Juan Diaz vote for a heavy favorite

Sep 2, 2008 7:05 PM

Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz | The dog days of summer are finally over, hopefully to be replaced by the underdog days of the remainder of the boxing calendar.

But not so fast. For the first major TV bout after Labor Day, while the price may not be right for some, the heavy chalk looks pretty solid. Juan Diaz, fighting after the zero on his record was burst last March by Nate Campbell, is the worthy 3-1 or 7-2 favorite over Michael Katsidis, whose zero was burst two weeks later by Joel Casamayor.

You might think of this as the "repechage" of the talent-packed lightweight division (maybe I watched too much Olympics, although I’m proud to say, very little of the boxing). This Saturday’s HBO doubleheader will be followed a week later by dueling 135-pound title fights – Campbell on Showtime defending against the undefeated and oft-brilliant Joan Guzman, Casamayor on HBO against Juan Manuel Marquez.

And both titleholders are currently underdogs for those compelling matches.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Though the odds would indicate a noncompetitive main event this Saturday, it is still one ghoulish fans highly anticipate. Diaz and Katsidis are two aggressive, fun-to-watch sluggers. There will be enough blood to satisfy the Red Cross.

Which is why Diaz, the Baby Bull who was working his way through college as a ring champion, should not tempt the bridge-jumpers. Diaz, who was getting on-the-job training as a title-holder, was thought to have been the cream of the division, which did not yet include Manny Pacquiao.

Instead, the hard-hitting Campbell took advantage of some gaping defensive weaknesses. Though the decision was "split," there should be no question as to who won that March 8 fight. Put it this way: Bill Clancy’s scorecard for Diaz should disqualify that "judge" forever more.

Campbell’s victory was a shocker. Two weeks later, the undefeated Katsidis literally ran into a meat grinder in Casamayor, rushing across the ring at first bell and getting dropped twice in the opening round by the crafty Cuban. The Australian, nicknamed "The Great," recovered to drop the ancient Olympic champion in the sixth and seemed to be on his way to victory when he was knocked cold in the 10th.

Neither March loser has fought since.

How fighters recover from first losses could be the basis of a psychology 101 term paper. I suspect this will not be a major factor in this case. But other signs point definitively to a Diaz victory.

Yes, he has the homecourt advantage, fighting in Houston. And yes, he has faced better opposition, including stoppages of Julio Diaz and Acelino Freitas that, in retrospect, were not as flattering as once believed. But the 24-year-old Diaz (he’ll turn 25 only 11 days after this fight) had been a titleholder since 2004, when outpointing the tough Mongol, Lakva Sim.

At the time of his upset by Campbell, he held 135-pound recognition from the WBA, IBF and WBO. Still, all this is probably overshadowed by a more fundamental difference: He’s better than Katsidis.

Diaz has quicker hands and is more apt to land his combinations. He seems to have a solid chin; Katsidis’s chin can not be called "great," although he is facing a lesser puncher than he did in Casamayor. Diaz has only 17 stoppages on his 33-1 pro record.

Katsidis has 20 on his 23-1 mark. But until this year, his best victories were last year’s triumphs over Czar Amonsot and Graham Earl.

Whatever, this is an action fight and it is preceded by Diaz’s longtime Houston partner, Rocky Juarez, who was believed by many to have been the better prospect when they started. But it seems every time Juarez stepped up, he tripped.

His four losses against 27 victories (19 by KO, he can indeed punch when he remembers to throw) were all on points – two to Marco Antonio Barrera and one to Juan Manuel Marquez, obvious future Hall of Famers.

The other loss was to Humberto Soto, a quality fighter who was talked about as a Pacquiao opponent until the world’s No. 1 was anointed by Oscar de la Hoya as his Dec. 6 dance partner. Despite the size difference, it is a fight that will make a lot of money, but far from the top of my wish list.

Juarez, technically solid except for that reluctance to fire, is the underdog. However, I’m not exactly sure why. Jorge Barrios is still given credit for his terrific bout against prime Freitas in 2003. He lost a split decision to the unbeaten and oft-brilliant Guzman in 2006.

His losses seem of higher quality than the victories. He’s now 32 and hasn’t fought since April of 2007, when he needed only three rounds to stop someone named Decho Bankluaygym. The Argentine veteran does not seem worth his 8-5 price; I much prefer the plus +135 or so buyback rate on Juarez.

And I have definite leans toward those underdogs on the Sept. 13 dueling dates. More about this next week.