Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Juan Diaz vs Paul Malignaggi Preview

Carlos Acevedo previews Saturday night's junior-welterweight match-up between Juan Diaz (pictured) and Paul Malignaggi.

Photo © Marty Rosengarten /

Juan “The Baby Bull” Diaz and Paulie “The Magic Man” Malignaggi--two fighters looking to reestablish themselves after high-profile defeats--face off Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, in a match that practically personifies the hackneyed phrase “crossroads bout.”

Check out our live blog coverage of this event: Diaz vs Malignaggi

The winner of this match stays in the big money mix and the loser faces a murky future at best. In the end, perhaps, the pressure will weigh more heavily on Malignaggi. Although Malignaggi has won an alphabet title at junior welterweight, he has yet to beat a world-class opponent, and, at 28, with recurring hand injuries and losses in his two biggest fights, it seems possible that Malignaggi views his match with Diaz as a last stand for his career.

Diaz, the former unified lightweight champion, will not have that same sense of urgency. If he loses, he will still be a marketable commodity because of his rip-snorting style. Malignaggi, on the other hand, has no such mojo going for him. If Malignaggi loses, he will be looking at the proverbial Dead End sign; a career, perhaps, of narrowing options and diminishing returns. Not even the skillful legerdemain of Lou DiBella will be able to keep Malignaggi, with all of five knockouts in his career, on HBO.

Malignaggi is a solid underdog going into the bout: 3 ½ to 1 on most books and as high as 4 to 1 on others. To his disgust--and to his surprise--Malignaggi realizes that he is being brought in to face Diaz as an opponent. Malignaggi has agreed to a catchweight of 138 ½ pounds, and he has agreed to fight on enemy turf in Houston, concessions usually made by fighters in the blue corner. He is also keenly aware that Golden Boy Promotions is virtually an HBO subsidiary. Even the selection of the judges reeks of cloak and dagger to the cynical Brooklynite. “Basically,” Malignaggi told William Detloff of The Ring, “they put me in a position where I’m showing up for a loss unless I knock out Juan Diaz, and I’m sick of this shit, man. I’m really sick of the shit that goes on in boxing. Nobody fixes it because the people in power are the commissions and the commissions are the most responsible for fucking all this shit up.”

If indeed, the cards are stacked against him before the pre-fight instructions are read, then Malignaggi will have to be at his very best to win. Unfortunately for Malignaggi, 26-2 (5), he has not looked particularly sharp since losing a punishing decision to Miguel Cotto in 2006. He boxed circles around Edner Cherry and Lovemore N’dou, but looked stale against Herman Ngoudjo, where he was wobbled by his feather-fisted opponent and walked away with unanimous decision that might have been a little less unanimous for some. He also looked vulnerable against creaky warhorse N’dou in their rematch, a fight notable for the infamous fright wig debacle that led to Malignaggi getting an impromptu hair cut in his corner between rounds. Then came the grim thumping at the hands of Ricky Hatton last November in Las Vegas where Malignaggi won only a single round on each of the three scorecards. In addition, Malignaggi has been prone to cut over the last few years and his brittle hands have failed him as recently as the N’dou rematch.

For his part, Diaz, 34-2 (17), is looking to rebound from a devastating stoppage loss to Juan Manuel Marquez last February in a riveting shootout for the lightweight championship. Diaz stormed from his corner at the opening bell in an effort to overwhelm his smaller but more skilled opponent. The two traded blows in a frenzy and for a while it appeared that Diaz, not a serious puncher, might be able to get Marquez out of there. By the middle rounds, however, Marquez was connecting with precise counters and Diaz began to decelerate. In the ninth, Diaz was dropped twice, the second time by a vicious uppercut that practically knocked him head over heels. Referee Rafael Ramos stopped the fight without a count. Marquez is one of the best fighters in the world, no question, but getting flattened by a featherweight is not good news for Diaz. Perhaps this is why Golden Boy Promotions has brought him back against an opponent, Malignaggi, with a knockout ratio of just under 18 percent. Diaz, Houston, Texas, is a relentless pressure fighter who throws left hook after left hook to the body and has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy. Diaz has lost two of his last three bouts, though, and the question of whether he has reached his peak is a legitimate one.

So the scene is set for a fast-paced bout between an aggressive banger sans power and a skilled counterpuncher sans power. Add to this the subplot of two fighters looking to remain in the Big Time and you should have the makings of an exciting fight.

Malignaggi, Brooklyn, New York, is faster and slicker, but he seems to have lost a defensive step or two recently. He blames that on his former trainer Buddy McGirt: “Buddy and I didn't blend well,” he told Nat Gottlieb at “A lot of the things I'd always done well he didn't want me to do. Me being the type who always wants to listen I went along with what he was teaching me. But it got me away from being the fighter I really was.” These are harsh words for a respected trainer, but Malignaggi was just getting started. “Buddy ruined my main asset by taking away my legs,” Malignaggi continued. “I like to go in and then move out, go in and move out. I call it creating space so I can utilize my jab and hand speed. He wanted me to go toe-to-toe with Hatton, which I'm not afraid to do, but it played into Hatton's strength. What Buddy had me do helped Hatton. I was a world champion fighter when I went to Buddy, and I left as a mediocre one."

Malignaggi has since replaced McGirt with Sherif Younan, a Brooklyn-based trainer best known for the “tough love” sessions he used to put his son, amateur wunderkind Sherif Younan, Jr., through at Gleason’s Gym. He now operates out of the Coney Island Boxing Club in Brooklyn.

In order for Malignaggi to win he will have to work like a tight rope artist—without the slightest margin for error. At 5’8 ½”, he has an edge in height over the 5’ 6” Diaz, and a slight pull in reach as well. But Diaz is determined to knock Malignaggi off the wire and send him plunging into the dark netherworld of undercard fights, ESPN2 main events, and syndicated telecasts on regional cable networks.

Diaz feels that Malignaggi will not be able to handle his onslaught. “I'm going in there and do what I do which is work,” Diaz told The Houston Chronicle. “I don't care what Malignaggi's going to do. He can move and be slick, but I think the pressure is going to be the key to the victory.”

Despite his flashy ring style, his fashionista leanings, and his frailty in the ring, Malignaggi is a real fighter inside. He showed tremendous grit coming back from a poor start and an early knockdown against Miguel Cotto to make a fight of it in the late rounds, and when Buddy McGirt threw in the towel during the Hatton massacre, Malignaggi was distraught at having a TKO loss posted on his record. Like Diaz against Nate Campbell, Malignaggi has also fought on in fights with a variety of cuts and ailments.

With that in mind, it should be a tough bout for both men, neither of whom want to take a wrong turn at this point in their careers and wind up on a detour to nowhere.

For more from Carlos Acevedo, check out his blog, The Cruelest Sport on the MVN network.

Check out our preview of Robert Guerrero vs Malcolm Klassen by Michael Nelson.