THREE PUNCH COMBO — On Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, undefeated unified super lightweight champion Terence Crawford faces Felix Diaz in an HBO televised main event. Many in the sport are seeing this as a routine defense for Crawford. However, Diaz is a solid pro and has a decent chance of pulling a big surprise.
Despite having ten fewer professional bouts than Crawford, Diaz, a two-time Olympian, is a vastly experienced ring veteran. After failing to get out of the first round of the Olympics in 2004, Diaz returned four years later after honing his skills to win gold at the 2008 games in Beijing. All in all, Diaz amassed nearly 300 wins in the unpaid ranks and gained plenty of experience prior to turning pro.
The amateur experience helped Diaz pick up a lot of subtle skills that have carried to the pro ranks. Diaz may not have the fastest hands in the sport but his timing is tremendous. A natural counter puncher, Diaz is often able to get into the right range and time his opponents in his counter attack. This often leads to him landing clean precise power shots with the overhand left being his best weapon. Diaz also has a very good right jab and often out-jabs his opponents though he is usually at a height and reach disadvantage. Why is he able to do this? Well, it is because of his ability to get in range and throw that jab at just the right time. It’s a skill he picked up through all those amateur fights as well as in the pro ranks.
Though his record indicates only nine knockouts in twenty pro bouts, this is somewhat misleading. Diaz may not be a one punch knockout guy but he is very heavy handed and his punches often have a cumulative effect as the bout progresses. In several recent fights, including bouts against Lamont Peterson and Sammy Vasquez, Diaz came on strong late as opponents began to succumb to damage suffered throughout the course of the bout. If Diaz is able to land on Crawford with consistency, the cumulative effect of the punches could wear on Crawford in the later rounds.
Crawford no doubt has the speed advantage. But what beats speed in this sport? It’s timing. Crawford will leave openings and there is no doubt in my mind Diaz will land his share of crisp counters. Keep in mind too that Diaz is the first skilled southpaw that Crawford will be facing as a pro. This could be one of those type of fights that the judges need to watch very carefully as the volume should be on Crawford’s side, but Diaz could be landing some clean impactful punches in spots. Make no mistake; Felix Diaz is a very live underdog.
Under the Radar Fights
There is a lot of boxing this coming week. With so many fights, there are bound to be a few bouts that are flying severely under the radar. On Saturday, the HBO co-feature to the Terence Crawford-Felix Diaz main event is a solid lightweight bout between Raymundo Beltran and Jonathan Maicelo. Also on Saturday on Showtime, there is a compelling super middleweight fight between Andre Dirrell and Jose Uzcategui.
This is not the first time I have featured Beltran in the “under the radar” segment, and it probably won’t be the last. The reason is very simple. Beltran makes for good fights. He is an aggressive boxer-puncher who is willing to absorb some punches to get in his own. Maicelo has a similar style. Maicelo is not afraid to exchange and he isn’t the most fleet footed individual out there. Expect to see a fan friendly fight with plenty of power shots exchanged between the two.
The Dirrell-Uzcategui fight is very intriguing. Dirrell is one of the most talented boxers in the sport. He possesses very fast hands and rips off beautiful smooth combinations that are very eye catching. But Dirrell’s career has been plagued by inactivity, and for all his talent he has flaws, including too often being squared up to his opponents which has led to some recent knockdowns.
Uzcategui does not possess near the talent that Dirrell has, but is a tough aggressive brawler with good power. In order to be successful in this fight, Uzcategui will have to take some shots from Dirrell to get inside to get his own work done. If he can absorb Dirrell’s best, things could get interesting. Or if he could catch Dirrell when he squares up, Uzcategui could do some damage. It will be interesting to see how Dirrell handles Uzcategui’s aggression and the styles of the two should at the very least make for a solid fight.
Though the above bouts are not getting the attention of some others this weekend, they each have their own intrigue and should be good fan friendly affairs. These contests should not be missed, even if one or both have to be watched at a later time with all the action taking place this weekend.
Remembering A Great Fight Fifteen Years Ago This Week
This week marks the fifteen year anniversary of the memorable first fight between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, an all-time classic. All but forgotten is another great fight that happened the night before in Sacramento, CA. On May 17th, 2002, Oscar Larios and Israel Vazquez engaged in an all-out war in a nationally televised bout.
Entering 2002, Israel Vazquez worked his way to being ranked number one by the WBC at super bantamweight and into a mandatory position to face champion Willie Jorrin. They were scheduled to meet on May 17th, 2002, but an injury to Jorrin forced him to pull out two weeks prior to the fight. The number two contender in the WBC, Oscar Larios, was scheduled to fight on the undercard and got bumped to the main event to replace Jorrin. The WBC would sanction the fight for its interim title with the winner being mandated to face Jorrin once his injury healed.
Five years earlier, Vazquez and Larios squared off in Mexico. Vazquez knocked Larios out in the first round. Both fighters had improved a lot since then and the rematch was widely viewed as a competitive fight on paper despite the result of the first encounter.
The first round set the tone. Larios, the taller fighter with the longer reach, would use his legs and fire off combinations on the outside. Vazquez aggressively pushed forward looking to get inside to shoot off power punches of his own. He showed that he was more than willing to take a few punches to get in his own shots.
Larios would use his legs effectively in rounds two through four. He would land on the outside with the straight right hand landing time and time again. Though Larios controlled these rounds, Vazquez managed to get his own work done to the head and body. The action was crisp and seemingly picking up more as the bout progressed.
In round five, there was a shift in how the fight was fought. Larios, maybe feeling the effect of Vazquez’s body work, stopped using as much movement and stood in the pocket. This put Vazquez in the range he wanted and allowed him to get in his best work of the fight.
With Larios now standing more in the pocket, the fight turned into more of a war on the inside in the sixth and seventh rounds. There were some fearsome exchanges and though Larios was not at his preferred range he was certainly giving as good as he was getting. This was turning into a phone booth type of war.
Larios picked up the activity in the eighth and outworked Vazquez. After maybe taking the eighth round off, Vazquez came out swinging in the ninth. But Larios did not back off, matching Vazquez punch for punch in what was becoming a total shoot out.
The war continued the next two rounds with Larios seemingly getting the better of the action. Though the punch output was similar, Larios was landing cleaner and harder combinations. The twelfth round started with both men going toe to toe in the middle of the ring. After a break, Larios leaped in with a massive right hand that put Vazquez down hard. Vazquez beat the count and got up, willing once again to exchange with Larios. After some heart stopping action, Larios stepped back and landed a jab followed by a quick right that put Vazquez down again. This time, referee Pat Russell waived the bout off after a brief count.
When the fight finished, most inside the sport thought they had witnessed the surefire fight of the year. Of course, that all changed one day later. Larios-Vazquez II has always been in the shadow of Gatti-Ward I, but it was a tremendous fight and it too deserves to be remembered this week.
Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Top Rank
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