Lost in the shuffle this weekend was the relatively quiet return to the ring of Juan "Baby Bull" Diaz, who ended a three-year absence and two-year retirement with a win in Corpus Christi, Texas, against Pipino Cuevas Jr, a hand-picked opponent who did his job, essentially rolling over, though he did complain about the sixth round stoppage by referee Mark Calo-Oy.
Diaz (36-4, 18 KO) hadn't fought since a predictable 2010 rematch loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, a relatively dull affair given high expectations after their 2009 Fight of the Year effort, which led to Marquez getting wasted by Floyd Mayweather. That is how long it's been since Diaz last fought.
Between the Marquez fights, Diaz won controversially at home against Paulie Malignaggi, and that was followed by a clear loss to Paulie on neutral ground in Chicago. Malignaggi was present as a television commentator on Saturday night at the American Bank Center, complimenting Diaz's performance, and doing his job as a company man in that regard.
Diaz, weighing in at 135½ pounds for the fight, so barely over his old, familiar fighting weight, was able to dictate every second of the fight against Cuevas (16-10, 14 KO), whose shiny KO percentage has been achieved against pure bums in Mexico. Like many Jrs and IIs and sons and nephews we've seen in recent years, Cuevas is a pale imitation, at best, of a better fighter who once carried the name. The senior Pipino held the WBA welterweight title from July 1976 until he was stopped in two by Tommy Hearns in 1980. Pipino Jr has never beaten anyone of any note, and has now been stopped in each of his 10 losses.
Diaz, still young in years at 29, looked in just about his normal shape, which is to say he was soft in the middle, even doughy. He's always had that baby fat, and that's just never going to go away. In the past, it was easy to wonder what he could have been like as a featherweight or super featherweight, rather than a lightweight, but Diaz just isn't a lean guy. He's small, at 5'6" with a 67" reach, but not everyone can transform their body into a mass of abs on top of abs like Timothy Bradley, or bust down to an unhealthy-looking lankiness as many fighters do. Diaz is chubby at 135 pounds, and that's just the long and the short of it. Always has been, always will be.
His conditioning never seemed to be a factor, though; it's purely cosmetic. He's shown a good gas tank in past fights, withering only under the assault of clever fighters like Marquez and Nate Campbell, both of whom also hit fairly hard. He never reacted well to bleeding, and any sort of real adversity did seem to make him hit the panic button a bit quicker than anyone would like.
Though it looked at one point as though he could be an elite fighter, his talent simply falls short of that. He is "merely" good, and good is something quite useful to be in the boxing world.
Diaz didn't pressure or pound the body as he used to, but he also didn't have to do that against Cuevas, who didn't much care to offer return fire, and was content to simply avoid contact as much as he could. Diaz, never a big puncher and still not, didn't appear to actually Cuevas at any point, though he laced him with clean right hands more than a couple of times, and still looked like he had some snap to the body when he did go there.
This fight was pure rust-shaking, which is fine. Diaz isn't old and there's no rush -- if he's going to come back, he can afford to inch his way back into things, and not try to rush into anything big for the time being. He's not Ricky Hatton from last year. For one thing, he wasn't returning from a life-shattering KO loss, and he also hadn't let himself go, as far as I know, as Hatton had, nor had he suffered through the personal problems that the "Hitman" endured and ultimately beat.
Hatton's comeback was admirable; though he lost, he went for the gusto instantly, trying to beat a decent, legitimate fighter. Diaz's comeback, on the other hand, was practical. This was a sparring session with no headgear, a tune-up with a payday, and a nice, "How do you do?" to fans who were happy to see him back in action. Diaz was always popular in Texas, and for good reason. He's a likable young man who has had several good fights over his career.
There is a chance, yes, that Diaz can get back into contention, particularly given the overall weakened state of the lightweight division right now. That's not to say he should jump into the ring with someone like Ricky Burns, Miguel Vazquez, Antonio DeMarco, or Richar Abril. Right now, even a guy like Raymundo Beltran would likely be pure hell for him.
Diaz, if the comeback is serious and he's looking for glory again, can afford to go slow, work his way back up on smaller shows which should do well locally for the time being, and then, when he feels like he's back to 100% -- which he was not in this fight -- he can try to make that move.
Little can be learned about the future from a bout like this, but Juan Diaz certainly didn't look like he was making a stupid choice to return to boxing. With time, dedication, and care, he can get back in the race. I say, welcome back, "Baby Bull."