1. February 28, 2009 – KO 9 Juan Diaz I, Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
Five months after taking out Casamayor, the 35-year-old Marquez moved on to a completely different kind of challenge in Diaz. While Casamayor was crafty and cool, the 25-year-old “Baby Bull” brought heat like no other lightweight in the world. Plus, in his last outing against Michael Katsidis, Diaz proved he had also developed intellectual dexterity as he out-boxed and out-foxed the gritty Australian en route to a split decision that should have been unanimous. When one combined Diaz’s youth, energy and expanding skill set with the fact that the fight was staged in Diaz’s hometown of Houston, Marquez faced a daunting set of problems that would have unhinged other fighters. That Marquez would conquer them as splendidly as he did is the reason this fight is rated as his greatest performance.
Diaz exerted tremendous pressure from the opening bell, forcing Marquez to fight harder and longer than most 16-year veterans in their mid-30s ever could. But Marquez met the challenge head-on and the thrilling exchanges had the Houston crowd howling in delight. Marquez, who fired between 45 and 55 punches per round in ideal conditions, unloaded more than 90 punches in three of the first four rounds while Diaz fired 104, 98,79 and 86 in the same span.
Slowly, but certainly, Marquez adjusted to his environment. Knowing he couldn’t slow the pace, he relied on intelligent punch selection, superior timing and heavier hands to compensate. He also was far more accurate, especially with uppercuts that consistently split Diaz’s guard. Still, the pace was torrid and Marquez had to access every resource to keep from wilting under the pressure.
In round five, an accidental butt opened a cut over Marquez’s right eye and the Mexican returned the favor with a slicing left uppercut in the eighth. Diaz, who didn’t react well to blood in losing his only fight to Nate Campbell, took far fewer risks while Marquez elevated his attack. A wicked left uppercut to the jaw bobbled Diaz’s legs in the final minute, the first time Diaz showed signs of cracking.
Diaz’s sense of urgency kicked in at the start of the ninth as he ratcheted up his attack another notch. Marquez answered the surge as only a great champion could. With 52 seconds remaining a right uppercut to the chin stopped Diaz in his tracks, and Marquez followed with a right to the ear, a one-two to the jaw, a left uppercut to the chest and a final chopping right to send Diaz falling face-first into the ropes. Once Diaz arose at four Marquez applied an extraordinary coup-de-grace: In just five seconds Marquez landed eight punches capped by a scorching right uppercut that left Diaz flat on his back. Referee Rafael Ramos instantly waved off the fight, ending a most magnificent symphony of violence.
It is a testament to Marquez’s worth that most of the fights listed here took place in the second half of his career against his best opponents. Though his story is not yet finished, Marquez will already be remembered as one of the best all-around fighters Mexico – or any country for that matter – has ever produced.
Lee Groves can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won five writing awards, and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc and the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics.” To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author to arrange for autographed copies.