It’s rare that a fighter faces a potential career-ending bout at 26 years old. But that is the case with Juan Diaz, whose career as an elite fighter rests on his rematch showdown with Juan Manuel Marquez this Saturday (July 31). While an exciting pressure fighter, Diaz has lost the majority of his fights over the past two years. And the Baby Bull has made it clear that retirement is a better option than becoming a division stepping stone or going through a prolonged rebuilding phase.
The task in front of him is daunting. In Marquez, Diaz is fighting the best counter-puncher in the sport. Diaz’s pressure style and lack of punching power gives his opponent the opportunity to time him with precision shots as the fight progresses. But one thing you can’t quantify is Diaz’s will, and with a few strategic adjustments he explains why July 31 will redeem his career.
Ismael AbduSalaam: Thank for making time Juan I know the scheduled is tight with the fight coming up. Has it been difficult for you to adjust to the criticism you’ve been getting over the past year or so? Before the losses it was straight glowing accolades from the fans and the media.
Juan Diaz: No problem. I haven’t really bothered paying attention to any of the criticism or what the critics have to say. There’s always going to be people criticizing [and] those that love you and those that hate you. It comes with the territory. And I know internationally that’s how history has been in the past. Even the great fighters of the past decades have been criticized when they don’t look so good. Most of the time the spotlight is on me since I’m in the main event. I just have to take it and roll with it.
Ismael: How would you rate Marquez’s punching power? You’ve said before you felt you had the edge until the later rounds. Did his punch surprise you any?
Diaz: I definitely need to worry. But it’s not so much his punching power; it’s his accuracy. All the punches you think you’ve going to block, you don’t block them. He has tremendous accuracy with every punch he throws and lands, so I have to be careful. That’s what I’ve been concentrating on for the rematch.
Ismael: This is something you can’t really “prepare” for, but people before have talked about how you’ve reacted to cuts in the first fight and the Campbell fight. You were rattled, but of course if you can’t see that’ll rattle any fighter. Have you thought about any way you could retain your calmness if God forbid that happened again?
Diaz: I definitely can. With the fights and being cut you learn from the experience how to deal with it. The first time I got seriously cut [with Nate Campbell] I went into defensive mode. I was waiting too much. The time I got cut with Marquez I was too aggressive and put on a lot pressure. It cost me the fight. If it ever does occur again then I know exactly what I’m going to do, and that is not get too aggressive but not go completely defensively minded.
Ismael: You and Ronnie have talked about the importance of the jab in this fight. In the first one, you were able to drive Marquez to the ropes with it. But we also know the difficulty that comes with trying to hit Marquez repeatedly with the same punch. What provision have you guys put in place to prevent him from being able to counter your jab as the fight goes on?
Diaz: One of the things we’ve worked on is not getting hit with so many clean punches over and over and being an open target. The concentration is on not being an easy target too hit. I might be applying the same amount of pressure, but I’ll be smart about it.
Ismael: Management is always looking at the next matchups that can come out of a fight. Has Golden Boy indicated to you who they want to see you fight next should you win?
Diaz: Well right now there haven’t been any talks of a next fight or potential fight because I didn’t want to hear anything about that. Whenever they mention a potential opponent I just kind of change the conversation, because I know without beating Marquez there is no next opponent.
And by beating Marquez that opens up the doors to many opponents.
Ismael: You’re still a young fighter at 26. But have there been any changes to your body or stamina that have stood out to you in the last year or two? Or do you feel the same as you did in your late teens and early 20s?
Diaz: I definitely feel some changes. My body has matured a little bit more. I feel a little bit stronger than I did in the past, especially at lightweight. But I get a little bit sorer nowadays; before that wouldn’t happen as much. I can definitely tell the years of fighting and training is beginning to take its toll.
Ismael: Everyone is aware of your law school aspirations. Did you already take the test or is that on hold because of the fight?
Diaz: It’s on hold right now. I haven’t taken the test yet. I have to properly prepare for something like that, so I’ve put it on hold for now.
Ismael: Looking at the lightweight landscape, how do you rate the overall health of the division? Outside of you and Marquez, do you think the weight class is strong or in transition?
Diaz: The light weight division is really competitive right now. You have a lot of guys making the transition from junior lightweight to lightweight. And you have a lot of guys coming up and a lot retiring. So I think we’re in the transition phase but still have good fighters.
Ismael: You mentioned earlier you feel stronger now. Pertaining to Marquez, did you feel that you had a strength and speed advantage in the first fight?
Diaz: In the first fight I let my ego take control of the fight. And I think that’s why I lost the first fight so big. My heart was just content on moving forward and not listening to the trainer or strategy, just fighting. This past year has helped me out in the way I think and listen to my corner.
Ismael: Who are your favorite fighters to watch personally?
Diaz: When I’m not training for fights I like watching Shane Mosley. I think he’s a real talented fighter. Another guy is Miguel Cotto, who is also a great fighter I enjoy watching.
Ismael: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions fans and critics are having of you going into this fight?
Diaz: The biggest misconceptions to date are that people think my skills are diminishing and that I don’t belong in the sport of boxing anymore. My biggest goal to myself is not prove to anybody anything, because people are going to believe what they want to. But I want to prove to myself that I belong here and I can still be world champion.
Ismael: Thanks very much Juan; I think we’ll have another Fight of the Year candidate on July 31.
Diaz: Thank you very much and have a good one
Marquez-Diaz II aires live this Saturday July 31 at 9PM on HBO PPV.