Juan Diaz pounded out a decisive victory over namesake rival Julio Diaz and added another alphabet title to his growing collection of championship hardware with a 9th round retirement TKO in their highly anticipated battle on Saturday night in Illinois..

“He was tougher than I thought,” said a graciously grinning Juan Diaz afterwards.  “He stayed in there trading with me, and let me tell you, Julio can punch. I was well prepared and now I’m on top of the world. I feel like King Kong.”

The conked-out conclusion and one-sided, probable shutout margin was anti-climactic and took place before a lackluster audience turn out. Still, Diaz’s consistently aggressive win counted for plenty, just outside the so-called Second City at Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.

Where exactly the Estates rank by annexed numbers is anybody’s guess, but tonight the fistic fiesta should have been at the forefront of high stakes boxing, assembled swarm or not.

A heavier Manny Pacquiao or WBC 135 pound kingpin David Diaz might have something to say about it soon, but the fight, which unified Juan Diaz’s WBA and WBO straps with Julio Diaz’s IBF belt, was for most of the lightweight marbles and top consensus recognition in the boxing world.

Heading into Saturday evening’s windy city showdown, it didn’t seem like those predicting a Fight of the Year type contest were blowing hot air. It turned out that behind non-stop, now trademark pressure, the 24 year old Juan, now 33-0 (17), made it look like he should have been an overwhelming favorite all along.

Juan Diaz’s long time cornerman Ronnie Shields was in Russia with Rip Van Holyfield, but Diaz looked better than ever. Veteran team member and familiar assistant Derwin Richards took over, with Kenny Weldon brought in to help.

The 5’6 “Baby Bull” was coming off an April stoppage of former champion Acelino Freitas, but there were still question marks as to whether he was the Tysonesque tank portrayed by his well oiled public relations machine.

Jose Miguel Cotto and Fernando Angulo showed that Juan was strong but still a work in progress last year. The impressive showing near Chitown proved Juan had made further strides in ’07. Diaz gained exposure since conditionally signing with Don King, plus first rate promotional power. With this performance, he proved worthy of the hype.

Julio Diaz’s best previous performance may have been a hard fought disappointment against a prime Jose Luis Castillo in March 2005. Julio suffered a painful TKO, but proved he could hang with the very best of the division.

It didn’t look that way during Saturday’s HBO televised engagement as 27-year-old Julio “The Kidd,” ended up with the unfortunate task of playing the wrong end of the pinata and dropped to a still respectable 34-4 (25).

Both men had a reach listed at 66 inches but the shorter Juan controlled all the distance against his 5’9 foe, all the time.

Julio tried switching back and forth from southpaw lead jabs to no avail as Juan came over the top with stinging combinations.

Juan pursued Julio around and around the canvas Cadillac sign and built up a steady stream of opening points. Julio got on his toes more and avoided Juan’s rushes better by the 3rd round, but eventually Juan kept pounding on the door to damage again.

Juan maintained the inside blasts throughout the middle frames as action got sloppier. Julio looked by far the worst for winded wear and fell almost insurmountably behind by the halfway point as Juan fired short, shoulder height crosses that slammed home like he was swinging the baseball bat he used to warm up.

After more punishment in the 7th session, Julio Diaz’s trainer Lee Espinoza warned his charge the fight could get stopped, and indeed, the corner soon pulled the plug themselves when the tagging tide showed little chance of turning.

Since the 9th round had started at the time of concession, the official time was 0:02 of that frame.

It was not the happiest crowd in recent days by the way. Larry Merchant took the time to point out that another location, Julio's California, or Juan's Houston, would have made more sense.

“Not a lot of guys have called me out,” said Juan. “It kind of brought out the fire in me. He was saying things about me for a long time.”

“I couldn't get started tonight,” said a bruised Julio,”He was very strong and hyper and I tightened up when I tried to overpower him. My brother in my corner thought I was taking too many punches.”

As usual, King tried to give his audience plenty of potential bang for the buck, and once again emerging Sycuan Ringside had a hand in a major show. They may come back next year for another try against Diaz, with Juan Guzman, if Guzman gets by Humberto Soto.

For Julio Diaz, its back to the duke out drawing board in Coachilla, California.

Juan Diaz heads back home with Texas sized opportunities.

“Pacquiao just retired a legend in (Marco Antonio) Barrera but I think it’s time for him to step up against a young Mexican fighter like me next,” said the triumphant Diaz with a sharp eye on the preferred payoff factor.

At this point, Juan Diaz doesn’t seem to have the firepower to out duel the Filipino icon, where Pacquiao’s territory involves the top of the pound for pound food chain.

Maybe not, but after the way “The Baby Bull” has charged through quality opponents like he did against Julio Diaz on this crisp October eve, the freshly unified 135 pound champion has certainly earned the right to try.