Golden Johnson, who had fought a veritable who’s who of opponents, was 24-7-3 when he fought a favored Oscar “El Torito” Diaz (26-1) in November 2006 at the Alamodome in Diaz’s hometown of San Antonio with Diaz’s NABF welterweight crown at stake. What started to be an exciting back and forth action fight morphed into a shocking slaughter that had many observers wondering what part of a white towel Diaz’s corner did not understand.
As it was, Johnson ended up putting a terrible and bloody beating on Diaz before referee (and aptly named) Ruben Carrion halted the massacre in the 11th. At the time, blood was coming from Diaz’s eyes and mouth, and his hand may have been broken as well. His face was a bloody mess and ringsiders yelled “stop it, stop it.” It was Johnson’s finest career win. (In a touch of irony, Johnson was savaged – and retired – by rampaging Antonio Margarito in his very next fight.)
Following his loss to Johnson, Diaz regrouped and beat trial horse Roberto Valenzuela (45-39-2) in May 2008 to set up a fight with tough Delvin Rodriguez for a vacant regional 147-pound title on July 16, 2008. The televised fight figured to be competitive. Both men had similar action-oriented styles. The bout was held at the San Antonio Municipal Auditorium.
“My back is against the wall in this fight…I have to go out there and show everyone I’m still capable of being one of the best and champion someday.”— Oscar Diaz.
It turned out to be a grueling battle between the brawling 25-year-old Diaz and 28-year-old Rodriguez (23-2-1) who was known as a slashing puncher who utilized extremely fast combos and jarring uppercuts, but had stamina issues. While Rodriquez seemed to take control at the midway point, there was plenty of give and take and no indication that anything was wrong with Oscar. However, in the 10th round, Rodriquez’s signature slashing shots slowed down “El Torito,” whose right eye was closing.
Then it happened.
As the 11th round was about to begin, something was not right. Oscar put his hands to his head and gave a strained moan—almost a cry for help– before collapsing into unconsciousness. It was frightening to witness because going down like that without being punched meant something very serious was happening. Teddy Atlas at ringside expressed concern and sagely noted that Diaz took a lot of punishment in the aforementioned loss to Golden Johnson.
“I would never wish what happened to Oscar upon anyone. Oscar is a great guy, and a great competitor. God bless him.”—a shaken Delvin Rodriquez
“We’re all devastated by this. He’s been a son to us for the past 12 years and we hope and pray he recovers from this injury.”-Donna Duva-Brooks
Oscar soon lapsed into a coma. At University Hospital, he underwent emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. He emerged from the coma two months later, but was not in good shape despite reports to the contrary. He suffered serious medical complications and setbacks in the years after the injury. Upon being released from the hospital, he was placed in a San Antonio nursing home. Reportedly, he could not walk on his own and was able to say just a few words like “yes” and “no. Diaz’s brother, Fernando, put it best, “We need a miracle.”
And then he was all but forgotten.
Seven years later, on February 27, 2015, the following appeared in the New York Times Sports Section: “Oscar Diaz, a former welterweight boxing champion whose career ended when he sustained a debilitating brain injury in a fight nearly seven years ago, died on Thursday in San Antonio. He was 32.”
Yes, this tragedy arose out of the culture of boxing and everything that could be done was done to provide safeguards and prevent the worst from occurring. This was no Greg Page situation; no Magomed Abdusalamov incident. But that doesn’t mitigate the cry that many of us heard. We will never ever forget that.
“If I could go back in time, this fight would have never happened….Oscar, rest in peace.”- Delvin Rodriguez.
Fast Forward (2017)
Featherweight boxer Daniel Franco suffered severe head injuries in his knockout loss to Jose Haro at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa, in a bout telecast on the CBS Sports Network. The USBA featherweight title was at stake. Following the scary eighth-round KO, Franco, 25, of Rancho Cucamonga, CA, was transported to Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa, for emergency surgery to stop two brain bleeds. He was placed in a medically induced coma. Doctors opened his skull to relieve the pressure and repair two small veins.
“At this point the doctors have told us the next 48 hours will be critical in regards to him making a complete recovery. We ask for prayers from the boxing community at this time.” – Franco’s manager Ray Chaparro
And then, Al Franco, Daniel’s father and trainer posted this on his son’s GoFundMe page:“He is improving tremendously…One of our doctors said that Daniel being in the condition he is in is nothing short of a miracle. He wasn’t sure if Daniel would even survive let alone recovering.”
“I’m lucky to be talking to you right now. I’m lucky to wake up in the morning. I always knew boxing was a dangerous sport. I know that people can die in boxing. I knew that, but I didn’t think it would even be this close to happening to me because I was really good.” — Daniel Franco on the road to recovery.
This time the miracle came, though Daniel still has a way to go. But for Oscar Diaz, it never did.
Postscript: There is a back story that involves Franco’s promoter Roc Nation Sports, a company bankrolled by rapper Jay-Z. This one needs to be vetted by every serious boxing fan.
Ted Sares is one of the oldest power lifters in the world and is a four-time winner of the EPF’s Grand Master championship. He also is a member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of
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