Diaz-Katsidis: When Their Loss Is Our Gain

As far as losers’ bracket games go, Juan Diaz-Michael Katsidis this Saturday night on HBO is as good as it gets. Sure, the recent Phoenix Suns teams and their offensive juggernaut predecessors the Sacramento Kings circa 2002 never made it to the NBA Finals, but who wouldn’t want to see them play each other? And sure, Diaz and Katsidis are both coming off the first losses of their careers, but this is the fight everyone wanted to make happen late last year or early this one anyway, before some squabbles within the Diaz camp unraveled it. That it’s happening in the wake of mutual defeat doesn’t diminish it much at all.
The reason is because both lightweights (135 lbs.) absolutely bring it in just such a way that it’s a virtual mathematical certainty their combat will result in at least a Fight of the Year nomination. Hell, even Diaz’ losing effort to Nate Campbell and Katsidis’ knockout loss to Joel Casamayor already have contributed this year to a March that was so flabbergastingly awesome it left the most hardened scribes gushing about the historic stretch of fights it featured. That they’re still two of the elite in arguably boxing’s best division doesn’t hurt the sizzle, either.
There is one way in the math equation that the fight turns out to not be very good, and even that path offers at least a few rounds of unholy brawling. Said path is in the hands of Diaz.

Diaz is, by nature, a brawler. He’s a fascinating boxing anomaly ‚Äì a brawler who doesn’t hit all that hard. Instead, his success has come as a result of the quantity of his punches rather than the quality of them. In his two biggest wins, Julio Diaz and Acelino Freitas really just got sick of being punched so goddam much and quit, giving Diaz two knockout wins. Those wins in particular earned him a spot on many writers’ lists of the 10 best boxers on the planet, regardless of size. Then in March, he ran into an inspired 36-year-old Campbell, who out-Diazed Diaz, actually outworking the young college student slash boxer despite Diaz being 12 years his junior. That, plus a Busch league decision to hire a cut man of no repute ‚Äì which Campbell remarked left Diaz in such a state he “almost bled to death” via a cut over his eye ‚Äì left Diaz, for the first time in his career in full retreat and on the wrong end of a decision.
Diaz has perhaps, as a result of the lesson he got from Campbell, said he will brawl with Katsidis as long as it works. If it doesn’t, he has said he will look to outbox Katsidis. Diaz has a great jab and he can move his feet well enough to make that a potentially effective strategy, if that’s what he chooses to do. It’s just that the fight will slow down a little if he does. Maybe.
That’s because Katsidis is himself a brawler who forces his man into action whether he likes it or not, albeit one who hits harder than Diaz. He hits so hard, in fact, he knocked Casamayor all the way out of the ring in their March scorcher. And for many rounds against Casamayor, Katsidis proved he could be exciting and effective chasing around a fancy boxing type, so maybe Diaz won’t be able to slow things down much. Katsidis, in fact, has in his last three bouts been in a three straight Fight of the Year nominees, going back to 2007. It’s pretty clear that no matter who you put in front of him, he’s going to make something happen, win or lose, his blood or his opponent’s or both, getting knocked down or knocking his man down or both. He beat Graham Earl after mutual knockdowns. He nearly beat Casamayor after mutual knockdowns, then lost in the most sensationally stupid way that still deserves praise: Determined to knock out his man, he charged out recklessly in the 10th round and in doing so left himself open to getting knocked out in return. By his own 36-year-old opponent, a man seven years his senior.
I do, in fact, see this going the way Diaz anticipates it could. That is, it’ll be a crazy slugfest for a few rounds, and then Diaz will be forced by Katsidis’ power to switch to dancing a little. When that happens, it’ll be a question of who learned the most from their defeat at the hands of savvy vets. Diaz should have tried moderating his brawling style with better boxing against Campbell ‚Äì it might not have worked, because Campbell is a good boxer himself, but Campbell was outbrawling him without question. Katsidis should have not charged in so recklessly againt Casamayor ‚Äì it might not have worked, because Casamayor was ahead on one card and building momentum at the time, but the decision got him knocked out.
No matter how it plays out, it’s a fitting kickoff to the return of major boxing in September, to be followed the next weekend by two more fights featuring four fighters at the top of the lightweight division.
My prediction: Perhaps after suffering a knockdown, I expect Diaz to pull out the close decision with his superior boxing skills. Katsidis caught Casamayor with big punches despite Casamayor’s own more advanced tecnique, but Casamayor’s not as fleet of foot at his age as Diaz likely can be, and Diaz catches more punches on his gloves.
Confidence: 60%. Katsidis has one-punch knockdown power if not one-punch knockout power, and Campbell showed Diaz’ chin isn’t invulnerable. At any point, Katsidis could finish Diaz, and don’t count Katsidis out at all if he gets knocked down himself.
My allegiance: Oooo, this one’s tough. Diaz has been one of my favorites for a while, but Katsidis really pleased me by decking Casamayor, one of my least favorite. Actually ‚Äì I’m gonna go ahead and be neutral Saturday. But if those Suns played those Kings, I’d be for the Suns, for the record.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.