While the possibility of a bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao has been the most hyped story in boxing for the past year, the fight that generated the most excitement in 2009 was the dramatic clash between lightweights Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz. That Feb. 28 fight in Houston ended with Marquez adjusting to Diaz’s pressure and knocking him out in the ninth round of a scheduled 12-rounder, and it was recognized by both ESPN and The Ring magazine as the fight of the year.
Marquez (50-5-1, 37 knockouts) and Diaz (35-3, 17 KOs) are now ready to take their best shots at each other again in a July 31 rematch at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, but things have changed since the 135-pounders’ first meeting.
Marquez went on to drop a unanimous decision to Mayweather on Sept. 19 at the MGM Grand Garden in a bout in which Marquez had no answer for Pretty Boy Floyd’s size and speed. Diaz fared slightly better as he moved up to junior welterweight and split two fights against Paulie Malignaggi, winning a unanimous decision on Aug. 22 in Houston before losing unanimously on Dec. 12 in Chicago.
With both fighters coming off losses in higher weight classes, Diaz says he didn’t think the rematch with Marquez would happen. Diaz is looking to get back on track with a fight that can be considered crucial for his career. After winning his first 33 professional bouts, Diaz has lost three of his last five and must win in order to put himself back into the pound-for-pound conversation. Otherwise, it may be time for him to hang up his gloves. “This fight is going to prove to me whether I have it or I don’t,” Diaz says. “This is what’s going to take me to the top in the lightweight division. If it doesn’t happen, then it’s not meant to be and I can move on to bigger and better things.”
Diaz, 26, has already prepared for a life outside the ring. He owns a construction business with his brother, and is on the verge of applying for law school.
Marquez, 36, is focused on casting the Mayweather loss aside and taking down Diaz for a second time.
“It was very significant and motivating,” Marquez says about his first bout with Diaz. “The rematch will be equal, if not better than the first fight.”
Marquez has been in his fair share of entertaining bouts. His 2008 clashes with Pacquiao and Joel Casamayor have showcased his unique ability to alter his game plan on the fly and make the adjustments necessary to stay in a fight. But might all those bouts be taking their toll?
“It’s not harder at all (to train for big fights),” Marquez says. “I’m motivated to defend my titles with the same amount of pride. I don’t know how much longer I will fight; that’s up to God to decide.”
So will the rematch have a different outcome? Noting that his overzealousness cost him the first fight, which was even on the judges’ scorecards before the knockout, Diaz says that he won’t deviate from the game plan and leave himself open against Marquez again.
“The game plan I had in the first fight was working. It was really close and I had the edge,” he says. “What Marquez does well is that he thinks every second of the fight. What you hit him earlier with, you won’t catch him with later.”
But if you ask Marquez, he doesn’t see the fight playing out much different than their first bout.
“We’re not thinking of anything he can do different,” Marquez says. “We’re not going to be overconfident. We’re going in just like the first fight to take care of business.”
Tickets for the Marquez-Diaz fight, which range in price from $50 to $350, can be purchased at ticketmaster.com. The card can also be seen on HBO Pay-Per-View.