By Diego Morilla
This Saturday, HBO Boxing airs its 1,000th fight. To commemorate the occasion, HBO Boxing Insiders selected their favorite fights from the HBO catalog and wrote about them.
February 28, 2009
It was supposed to be a rare chance to see the passing of a torch from a proven champion entering his twilight to an undeniably talented young lion. It ended up as the ultimate crossroads fight, sending both fighters down entirely different paths, all while producing one of the most memorable wars in HBO's recent history.
The rivalry between Mexican-Americans and native mexicanos was never more present than in the Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Juan Díaz lightweight championship bout on February 28, 2009. It was evident from the beginning in the charged atmosphere of the Toyota Center in Houston. And it became even more evident in the amazing first round, when both men charged forward throwing punches from all angles, clearly trying to out-Mexican one another from the get-go. Diaz took the round on the scorecards, and offered a cocky “admit you’re impressed” stare towards Marquez as he was walked to his corner.
The next three rounds were even more outstanding, with Marquez weathering the storm and matching Diaz’s aggression with a more controlled output, withstanding the all-out pressure that earned Diaz the early lead on the scorecards. The 10-year age difference between them was supposed to kick in during the second half of the bout, but it was the older Marquez who surged, battling a cut on his right eye and a bloody nose to take the fight to Diaz, who suddenly understood that his ability to take a punch was being seriously tested.
It quickly became clear to both fighters that they were in for a more challenging test than they had expected and they responded accordingly. By the seventh round, the always-busy Diaz had already broken his own record for punches thrown in a 12-round fight, and finally his work paid off when he rocked his veteran foe after a vicious onslaught. But just when Marquez’s boxing life flashed before his eyes, the fight took a turn in his favor, as the fearless champion dug deep to start working behind his trademark left-uppercut overhand-right combo, hurting Diaz.
In the following round, the crowd finally acknowledged Marquez’s effort and began to get behind him. The undisputed lightweight champion responded to the cheers by stunning Diaz with 20 seconds on the clock, sending him to his corner with a brutal and bloody cut above his right eye. Tired, bewildered by the sight of his own blood, unable to gather his strength and having lost the support of the crowd, Diaz succumbed to Marquez’s relentlessness. By the ninth, Marquez was the one breaking his own record for punches thrown in any fight. He dropped Diaz with a barrage of volleys with 40 seconds to go for the fight’s first knockdown, and dropped him again with an uppercut with 25 seconds left in the round to score the stoppage and the upset, outlasting his challenger with one of his most courageous performances to date. The scorecards were split with two judges having it 77-75 for each of them and a third scorecard dead even at 76 apiece.
Marquez (49-4-1, 36 KO) and Diaz (34-1, 17 KO) would take completely different paths after the fight. Marquez continued his ongoing rivalry with Manny Pacquiao in one of boxing’s most memorable series, and he would be a presences in the top 10 pound-for-pound rankings for years to come. Diaz, on the other hand, would struggle to regain his previous form, losing the rematch against Marquez one year later and flirting with retirement more than once, never again earning consideration as one of boxing's promising young champions. But the fight itself would become a worthy winner of Fight of the Year honors, and far from being lost in HBO’s first thousand bouts, remains even today (and in the face of some extraordinary competition) one of the network's all-time highlights.