I never would have guessed that the August fight between Juan Diaz and Paulie Malignaggi would've created so much interest, and that's even before the controversy about hometown scoring in Texas kicked up.
Diaz-Malignaggi was a fight between two guys who, when last seen by most, had been beaten convincingly. Diaz lost a Fight of the Year-worthy war against Juan Manuel Marquez in February, and though Malignaggi had an off-TV win over a journeyman early this year, the majority last saw or heard about him when Ricky Hatton trounced him in November 2008.
The bout was also buried in August, typically boxing's slowest month of the year (the exact reason that yours truly got married in August). Diaz and Malignaggi aren't big punchers, aren't real big names, and their catchweight bout, in some ways, felt like a loser's bracket matchup going in. Not that it wasn't a good matchup; it was a great idea for both of them, in fact. But who would really care past the diehards?
For whatever reason, the fight did good ratings on Boxing After Dark. And then the controversy came. Most everyone had the fight 115-113 or at most 116-112 one way or the other. But after Malignaggi had warned that he was going to get screwed by Texas officials in Diaz's home state, Texas judge Gale Van Hoy's card was announced.
118-110 for Diaz. Malignaggi lost it in a post-fight rant, declaring boxing to be "bulls**t," and saying he now only does it for the paydays. While that was probably an overly emotional statement, Paulie's impassioned tirade set off a choir of fans and media joining his cause. Simply put, Van Hoy's scorecard was inexcusable, and everyone agreed, including Oscar de la Hoya (Diaz's promoter) and Diaz himself.
Four months later, here we are with the rematch. On neutral ground at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, Diaz and Malignaggi meet once again.
I always have to note this little bit before any rematch. Statistically speaking, the guy that won the first fight almost always wins the rematch. You might argue that Malignaggi won the first fight (I scored it for him, too), but let's not start painting it the way Team Paulie tried to, with this "everyone knows I beat him" stuff. Diaz had a very good argument to have won, but he sure as hell didn't win 118-110. That's why we have this rematch. Thanks, Gale Van Hoy.
Diaz (35-2, 17 KO) will almost surely look to do first what he always does: pressure, pressure, pressure and volume punching. Work the body, crash to the inside, and push Paulie around. Malignaggi, though, has the speed, the jab and the height and length to make Diaz miss and to keep him at bay, which he did in the first fight.
But my concern on Paulie's side is, can he really do any better than he did last time out? He's been inconsistent since the Cotto fight. Sometimes, he shuts out an opponent (Edner Cherry, Lovemore N'dou the first time), and other times, he looks a little rocky (N'dou the second time, Herman Ngoudjo). Hatton flat-out kicked his ass, but (forgive me, Baby Bull fans) Juan Diaz is not Ricky Hatton. He's just not that physically strong, and also, Hatton looked better in that fight than he had in years.
As for Malignaggi, I'd say his performance against Diaz in August was about as good as we can expect him to be anymore. Diaz, on the other hand, can be better than he was. Both of these guys are a slight bit shop-worn for their ages. Diaz, 26, has been through some wars, and has been fighting top competition for years now. Malignaggi, 29, has not only taken that severe beating from Miguel Cotto back in 2006, but he's had a ton of hand injuries that have sapped him of any bit of power he ever did have in the first place.
Malignaggi lives and dies on his speed and whether or not he "feels it" that particular night. Diaz, I believe, is more likely able to overcome a bit of an off night, as he's a bit more dynamic than Malignaggi. For me, this is a necessary-enough rematch of a pretty good fight that I don't think will be as good the second time around. But I also don't think we'll have any controversy this time. Juan Diaz by clear decision
On the undercard, 140-pound prospect Victor Ortiz looks to rebound from an emotional, devastating loss to Marcos Maidana in June. No matter how he tries to spin his post-Maidana comments, I will question Ortiz's level of fortitude until he proves that he can hang in a tough fight. Not because I don't like him (although I'll admit his bubbly personality just rubs me the wrong way), but because that was a big red flag. "I don't deserve to be getting beat up like this" is a big, big, big red flag.
That said, let's admit something else. Maidana can fight. And Maidana can punch like a mule kicks. Suffering a setback to Maidana itself isn't the big deal, it's how Ortiz immediately responded. But at his age, he'll have plenty of chances to prove people wrong.
Tomorrow, step one is veteran Antonio Diaz, who has been in the ring with the likes of Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito. They both stopped him, Mosley in six and Margarito in ten, and that was back when Diaz was a younger man. He's also fought and beaten Micky Ward, Ivan Robinson, Cory Spinks (he took Spinks' "0" back in 1998), Emanuel Augustus and more. Another of his five losses came early in his career against Juan Lazcano.
In short, Diaz has been around, and he's fought some terrific fighters. At 33 and having taken three years off between 2005 and 2008, Diaz is not the fighter he used to be, but he can still give Ortiz some rounds probably. Best bet is that Ortiz overwhelms Diaz with speed and power, the same as he's done to the other mid-level guys he's fought. But if Ortiz has any lingering mental issues and Diaz manages to tag him early, this could turn into a real fight. I like the kid to bounce back, though. Victor Ortiz TKO-8