Lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez, 51-5 (37), made it official that he is a better fighter than Juan Diaz, 35-4 (17), Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, NV. In a rematch of last year’s “Fight of the Year.” That first fight ended by a ninth-round knockout. This fight ended by unanimous decision as Marquez outboxed, outfought, and outthought a better version of Juan Diaz than most expected.
Diaz came out early boxing and fighting tall. He was prone in the past to volume punching and ineffective aggression, attacking over his front foot, losing balance and leaving himself open to the uppercut. In this fight, he stood tall behind a jab and shell defense and worked at Marquez from that posture, never getting overly aggressive and retreating in a circular fashion when he ate too much leather.
Marquez went steady at Diaz, fighting in his classical boxing style, all smooth, technical and controlled aggression. The Nacho Beristain-trained fighter flashed his teacher’s trademark lead uppercut in the fourth and rocked Diaz but was measured in his follow up and Diaz survived.
Through the middle and down the stretch, the fight was all Marquez. Slowly Diaz, known as “The Baby Bull,” was drained of life by the thousand cuts of Marquez’ sharp combinations. Though he would fight in spurts here and there, it was merely the echoes of a fire that once burned with promise. Marquez, his technique aging like the best single malt scotch, smoothly worked over Diaz, with a rapier jab that hid the dagger, if a right hand, the impeccable footwork and balance. All the years of training in Beristain’s gym and under his tutelage showed tonight as Marquez boxed and fought all the way to the final bell; each fighter showering the other in leather though the conclusion was already certain between them.
The scores were read, with and Marquez’ hand raised, at 116-112, 118-110, 117-111.
The fight of the night was American Danny Jacobs, 20-1 (17), vs. Russian Dmitry Pirog, 17-0 (14). It was a classic match-up of two fighters going for their first middleweight title. Jacobs was thought to be the faster more athletic fighter. Pirog was known to be slicker than your average Euro but, still, there were skeptics. When you break the two fighters down, Jacobs fights in a more classic stand-up boxing style, similar to the Euro style while Pirog fights very American but with the discipline and precision of a Euro fighter. Let me tell ya, folks. It won’t be easy to beat.
The first moment of the fight was Jacobs’ best as he came forward and punched Pirog right in the mouth. Great shot. From there, Pirog showed every defensive posture you could think of. Philly shell, turtle-style defense, shoulder roll, the James Toney. He would slip shot and catch and counter. Pirog changed southpaw and orthodox with regularity as well. But always, Pirog was the aggressor in an almost Jose Luis Castillo-manner. Pressure and cutting the ring off.
It was clear after one round that Jacobs had his hands full with a big time Rubik’s Cube of an opponent.
Early in the second, Jacobs got even more than he bargained for when he backed up into the corner and ate a huge right hand by Pirog that buckled him to an almost sitting position. It looked like a knockdown but he hopped back up so fast and kept fighting. The moment passed with no word from referee Robert Byrd. From here on in, Jacobs didn’t just have his hands full. He had a full scale emergency on his hands.
Pirog was a shape-shifting shadow in there. He’d moved forward but in a way that shifted him from southpaw to orthodox and back again. He’d get in a right and be gone. He’d drop in a straight left and duck under, ripping shots to the body.
Pirog also showed patience as he hunted down Danny Jacobs. He didn’t overextend himself but rather took his time.
In the fifth, Pirog didn’t have to wait anymore. He had Jacobs moving to the ropes deep into the round. Pirog switched southpaw then orthodox and again and again as he moved towards Jacobs and dropped in a nuke of a right hand that froze Jacobs in mid-air, sending him to Candyland. Jacobs was out for a good long while, then tried to get up when he regained consciousness and was set back down by the referee who stopped the action at 57 seconds of the fifth round. At the time of the stoppage, though you’d have to be blind and crazy to believe this, judges Duane Ford, C.J. Ross, and Paul Smith all had Jacobs winning by scores of 39-37.
Another interesting note: HBO did not interview the winner of the fight but rather Jacobs. Jacobs is managed by Al Haymon who is known to have strong ties to HBO brass. One has to wonder how strong that tie is when the winner of a fight can’t get his victory interview. Shame on someone for that.
In the predictable undercard, Robert Guerrero survived a late knockdown to pound out a unanimous decision over Joel Casamayor and Rocky Juarez came on in the last two rounds of his fight with Jorge Linares to lose by unanimous decision.
On the untelevised undercard, Sakio Bika was disqualified for hitting Jean Paul Mendy when he was down in the first round after Bika dropped a bomb on him in the corner and buckled his knees. On the replay, you can see Mendy bend to the ground on a low crouch; his knees just touching the canvas. Bika looks and lands an uppercut that absolutely knocks Mendy cold on his face.
While I have no problem with the call, I do have a theory. Bika looked upset and a little confused by the DQ call. Here is why I think that is: Mendy wore knee-high blue socks the same color as the canvas. As he crouched down hurt, Bika looked down but at that angle and the way the socks blended with the canvas, Bika misjudged that he was still up and went for broke. Possible? You be the judge.