the Texan and the Californian ponying up their world title belts to see who’s top lightweight champion of the world on Saturday Oct. 13, when Juan and Julio collide at the Sears Centre near Chicago, Illinois. The fight will be televised by HBO.
IBF lightweight titleholder Julio Diaz, who usually trains in the 110-temperatures that the Palm Spring desert area offers, spent the last four weeks in the relatively cool San Diego area where he had access to an abundance of Mexican fighters.
“I’m ready,” announces Julio Diaz (34-3, 25 KOs). “We know what to expect and we prepared for that and more.”
In the heart of Texas, Juan Diaz, who holds the WBA and WBO lightweight titles, said he’s been eyeing the California fighter for a number of years.
“I always felt that me and Julio would eventually fight,” said Juan Diaz (32-0, 16 KOs), who trains in the Houston area. “We know he likes to fight southpaw too so we prepared for that also.”
It’s a 1 million megawatt unification match that has caught the interest of the boxing world.
“Anybody who likes boxing should watch this fight,” said Julio Diaz. “I guarantee they won’t be sorry.”
Julio and Juan both have opposite but combustible styles: Juan is a whirlwind of punches who constantly moves forward like a hurricane. Julio is a boxer-puncher who can use his lightning combinations from the outside or match punches on the inside. He’s like the deadly scorpions that litter his desert home, it only takes one sting to take an opponent out.
“After I lost to Jose Luis Castillo I had to prove to everyone that I belong in the elite level,” said Julio Diaz, who proceeded to knock out two opponents in the first round in blockbuster fashion. “I’ve fought against some of the best fighters in the world.”
Houston’s Juan Diaz feels that the boxing world neglected him at first because he didn’t pack that raw one-punch knockout power to settle fights in quick-fashion. Instead the amiable college student prefers to batter an opponent with his quickness and continue battering them until they get dizzy.
“I’m an aggressive fighter,” says Juan Diaz almost chuckling. “People have underestimated me for a long time.”
Caught the interest of Julio
When Juan Diaz captured the WBA title three years ago it immediately caught the interest of Julio Diaz who saw many flaws in the Texan
Juan Diaz fought twice in Temecula in 2002 and 2003, an area located within 70 miles of Julio Diaz’s Coachella home. It’s a locale where both fought early in their pro boxing careers. Julio watched Juan’s fights and noted him down as a possible future opponent.
Juan Diaz had been a standout amateur in Texas and was known nationally.
“He beat a lot of the top guys in his weight class like Timothy Bradley and Andre Berto,” said Willie Savannah, his mentor. “They were all good kids together.”
Juan Diaz, 24, grabbed the WBA world title on July 17, 2004 against the bigger and stronger Lavka Sim of Mongolia. Though it was a convincing win, many felt that Juan Diaz was lucky and would not last in the rugged lightweight division where fighters like the late Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo and Juan Lazcano roamed.
It took a one-sided beating of Brazilian superstar Acelino Freitas to finally nail down respect.
“This guy is getting better every time,” said Julio Diaz, who first won the IBF title in May 13, 2004 against Javier Jauregui. “I’ve always wanted to fight him.”
After abdicating the title in favor of a match with Jose Luis Castillo three years ago, Julio Diaz regained the IBF title last February with a technical knockout over the champion Jesus Chavez of Texas.
“Juan is a very good fighter, but he’s never fought anyone like me that can do as many things as I can,” says Julio Diaz. “We’re going to see in the first round what he can do. Then from there I’ll decide what to do.”
Julio Diaz promises a knockout will happen either way.
“If he can’t hurt me, then I’m going to go after him,” says Julio Diaz. “He can land five punches to my one, but my one is going to hurt him bad.”
Juan Diaz is well aware of Julio’s punching power, but it’s not the first time he’s entering the ring against a more powerful punching opponent.
“I just stick to my game plan,” says Juan Diaz. “The winner of the fight is going to be the guy who can stick to his game plan.”
Born to fight
Lee Espinoza, who trains Julio Diaz, says his fighter has been on the verge of superstardom for years and was a child protégé as a youth.
“When Julio was a kid he was always following his older brothers to the gym,” said Lee Espinosa, who trains Julio and trained his brothers too. “You could tell even when he was young that he was going to be very good.”
Julio Diaz remembers as an amateur sparring with Floyd Mayweather and thinking he could possibly go further in the sport. Most boxing experts say Julio Diaz combines speed, skill and crackerjack power.
“Boxing always came easy for me,” said Diaz. “It’s my passion. I was born to fight.”
Six years ago, an undefeated 21-year-old Julio Diaz was sent to New York to battle another undefeated fighter in Justo Sencion. After nine rounds it was the Californian who emerged victorious. Four months later he flew to Indiana to meet another undefeated fighter in Dario Esalas. After four rounds the Californian proved once again he was special. Two months later he lost a close split-decision to veteran Angel Manfredy. But the worst would come six months later against then relatively unknown Juan “Pollo” Valenzuela who knocked out Diaz.
“When I lost to Valenzuela nobody thought he was any good, but then he beat Ricardo Williams,” said Diaz. “I just got caught.”
Juan Diaz knows about getting caught too.
In 2003 in the Pechanga Resort and Casino, Houston’s Diaz was caught by a punch from Eleazar Contreras and dropped hard. He recovered but seemed on the verge of losing his first fight. He rallied furiously and won a razor-thin decision on two cards 95-94. It’s the closest he came to losing.
Savannah says its stamina that makes the difference between Juan Diaz and other fighters.
“He can throw a lot of punches,” Savannah says. “He doesn’t hit as hard as others but those punches keep coming. Nobody can take getting hit with that many punches.”
The elder Savannah was about to close his boxing gym for good when Diaz walked inside and asked for boxing lessons.
“This fat little kid comes in the gym and the rest is history,” said Savannah, who figured the young Diaz would quit like the many others before him. “He never quit.”
It’s the same dog stubborn attitude that Julio Diaz maintains that has made him a champion too.
“Julio is a great fighter with a lot of skill and good power,” said Juan Diaz by telephone. “My conditioning will be the difference.”
Julio Diaz says he’s waited his entire boxing career to become a super star, and feels a win over Juan Diaz will definitely help.
“You have to accept challenges to gain respect,” says Julio Diaz.
Juan Diaz is up to the challenge too and enough high voltage to wake up the dead.
“I’m going to try to make it exciting for everyone,” said Juan Diaz.
Even the ghosts of a lightweight division passed.