Diaz needs
a bloodbath

Mar 1, 2005 4:24 AM

There are times when I think something as brittle as skin should not decide athletic contests.

The course of blood should not change a boxing match. If a cut opens in a bad place, stick a Johnson & Johnson on it and let the games continue.

But then maybe a chin, or lack of it, should not decide a fast-paced battle of reflexes and strategy. Just because you couldn’t hurt Marvelous Marvin Hagler should not deflate the value of Sugar Ray Leonard’s sharp punches.

Sometimes, the battle in the corners during the one minute between rounds is just as important as what transpired during the three minutes in ring central. The cut man can have as much to say about the outcome as the pit crew in a stock car race.

When it comes to handicapping, blood is one of the factors that must be taken into consideration. It is one reason why Jose Luis Castillo (-400) is not a sure thing this Saturday night against Julio Diaz at Mandalay Bay in a major lightweight contest.

Diaz is another reason.

Castillo is one of my favorites and not because as an underdog he beat Juan Lazcano or becoming the first man, in my view, to have really defeated Joel Casamayor. He is one of the most professional of prize fighters, a boxer’s boxer, a slugger’s slugger. Castillo can do it all. He’s not spectacular, just steady and sturdy. He’s not quick of foot, just knows how to cut off the ring. He doesn’t have one-punch power, just more like two or three.

And, he’s very tough — only it’s not skin deep.

Castillo has fragile skin and against a sharpshooter like Diaz, who is quick of foot and quick of hands, that could spell blood. But there is a more telling reason why Diaz is a very live plus $3 underdog. It’s blood "and" guts.

Diaz, from the Coachella, Calif., fighting clan that produced a title challenger in welterweight Antonio, was always supposed to be the prize of the litter. Things happened. He lost a split decision to Angel Manfredy a few years back. He was knocked out in the opening round by Juan (Pollo) Valenzuela, which it turns out was no great shame. Valenzuela is tough junior welterweight.

Last year, Julio finally reached the pinnacle, beating Javier Juaregui for the vacant IBF 135-pound title. And he gave it up rather than fight the unworthy IBF mandatory challenger, Levander Johnson, to take a shot at Castillo.

Diaz said he always wanted to fight the tough Mexican. Years of sparring with big brothers taught him he could handle bigger guys like Castillo. He wants to defeat Diego (Chico) Corrales on a May 7 date reserved for the winner of this fight, then go up to 140 and face Kostya Tszyu.

It says a lot that Diaz was willing to give up a title belt rather than make an easy defense because he wanted to take on a guy who goes in a big favorite. It says a lot, too, that Jauregui once, back in 1991, beat Castillo on a TKO (yes, blood). Diaz deserves much respect for this. He aslo deserves respect for having the right stick-and-move style to confront the champion Castillo.

But while laying 4-1 seems a bit high, and while Diaz is very, very viable at plus $3 or whatever, this underdog player can not risk cash money on this nice matchup. For as good and quick as Diaz is, he is no match for Floyd Mayweather Jr. Castillo, after taking a few rounds to get used to Pretty Boy’s speed, came on to earn the decision on many ringsiders’ cards in their first meeting. He also was competitive in the rematch.

If Castillo can be that close to Mayweather at 135, I think he should be able to figure out a way to get through to Diaz. He may trail after a few rounds, but that won’t deter him. I expect he’ll patiently work the body in an attempt to slow down Diaz so that late he will be the man in charge. The under 10 rounds seems a good bet, but who knows?

This leaves me in even greater perplexity: Who do you choose between Castillo and Corrales? Now, that’s a fight fan’s fight.

On the same Mandalay Bay card as Castillo-Julio Diaz, let’s not forget, Juan Diaz. No relation to Julio, he holds the WBA lightweight belt, which will be on the line April 23 at Caesars Palace against Ebo Elder. It’s a bout where the blood figures to flow against the challenger).

Also, at Caesars Palace that night, unbeaten Jeff Lacy makes the second defense of his 168-pound belt, against Rubin (Mr. Hollywood) Williams. Hollywood beat him once in three amateur matchups. Williams should not have a happy ending against Lacy in the pros.

Take Lacy at any price, if you can find it listed.