|23-year old Diaz puts his 31-0 record on the line against Brazil's Popo Freitas this Saturday.|
The younger Diaz captured the WBA title in 2004, two months before his 21st birthday, defeating Lavka Sim in Houston. Diaz turned pro at age 16, and has long been steered away from the top fighters in the 135-pound division by his manager, Willie Savannah. Savannah has protected his fighter for years, keeping him out of fights against the likes of Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo, Joel Casamayor and Freitas himself, reasoning that Diaz was not mentally or physically prepared for a fight of that magnitude.
It's hard to argue with the results, though many fighters have taken to calling out Diaz recently. Julio Diaz, for instance, made a challenge to the Baby Bull after his fight against Jesus Chavez in February, saying that whenever Juan Diaz was ready to get off the playground, he'd be waiting.
Well, the Baby Bull is off the playground now. Freitas' last fight was a split decision victory over Zahir Raheem last April, and most insiders, analysts, other boxers, and fans will tell you that Popo hasn't been the same since being battered into submission by Diego Corrales in 2004.
ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas is one of those that thinks Freitas is making a mistake coming back against Diaz.
"He was ready to cave in against Zahir but Raheem was not the guy to make him do that. Diaz is. He's just what Freitas doesn't need," Atlas said.
And it's not hard to see where Atlas or anyone else is coming from. But at the same time, it's tough to ignore two critical factors: Freitas' power, and Diaz's lack of experience against top competition.
While Freitas has been in the ring with Corrales, Casamayor and Raheem, among others, Diaz has simply not been tested to that degree. He's also never faced someone whose punches carry the zing that Popo's do. With 32 knockouts among his 38 wins, Freitas has one-punch power that can change any fight at any time.
That also said, Freitas hasn't shown that explosiveness in a long while, not against anyone legit. He had that power in spades at 130, but it hasn't followed him to 135. If Diaz's chin proves out, then Freitas is likely in a lot of trouble this Saturday.
It's a classic tale, really. The up-and-coming stud against the (somewhat) fallen star. We see it all the time. But this ain't a movie, and chances are that Diaz beats the veteran Freitas on Saturday, and many would predict with his youth that he does so rather handily. But if Popo Freitas can recapture his old magic one more time -- and all it could take is one mean hook -- we could be looking at another glorious night for the Brazilian superstar.
It's a fight that will be decided on the intangibles, not on paper. On paper, it's a good fight. In reality, it could be lopsided, one way or the other. It all depends on how much Diaz really has, and how much Freitas really has left. We'll be here on Saturday with full coverage, round-by-round.