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Diaz, Katsidis opt against easy returns

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08_09_06_diaz_katsidis_medium Sometime in 2007, a bunch of people started talking about the possibility of Juan Diaz (then a three-body lightweight titleholder) and Michael Katsidis (an Aussie slugger whose profile was rising quickly) going head-to-head.

"It'd be a war," one guy would say. "There's no way it's not a great fight," another might reply.

They were right. In 2007, though, both men were busy making themselves bigger names. Diaz forced former champion Acelino "Popo" Freitas to quit on his stool, and later beat the daylights out of very credible Julio Diaz. Katsidis, meanwhile, engaged in thrilling slugfests against Graham Earl and Czar Amonsot, winning both while taking and delivering big shot after big shot.

What wasn't to like, on paper, about Diaz-Katsidis? Nothing. Nothing at all. It WOULD be a war. It COULDN'T fail to be a great fight. The come-forward bullrush of Diaz against the never-back-down fists-a-flyin' attack of Katsidis? Sign us all up.

The fight was being negotiated to take place early this year, in fact. After it fell through at the hands of Diaz's former promoter, Don King, and/or his manager, Willie Savannah, the two were forced to move on.

Diaz was matched with fellow King fighter Nate Campbell, the hard-working, hard-punching veteran who had long since earned his shot at one of the three titles Diaz brought with him to Mexico on March 8. In fact, Campbell had won a mandatory the previous summer in brutal fashion against Ricky Quiles, earning him a shot at Julio Diaz that never came to fruition.

Campbell took advantage of a lot of things that fateful night. Diaz's last fight under King's banner was as much an audition for the heads of Golden Boy and Top Rank as it was anything else. King spent the hype time trashing Savannah, who is very close with Diaz. For once, when a camp makes claims that their man was a little distracted by other issues, it's kind of easy to believe.

Still, Diaz was fighting well. In fact, through six rounds, I had Diaz ahead 58-55, an extra point having been docked against Campbell because of a poor headbutt call by the referee. That same referee allowed Diaz's cut man to work on his man's cut during the downtime while they figured out what to do. That referee was not cut out for the job that night.

Really, as much as we still harp on how awful Diaz's cut man was in March -- and he was the worst I've ever seen, particularly on a championship level -- a lot of things went bad that night. That show as a whole was a disaster. Remember it? Diaz's corner has complained about having cramped conditions with people shoving them out of the way all the time, doctors getting in the way of them talking to their man, being warned that they would be disqualified for hanging onto the ropes at ringside in order to stay on their feet.

Even beyond just that, remember the ring announcer that night? It was hardly a show that went off without a hitch that night as Mexico welcomed its first-ever world-level heavyweight title fight.

3_10_2008_nate_campbell_vs_juan_diaz__6__medium Is the cut man to blame for the most part? Yes, but there were other factors. How many of us would bet money on Campbell to beat Diaz again?

Still, Campbell bloodied Diaz, backed him down, beat on him, and broke his will. It was a masterful performance from Campbell, who refused to back off of his strategy, which amounted to, "Anything you can do, I can do better."

And it was Diaz's first loss.

Diaz had a lot to think about after that fight. No pro fighter, especially one as young and highly-regarded as Juan Diaz, takes their first career loss in stride, no matter what they might say. He had come off of dominating an arguable Hall of Fame fighter in Freitas and Julio Diaz; now, he meets the less-regarded Nate Campbell, and is beaten at his own game.

Plus, all the other stuff. He's leaving Don King with his first loss? How much money did this fight cost Diaz? How did it affect his future? You'd even have to assume -- as silly as it might sound now -- that Diaz probably considered if both of the big two American promotional companies saw the fight and decided they didn't want to be in the Juan Diaz business.

Of course, they did. Golden Boy Promotions lost no interest, and signed Diaz just 18 days after his first career loss. After all, we're talking about a kid with baby fat that's already won three recognized lightweight titles. You don't pass up on that kind of future. You hope he learns from the loss.

And then there's Michael Katsidis. Born August 15, 1980, in the city of Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia, Katsidis brawled and bashed his way through his first 21 fights in his homeland, winning all but two via knockout or corner retirement. Though raw, Katsidis' warrior mentality and frenetic energy made him a star in the making, without any doubt.

It was when he went to The Arena at Wembley last year to fight Graham Earl that he broke through. Katsidis and Earl went through some exchanges that caused the face of veteran referee Mickey Vann to show genuine emotion. The fight was a minor classic, and would only be topped, in my estimation, by the bloody slugfest against Czar Amonsot months later on the undercard of Hopkins-Wright.

610x_medium When the initial negotiations to fight Diaz fell through, Katsidis and his team didn't wait around for long looking for another big fight. The still-raw Aussie banger found a new dancer partner, lineal lightweight champion Joel Casamayor, one of the most awkward, evasive, and brilliant fighters in the world.

True, Casamayor was coming off of a dreadful performance and highway robbery win against Jose Armando Santa Cruz, but if you knew anythinga bout the fiery Cuban champion, it was that he'd use that to fuel his performance.

It seemed like a fight that might be a sleeper great one, one that people dismissed because of Casamayor's last performance. It lived up to any good hype that anyone was willing to give it.

Before the bell even sounded, Casamayor jumped into Katsidis' face. Did this affect Michael? It may well have. He was tight and jittery in the opening round, going down two times.

But, like all the great tough guys that refuse to lose, Katsidis battled back. In the sixth round, he sent Casamayor crashing completely out of the ring, gaining full momentum of the fight. By the 10th round, he was ahead on my scorecard, 84-83, mirroring two of the official ringside cards (the other had Casamayor up 85-82). It felt like the fight was his. The rough and rugged Katsidis was going to will his way through against a more skilled opponent.

Then, he got a little sloppy, and the veteran champion made him pay. Casamayor scored a 10th round TKO in a dramatic, epic fight that remains a contender for Fight of the Year.

Katsidis' first loss, like Diaz's, was more a learning experience than a disaster.

And now, the two will finally meet. After talk of a Casamayor-Diaz fight went by the wayside as Joel opted to meet Juan Manuel Marquez on September 13, Golden Boy looked at Diaz and Katsidis and said, "Well, why not?"

There will be blood. There will not be a lot of clinching. There will be exchanges that make your knees buckle. Who will win? I have no idea.

Though this fight is not for any title, it pits two of the most routinely exciting fighters in the game. This fight has Fight of the Year contender written all over it, and is exactly the type of fight that needs to be made more often. Neither of these guys backed down from a second straight big challenge; they didn't look for something easy to get one back in the win column. They are both facing a very realistic chance at losing two straight after having never lost at all.

It'll be a war. There's no way this won't be a great fight.