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David's bigger, but no Goliath

Jun 24, 2008 7:07 PM

Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz | Goliath is only a 9-2 favorite this coming Saturday at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, but then David may be the bigger man.

He’s not the better man, though.

David Diaz, figuratively the David in this HBO pay-per-view event, is not one to throw stones at, a tough, determined and thoroughly likeable underdog. But with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in his latest "retirement," Diaz is facing the Goliath of the game in the consensus pound-for-pound No. 1, Manny Pacquiao.

In a two-horse race, you should only lay 9-2 on sure things. Pacquiao is a most likely thing, so very probable that I wouldn’t touch the 7-2 buy-back rate on Diaz, even though I could conjure up a scenario or two where the 1996 Olympian from Chicago could win this battle of southpaws.

Size matters and Pacquiao’s first world title came at 112 pounds. He has steadily moved up the scale, winning championships at 122, 126 (I count his 2003 knockout of Marco Antonio Barrera as a title bout) and 130 pounds while earning a label as the most entertaining fighter in the game.

The Filipino movie star, now leads an exodus out of the junior lightweight division into lightweight as he goes for a fifth world title (well, at least Diaz does hold a belt, if not the real championship).

Also moving up are Pacquiao’s great rival, and as far as I’m concerned the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter who might also be considered 1A after his two scrapes with the Pacman, Juan Manuel Marquez and the undefeated Joan Guzman with Edwin Valero surely to follow by year’s end.

I expect Pacquiao to carry most of his speed and all of his power up to 135, but his punches might not have the same effect on the slightly bigger full lightweights. And Diaz actually started his pro career as a junior welterweight, the division he ended up with as an amateur.

And it should be remembered, before any big bets placed on Pacquiao, that this David has beaten more talented fighters in the past almost by sheer willpower. He virtually chased the slick and powerful Zab Judah out of the ring during the 1996 Olympic Trials and then repeated that performance in the Olympic Boxoffs.

Diaz is a hard-nosed, aggressive southpaw who smothers opponents. He doesn’t allow much breathing room and Pacquiao, who is a whirlwind himself, may begin to wonder what it will take to ease the pressure.

Diaz doesn’t quit, well, except for the two years while still undefeated and believing that his career had stagnated. A young lady he was dating suggested he go back to the gym and after he did, he wound up marrying her.

Their patience was rewarded when in 2006 he won the WBC "interim" lightweight title against Jose Armando Santa Cruz – the guy many believe was robbed in a split decision loss to the real 135-pound champion, Joel Casamayor, last November. Diaz showed his heart in that victory, coming from behind to score a rare knockout (only 17 on his 34-1-1 ledger) in the 10th round.

Diaz then solidified his green belt by winning a unanimous, but close decision (by one, two and three points on the official cards), with a strong finish against Erik Morales that, at least temporarily, sent El Terrible into retirement.

Morales had been faded by then, having been twice stopped by Pacquiao, the last time in three brutal rounds.

It’s why, no matter Diaz’s strong will, he probably won’t. Physically, they may be the same size, but Pacquiao just seems a class or two better. Also, in his lone loss against 34 victories, Diaz was stopped at 140 pounds by Kendall Holt, which is no shame. Holt has knocked out a lot of junior welters.

Another caveat, though. In his March 15 split decision over Marquez, Pacquiao suffered a couple of bad cuts. He was cut by Marquez in their 2004 draw, too. These two will be charging at each other. Blood figures to flow.

In the all-southpaw semifinal, there’s another 9-2 favorite, featherweight title-holder Steven Luevano of Los Angeles, who figures to outbox Mario Santiago of Puerto Rico. But the champion, a slick boxer, does not have a big punch – only 15 KO’s on his 35-1 record.

Santiago has 14 on his 19-1 record, but here too there is a reluctance to warm to the challenger. In his last fight, he stopped Eddie Ruiz with a first-round body shot. However, Ruiz has won only one of his last eight starts.