It's really a pretty familiar storyline by now, isn't it?
In this corner, the underdog. WBC lightweight titlist David Diaz is a +350 bet on Saturday night, a fighter that has only recently started garnering any attention. For a guy who teamed with Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Antonio Tarver in the '96 Olympics, his career as a pro has been a very slow burn.
At 32, he is entering the biggest fight of his career for the third time in his last four bouts. First, it was a fight with Jose Armando Santa Cruz for the (ridiculously) interim title. Diaz rallied to upend Santa Cruz in the end, scoring a 10th round TKO. Diaz was losing on all three scorecards at the point of stoppage (88-83, 88-83, 87-84).
After that, he was awarded full title rights when the WBC (absurdly) stripped Joel Casamayor, and he signed on to fight legend Erik Morales, who was eight months removed from a vicious three-round beating at the hands of Manny Pacquiao.
Morales started strong, but it was Diaz who finished strong. In a hell of an exciting fight, Diaz retired Morales with a close (114-113, 115-113, 115-112) unanimous decision after having tasted canvas early in the fight. He was beaten bloody, but he had the fresher and stronger legs over 12 rounds.
In his last fight, he faced noted sparring partner Ramon Montano in a non-title bout on the undercard of Pacquiao-Marquez II. It wasn't even supposed to make the PPV telecast, but did so as the opener. It was all to keep Diaz fresh for Manny.
It's hard to say that David Diaz brings anything exceptional to the table when he fights, except for grit. He's a tough guy with a good chin. He does nothing great, but he also isn't notably poor in any one area. His best asset might be his defense, but he has that mean streak in him that causes him to throw leather, even against superior punchers. His power isn't great, but isn't so weak that it's to be ignored. His hand speed is OK. His footwork is solid. And when he's in his rhythm, he fights very smart.
He also knows what sort of opportunity this is. It's -- by far -- his biggest payday. It's the first time he's been a legit pay-per-view headliner. (You can't count the Morales show, which was "promoted by" HBO but was given as much attention as your random B.A.D.)
If David Diaz beats Manny Pacquiao, no longer is he the wandering lost soul of a suddenly-packed 135-pound division. He's in running to be The Man.
In this corner, the superstar. Former 112, 122, and current 130-pound champion/titleholder Manny Pacquiao, the Filipino combination of Muhammad Ali and The Beatles. Pacquiao, 29, is arguably the biggest global star in boxing, and is one of the greatest "small man" attractions the sport has ever known.
The 'is he in shape?" stuff is there, as always, though less so this time. The stories of Freddie Roach trying to keep Manny in check are there, as always, though less so this time. And the fighter that started as a strawweight keeps moving up and on.
What more is there to say about Manny Pacquiao at this point? His ticket to Canastota is punched. He has two wins apiece over Marco Antonio Barrera (both dominations) and Erik Morales (both exciting brawls, and their first fight, which Pacquiao lost, might've been the best of their encounters). He beat Juan Manuel Marquez in a tight decision, years after their epic draw.
He is known as "The Mexecutioner" in some circles, though it's a nickname he doesn't particularly like. Diaz, a Chicago-born Mexican-American, doesn't have the credentials that Marco Antonio, Erik, or Juan Manuel did when they fought Manny.
But Manny's coming to his house, too. Diaz is a true lightweight, a fighter that boxed around 140 (even going up to 147 once) until settling in at 135 in 2005, nine years after his pro debut.
2005, coincidentally, is also the last year that saw Pacquiao lose a fight.
Can Diaz beat Pacquiao? Can he score what would be the new Upset of the Year?
No. Probably not. Let's be honest, he's an underdog for a reason. He's a good guy and I'm happy he's fought his way into this position, and I wish him all the best. Pacquiao is, simply put, a far more dynamic, lethal boxer than is Diaz. The comparison between the two is not very close.
Power? Advantage Pacquiao. Speed? Advantage Pacquiao. Chin? Advantage Pacquiao, probably. Big fight experience? Obviously, advantage Pacquiao.
It's going to be a very tough row for Diaz to hoe on Saturday night.
It has been a year of upsets, but not yet one that has truly been an epic, Cinderella Man-ish "shock the world"-type. It has also (Oscar-Forbes, Pavlik-Lockett, Cotto-Gomez, etc.) been a year filled with some real mismatches. This might be another one.
I don't mean to count Diaz out, but on paper? Count him out.