The Master Remains A Master
The referenced facts registered not one bit. It was an exceptional night this Saturday evening, February 28, 2008. An unusually windy and chilly night around 40 degrees Fahrenheit deterred not the excitement as cars lined outside the arena, and fight followers marched in droves to their domed prize fighting temple. Their ‘Houston boys’ were representing the city and the great state of Texas. An Indonesia and a Mexican had arrived looking to retain or win a world championship belt.
The nearly freezing temperatures that swirled outside contrasted the heated exchanges, blows, and blood flying across the ring – and outside of it – on boxing’s center stage. With HBO live, boxing fans – normal citizens in daily life – were hungry for a hard fight and displays of courage. The warriors gave it all they had.
In Houston, Texas, the world’s energy capital, crude hovered at over $40 a barrel. On Saturday, Houston became the energy capital for a different reason: boxing. Electricity was in the air, its currency swirling around the Toyota Center as sports fans buzzed around the relatively new facility. People, who were all in anticipation, found their way to their seats.
Marquez vs. Diaz
Given this was the night’s main event, the already excited crowd became even louder as Marquez Diaz rolled along. This time, however, fans in the arena were evenly split between Marquez supporters and Diaz followers. Juan Manuel Marquez, the Ring Magazine world lightweight champion, sought to cement his stature as an elite top three pound for pound fighter. Houston native Juan Diaz, the IBO world lightweight champion, sought to bring pride to his city, and to enter the ranks as one of boxing’s stars.
The first half
Upon entrances from both fighters, Marquez looked very loose and upbeat. He was ready. Diaz, on the other hand, looked very serious and intent. These were telling. Both attitudes, in retrospect, seem appropriate precursors given how the fight transpired.
As soon as the bell rang, the Baby Bull attacked with might, backing up the elder Marquez. The master was getting pressured as the crowd chanted “Diaz, Diaz, Diaz!” The Mexican was focused on creating space for himself. As the counter puncher, he needed room. But he needed that space just to get away from the raging bull. Diaz’s forward energy and slower reflexes translated into accurate counters from Marquez. Diaz’s sheer volume of jabs an hooks, however, successfully rattles Marquez on the ropes – sweat flies off the Mexican’s head courtesy of the bull’s blows. Marquez’ superior hand speed helps him succeed in powerful counters. But early on, his inability to get away causes trouble for the aged fighter. After two rounds, Diaz wins both rounds. The cheers are deafening.
Tied 2 – 2.
Marquez has a small cut near the right eye but it does not appear serious. It appears to be on the outside and the red streak is not impairing his view. Still, the sight of blood provided the impression that Diaz is successfully bullying the cerebral and quick tactician. Marquez’s head bobbles backward as he leans against the ropes. His resilient, quick, and power-packed counters connect on Diaz, who still does not appear to be hampered by the Mexican’s collective blows. Marquez’s speed allows him to land more connects. Contrast that with Diaz’s power punches and flush blows that (appear to) stagger Marquez from time to time. Somewhat close rounds, but I scored in favor of the bull. Diaz 4 – 2.
The second half
It is apparent that Marquez can land accurate, clean, and powerful counters on Diaz. These punches come from multiple and unpredictable angles. The bull has been on the loose for the duration of the fight. Finally, the master comes out. High quantity volume counters are creating more space between the fighters. The increasingly tagged Diaz slows down his forward movement. There is slight hesitation in his body language. Diaz is a clean fighter. It would have taken a dirty fighter to keep Marquez pressured and constantly on the ropes. The clenching skills and strength of a Sugar Shane Mosley would have done the trick. This is a critical area of improvement for the 25 year old. Marquez’s comeback has turned confidence into a brazen expedition for more opportunities. The punches are becoming more solid. Blood on Diaz’s right eye. The shark in Marquez comes out. The cut is serious, more blood is flowing, and Diaz is having second thoughts as he stares at his opponent. Momentum Marquez, Diaz is staggered and hurt. The Mexican’s investment in body blows is paying dividends. The bull is slowing and limping as Marquez remains patient and calm.
John vs. Juarez
Chris John, the WBA world featherweight champion from Indonesia – the man who had beaten Juan Manuel Marquez after Marquez managed a draw with Manny Pacquiao in 2004 – squared off with Houstonian Rocky Juarez. The fight represented Juarez’s fifth try at a championship belt – revealing (at the post-fight conference) that he wanted John’s belt in an attempt to induce either Mexico’s Rafael Marquez or Israel Vazquez – both considered elite fighters – to a fight.
The first half
The first couple of rounds saw an inspired Juarez bringing an effective inside attack, successfully keeping John in front as recipient for body and head shots. The crowd was emphatic in chanting “Rocky, Rocky, Rocky!” in spirited unison for the Houstonian. Chris John seemed content in slipping jabs, moving side to side, and keeping Juarez at bay. John landed a few good jab connects early in round 2. Juarez, however, rallied late by his aggressive pursuits and by delivering blows to the body to the taller John. While I had Juarez winning both rounds 1 and 2, I was not convinced that he was a vastly superior fighter than John. This was going to be a close fight. John had smirks on his face, his body language exuded confidence – he was studying his Mexican American opponent. He was undefeated.
It became very apparent that Juarez was going to attack forward for the entirety of the fight. The question was, would John hold up? Would John’s elusiveness avoid the devastating blows? The crowd kept up the occasional “Rocky, Rocky, Rocky!” chorus. It was loud. It was a most united message. Round 3. John does not like being pressured. He seemed uncomfortable early on at Juarez’s relentlessness. Juarez connected a few downstairs and upstairs. No major limb crunchers. The situation called for retaliation, and the Indonesia champ connected again – and again – with jabs and hooks. Juarez walked into the straight-aways – his eyes met gloves – and the hooks shifted the head upon his reaching close range. The more John connected, the connect rate increased. His blows affected Juarez temporarily, albeit in a few milliseconds, but were just enough for the champ to reload and fire off new shells with the guns still smoking red. John starts to control the middle of the ring. Rocky Juarez, the advancing tank, hurts John with body shots: given both men’s size and fighting styles, the body is the champ’s vulnerability. Not enough. John wins rounds 3 and 4.
The second half
A close round 7. Juarez is effective inside. John effective on the outside. Rocky, however, starts to protect his right eye more, somewhat lowering his punch output. Round 8. Juarez is cutting off the ring to prevent John from slipping and sliding, and escaping. Juarez is clinging and rough housing. Juarez has hit John flush several times and the champ is momentarily disoriented from Juarez’s necessary brawl. 4 – 4 tie.
The last few rounds of the fight have a Juarez fighting despite a lack of vision, which is bothering him. Both eyes are closing. His lack of eyesight gives John the opportunity to step back and slip side to side, connecting with his jabs. John has managed to stay in the middle of the ring and is focusing upstairs. Juarez rallies with body shots when he manages to get close.
The fight is too close to call. The final bell rings and I am highly interested in the judges’ scoring. All three score it 114 – 114. A DRAW.
I found it a reasonable and appropriate scoring conclusion. There was no conclusive winner on this. There is admiration at impartial assessments. And the hometown hero should be treated equally as his out-of-town foe.