It was a Saturday night of boxing where the two biggest fights were almost polar opposites.
From Moscow, a 32-year old, lightly-regarded heavyweight champion with almost no name recognition took on a former four-time champion and gladiator nearing his 45th birthday. In the suburbs of Chicago, two 135-pound champions (ages 27 and 24) went to war.
Similarities? Both of the live crowds could be described as sparse. Both fights could be described as one-sided.
On a high-end Boxing After Dark bout on HBO, 24-year old Juan Diaz destroyed his slightly older counterpart, hammering him with his trademark relentless style, pushing action round after round and beating Julio Diaz up on the inside, forcing Julio's corner to call it off after eight rounds of one-sided boxing. It was a thoroughly dominant performance from Juan Diaz, who is fast becoming a real deal champion.
His skills, savvy and poise are light years ahead of most 24-year old fighters, even the good ones. Juan Diaz is so advanced and so difficult to combat that his last two fights, both televised to national audiences on HBO, have seen him force champions Acelino Freitas and Julio Diaz to simply say, "You know what? Enough of this." You can question Freitas' guts, because we've seen him quit before, and you can question Freitas' skills, because it's been a while since he was the Popo Freitas that became a famous champion. But Julio Diaz is a damn good professional fighter, and a dangerous guy with really good power. Juan completely owned the ring.
Now, what's next for Juan Diaz? There is one more major title in the 135-pound division, held by Chicago's own David Diaz, who was in attendance for Diaz-Diaz and retired the great Erik Morales in a terrific fight in August, which finally made David Diaz something of a star instead of a laughable champion who never actually beat anybody to get the strap. David Diaz is a tough, rugged guy, but against Juan, I see him wilting under the pressure the same as the other 33 guys have thus far.
Manny Pacquiao has said he wants to move to 135, but the name most mentioned there is David Diaz. And David himself is being offered a fight with rising knockout artist Michael Katsidis for January.
This leaves Juan with few options for what he would probably prefer be his next fight date. One name does pop into mind, though: Joel Casamayor, scheduled to finally step back into the ring in November on the undercard of Cotto-Mosley. Casamayor is considered by most of us to be the linear champion of the division, and I still consider him the division's top guy, although Juan is making it decidedly hard for me to continue doing so. Diaz-Casamayor wouldn't get anybody terribly excited, as Casamayor rarely does. With Juan under Don King's care and Casamayor now with Golden Boy, though, it's a fight I think we could see sometime around March. I'd be interested, certainly.
On the other side of the map, Sultan Ibragimov pounded out a lopsided unanimous decision victory over the 44-year old Evander Holyfield, winning on scores of 117-111, 117-111 and 118-110.
Most reports are that Evander had his moments in the bout, showed that his chin is still there though he was staggered a couple of times, and was the early aggressor. I'm happy that Evander Holyfield didn't get embarrassed by Ibragimov, and I'm happy that he seemed, in post-fight comments, to be mostly pleased with his performance.
I'm not terribly pleased that he plans to keep on fighting. I don't care about legacy -- as I've said before, I think legacy is something fans and sportswriters make up for athletes. If any athlete "goes on too long" and "ruins his legacy," but he's still happy with his career, good. Good for him. If Evander Holyfield didn't want to give up his job because he thought he could still do it, good for him.
I think there has to be at least something to his claims that both of his shoulders were injured before the fight with Larry Donald, because after the time off, he's looked much better than the guy that got beaten that night at Madison Square Garden. And I also think, since he has passed the battery of medical tests he's been put through, New York should reconsider that licensing decision. If he wants to fight and he's healthy enough to do so, that is his decision.
But, what more is there to prove? The fact that he went 12 hard rounds with a guy as credible as Ibragimov (I'm not saying he's Joe Frazier, but he's a solid fighter) is enough for me. And, again, it's not my decision, nor do I think it should be. I'm just a fan, and I like Evander, as much as I've doubted his comeback.
He did it. He went out there and proved he can still fight with competence against a guy who is a world champion. Klitschko would chew him up, Peter is just too strong, Ibragimov's style gave him trouble, in his own words. Now that he's 44 years old, got the shot, and lost convincingly, what does he think is going to happen? He beats more Vinny Maddalones and Lou Savareses and gets a shot at Chagaev? It's not happening. The marketability is gone.
Retire, Evander. Not for legacy, but just because this is it. This was the last chance. It's over.
Other results from Friday and Saturday:
Joe Mesi improved to 36-0 with another first round slaying of a nobody.
Stevie Johnston was beaten soundly in Denver by Rolando Reyes. I love Stevie, but he's probably at the end of his line, too. I was really hoping his return to 135 would go a little further, but that should do it, and he's just too small for 140, as Vivian Harris proved last year.
Moscow undercard: Dmitri Kirilov UD-12 Jose Navarro (116-112, 114-113, 114-113) to win the vacant IBF super flyweight title ... Vadim Tokarev TKO-3 Marlon Hayes ... Mohamed Azzaoui RTD-8 Henry Saenz
Chicago undercard: Miguel Acosta SD-12 Anges Adjaho (115-112, 114-112, 112-115 -- Acosta was down in the 9th and 12th rounds, first loss of Adjaho's career and a pretty fair upset) ... Damian Fuller TKO-2 Matt Zegan ... John Ruiz TKO-2 Otis Tisdale ... Mike Mollo TKO-2 Art Binkowski
There's no major, televised boxing this weekend, but I'm pretty sure I'll be here on Tuesday night for the Gomez-Tackie and Mora-Ayala fights on ESPN and ESPN Classic, just for kicks. There are a lot of big names fighting this weekend. Some against sort of good competition (Sturm and Duddy) and others against inferior fighters that have no business in the ring with them, most likely (Mijares and Darchinyan). The biggest fight of the week is the 168-pound title fight between Alejandro Berrio and Lucian Bute, which could be a hell of a bout. Too bad no one in the States wants it.