By Lee Payton
In a battle that will be talked about for some time, the great Juan Manuel Marquez left no doubt who the best lightweight in the world is by stopping Juan Diaz at 2:40 of the 9th round.
The challenger's youthful energy won him the first half, but it was the Champion's class and heart that decided things in the end. If you didn't think he had done enough to warrant a Hall Of Fame induction before, this performance left you with no choice.
Photo © Ray Kasprowicz
Diaz pushed a hard pace upon the older fighter's legs from the first bell, often finding the target with snappy shots that forced Marquez to the ropes. Of course, Marquez tried to match the bursts of punches headed his way with his own sharp counter attacks, but he did seem a little uncomfortable under the intense early heat.
By the 6th round, both men were feeling the effects of the intense combat, and it was the more experienced fighter who found the extra gear. He matched the Baby Bull's overwhelming output, and stood up the explosions that came his way, as he found the range with a dazzling array of counters thrown in combination to the head and body.
The hometown kid's sturdy foundation cracked for the first time, in the 8th. After suffering a cut above the right eye earlier in the round, a sneaky left hook caught him on the jaw and made his back leg lift awkwardly off the canvas. The consummate professional, Marquez didn't try to force the finish. He knew the damage he had just caused wasn't going anywhere.
Diaz showed his own championship heart in trying to fight through a charging opponent and a bad eye, but his grit and enthusiasm weren't enough on this night. He was toppled onto his head by a combination of power shots out of a clinch, and was put down again by another precise assault, that was set up by some smart work to the body. The finishing touches dropped the courageous youngster like he'd been shot and the ref waved the fight off without a count.
While I'm not surprised Marquez was victorious, the way he did it was a bit of a shock. Most thought this fight had 12 rounds written all over it.
Two questions Juan Manuel Marquez has forced us to ask:
Is he better than Morales and Barrera?
Is he the real pound-for-pound king of boxing?
In the co-feature, Indonesian title holder, Chris John, retained his belt with a draw over an inspired Rocky Juarez. It was a very good, professional contest that pitted John's quickness and activity against Juarez' pressure and power.
While his skills were handy, it might have been John's toughness that allowed him to walk away with his belt against a hard charging Juarez who came on very strong down the stretch. And even though Juarez failed to win that elusive strap, he fought with the type of emotion that has been missing during some of his past efforts.
The draw verdict was perhaps a little generous to Juarez, the hometown fighter, although it was a closely contested battle and the decision, at least to these eyes was hardly outrageous.
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Sunday, March 1, 2009
By Lee Payton