This was a little like the Miguel Cotto-Yuri Foreman fight in June, where Cotto in his junior middleweight debut showed signs of being vital but against an opponent unlikely to prove otherwise. Like Cotto, lineal lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez looked excellent Saturday night in winning a unanimous decision rematch against a younger but more worn Juan Diaz. Diaz was caught in no-man’s land: If he sold out, he’d get flattened, like last time, but when he tried to box, he got outboxed by a master.
The card might not have delivered on the top-to-bottom promise it presented on paper, but it had its moments. Lightweight Jorge Linares did a better job of surviving the perennial late charge from Rocky Juarez than some others have, showing he was capable of withstanding the shots of a big puncher between putting on a boxing exhibition. Robert Guerrero traded knockdowns with Joel Casamayor in a junior welterweight catchweight fight, dominating but failing to impress. And relatively unknown middleweight Dmitry Pirog knocked out highly-touted Daniel Jacobs in what was a seesaw affair to that point in the only upset of the night.
JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ-JUAN DIAZ II
Someone please tell me how Diaz could have won this fight. He wasn’t going to outbox any version of Marquez — it simply couldn’t happen. The best he could hope for was that Marquez was shot after a number of grueling fights, including the only one-sided pasting of his career against a much larger Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in September. This wasn’t a shot Marquez. Far from it. At 36, he looked terrific, even.
Some of that was helped by the fact that Diaz, at 26, has been in a lifetime of wars. With 10 years difference between them, Diaz has been in 39 fights, far outpacing Marquez’ similar 56 fights. And most of them have been hard. What made Diaz special — let’s not forget that he was in many pound-for-pound top 10s a few years ago — was his level of insane commitment. He couldn’t punch that hard, but he was willing to wade through plenty of hard stuff to outwork everyone and bend them to his will. But since Nate Campbell upset him in 2008, he hasn’t been able to do that for one reason or the other. Against Michael Katsidis in a win, he made a strategic decision. Against Marquez the first time, he couldn’t hit as hard and got countered perfectly because of all his aggression, leading to a KO loss. Against Paulie Malignaggi, he wasn’t big enough or fast enough.
He made the decision this time that he wouldn’t try to overwhelm Marquez. And even then, what aggression he showed got him hurt, with Marquez wobbling him in the 4th and 6th. Working angles — the game plan here — wasn’t good enough, because hardly anyone works them like Marquez. So the only choice was how Diaz lost. He opted for losing on his feet, trying to be tactical. And, somehow, it almost worked for him in the 11th and 12th. Those, though, were the only rounds I gave Diaz other than the 2nd. It’s not that he wasn’t competitive throughout. It’s just that he didn’t win rounds. And it was a good fight, although not nearly the great one the first bout was.
Marquez was not as brilliant as HBO’s commentating team made him out to be. (Emmanuel Steward in particular had a bad night, saying that Diaz was fighting a wonderful fight in a bout he was losing easily, then before that saying Juarez was fighting a wonderful fight when it was patently clear Juarez needed to be busier to have a chance.) But he was more brilliant than Diaz, and he was pretty damn good. He didn’t look shot to me — he looked like his pound-for-pound top-10 status was warranted. Offensively, he was on point, putting together those classic combos, the kind of combos that make you think of Greek statues that are antiquated but crafted from stone into finely-honed forms. His jab started things, but his uppercuts, hooks and body work did the most magic.
Diaz can’t be counted as an elite fighter anymore, under any universe. Even with his caliber of competition, you’ve got to go better than 2-4 over two years to have that designation, and some of those fights he lost badly. If I were him, I’d get out now and go be a lawyer full-time. He can make some more cash in this game, but it’ll be a lot less, and it’ll be as an opponent. Are there any top-10 lightweights you’d pick him to beat? None in my book. It’s a career he can be proud of — he showed that fighting good competition is a great way to make money, and he was able to extend his career for a while even after some losses because he was competitive for the most part and because we appreciated him daring to be bold.
Marquez revives his career a bit after a difficult outing against Diaz the first time around and a nasty beating at the hands of Mayweather. I’ve never thought he’d beat Manny Pacquiao in a third fight, and still don’t. But he showed enough that he’d be a far better opponent in November for Pacquiao at 140 than Antonio Margarito at 150. Don’t count on it, given the renewed Cold War between Marquez’ promoter, Golden Boy, and Pacquiao’s promoter, Top Rank, and Marquez’ historically absurd contract demands for a trilogy bout. But before this fight, I wouldn’t have liked Marquez’ chances against Michael Katsidis or against Amir Khan at 140, either. Now those are competitive bouts in my mind. And fantastic ones.
DMITRY PIROG-DANIEL JACOBS
Pirog entered this fight as something of a mystery. I knew he had power. I knew he had some awkwardness. Now I know he’s for real. Jacobs wasn’t the consensus 2009 Prospect of the Year by accident — we didn’t all collectively buy some unjustified hype. Jacobs had shown speed, power, skill, the ability to adjust and some toughness. He showed all those things here, too, but he ran into a fighter he couldn’t figure out and all credit due to Pirog for that. The pair delivered the best fight of the pay-per-view card.
Just watch the sequence where Pirog scored the 5th round knockout. He did a little stutter step, jabbed at a strange moment, got jabbed himself and still let a beautiful right cross fly that landed straight on Jacobs’ chin, crumpling him. Jacobs said he didn’t see him coming, and it’s hard to say who would’ve. When Jacobs landed, he looked completely out. Five seconds into the count, he started to stand up like nothing happened. The referee pushed him back down. It was a strange sequence, but it was all over.
I thought Pirog won the first two rounds. His head movement was elusive, far more impressive than in the videos I’d seen. I’d thought him crafty from what I’d watched, but not that crafty. He was unreservedly crafty Saturday. He nearly knocked Jacobs down in the 2nd, too. But to his credit, Jacobs both got busier and on his feet more in the 3rd and 4th, winning both rounds by touching Pirog more than he was trying to land much hard — he’d mix some of that in, but mainly he was winning by making contact where Pirog wasn’t. And he was winning the 5th, too, as I saw it. Then came that weird moment.
There will be people who write Jacobs off here. Not me. I’m not saying he’s a can’t-miss, but young boxers with less promise have come back after losses against lesser opponents than Jacobs did. He was coming into a week where his grandmother died, against an opponent with some power and some awkward ability, awkwardness than translated into punches Jacobs couldn’t see — the classic recipe for an unexpected knockout loss. With some more seasoning against funky dudes, maybe he’s ready for someone like Pirog next time. And while he doesn’t have a great chin — Shawn Porter knocked him down in the amateur ranks — he hadn’t previously shown a terrible one — he’d gotten up against Porter, a decent puncher, to win that bout, and never had been hurt as a pro. Let’s see where he is in two years. I bought into Amir Khan and Jorge Linares, tremendously talented boxers who lost by knockout only to rebound, and I’m inclined to think Jacobs does too.
Pirog, as I said, is for real. I don’t know who’s going to want to fight him, but I hope some top-notch middleweights will take a chance. And I hope HBO has him back. He put on a good, exciting performance, and I want to see him some more.
ROBERT GUERRERO-JOEL CASAMAYOR
I hadn’t anticipated this fight would be a measure of Guerrero’s viability as an opponent in a big fight, because I didn’t know what Casamayor would have left. The answer, it turns out, was “almost nothing,” and Guerrero’s performance as such reflected poorly on his viability as an opponent in a big fight.
Guerrero won, and he won easily. For nine rounds, he did more than enough to take every stanza. In the 3rd, he scored a dubious knockdown off a left hook that left Casamayor tackling Guerrero. The referee had already docked Casamayor, deservedly, for said tackling, so he went ahead and scored a knockdown on that one. Guerrero wobbled Casamayor in the 6th and 7th, after realizing that his corner’s advice was right — Casamayor couldn’t hurt him. In the 10th, Guerrero somehow walked into a jab that somehow put him down.
It wasn’t a good night for Guerrero, despite the easy win. Certainly, Casamayor’s counterpunching makes him dangerous even for an opponent who is winning. But until that mystifying 10th round jab, nothing Casamayor did was causing Guerrero much trouble. Guerrero was bigger. He was faster. He was sharper. He was fresher. Casamayor, at 39, only had cageyness left. Guerrero should have pressed more, knocked Casamayor out and made a case for himself as an opponent for Marquez, whom he’s called out.
It’s hard to say why Guerrero was so cautious. The Casamayor countering, maybe, except for none of it was doing much damage, and even Guerrero was apparently convinced of that. I usually don’t make much of opponents touching gloves, but maybe the friendship between Guerrero and Casamayor was a reason for Guerrero’s pause. There was a bit too much celebrating between the two afterward for my tastes.
So: Casamayor is done, unless he’s got a ninth life, and Guerrero’s mercurial nature failed him at the wrong time. Here was a chance for him to create some demand for himself, after flashes of doing so in his career. Yet I’m left with little interest in seeing him again.
JORGE LINARES-ROCKY JUAREZ
One of the reasons people had been so high on Linares, myself included, was that he does things hardly anyone else does. You don’t see left uppercuts thrown that crisply except for by someone on the skill level of Marquez. Against Juarez, besides that left uppercut (which led to a 5th round knockdown) he also did beautiful work with his jab and his right to the body, then when Juarez would adjust to that, he’d find another weapon, like a right to the head. His movement was intelligent, if not a touch excessive for the sake of the fans, plus he showed some fighting spirit when trapped against the ropes and slugging his way out of it. He’s silky, with major-league talent.
Juarez, of course, is Juarez. This summer, most Washington Wizards fans were pleased to see Mike Miller depart in free agency. “He’s a shooter who doesn’t shoot,” we said. Juarez is, and forever shall be, a power puncher who doesn’t punch. Oh, he finally let go with abandon in the 9th and 10th, and it was enough to win both rounds — Linares, for all his skill, left some openings, and Juarez exploited them late. Maybe if he does that earlier, he wins. But it’s a maybe that is theoretically irrelevant. It has never happened and won’t.
What matters is that Linares held up well to what big shots Juarez did land. Linares stood up to them better than the more accomplished Chris John, for sure. There were legitimate questions about Linares’ chin after his 1st round knockout loss two fights ago against unheralded Juan Carlos Salgado. But his chin, if not extra-sturdy, is sturdy enough to make him viable against top-notch punchers. It’s too early to say he’s “back,” officially. But he took a big step in that direction.
Juarez can stick around and be this kind of test if he wants. He’s too frustrating for me to care about, really. Linares, though, has options. I’ll be interested to see what Golden Boy comes up with for one of its finer young talents.
As for the rest of the night:
- Hard-luck super middleweight Sakio Bika made some of his own bad luck, knocking down Jean Paul Mendy in the 1st round then hitting him while he was down to get himself a deserved disqualification. Referee Joe Cortez’ worst career moment came when he disqualified Humberto Soto against Francisco Lorenzo, so it was a gutty call, but the right one. It’s too bad. Bika was destructive before the DQ, but that last punch came way too late, and it was hugely damaging, putting Mendy down and out. Mendy gets a win in a title eliminator that he surely would have lost if not for Bika’s poor decision, and will be easily dispatched by Lucian Bute if and win that fight is ever made.
- Junior welterweight prospect Frankie Gomez was his usual destructive self in a 1st round knockout over Ronnie Peterson. This kid really does explode. There’s no other way to describe it. In an interview, he complained that it’s been too easy so far. He’s right — it’s probably time to step it up a touch. Fights like this do nothing for him. I’m not saying he needs to be rushed, but this fight accomplished no goals.
- British super middleweight prospect George Groves scored a 6th round stoppage against Alfredo Contreras, who was tough and awkward. We didn’t get the whole fight on Golden Boy’s “freeview,” but from the 3rd round on, Groves looked good. He has a bit of heavyweight David Haye’s style to him — Haye, whose appearance on screen made me seethe in contempt, is his promoter — with that low left hand and looping shots. But he’s got better defensive instincts, and is not as fast or powerful. Still, I liked what I saw.
- In what might have been the best fight of the night, lightweight Juan Manuel Montiel decisioned Mike Peralta. Montiel started strong, slugging to the body and even scoring a knockdown. But in the 4th, Peralta rallied even though he was bleeding from every orifice on his face. Montiel regained control, but Peralta never gave up.