As has been previously reported, former lightweight world champion Juan Diaz will return to the ring following a two-and-a-half year layoff on April 13 in Corpus Christi, Texas, just a few hours’ drive from his hometown of Houston.
What hasn’t been previously reported until now is that Diaz’s opponent will be Pipino Cuevas Jr., the namesake of the former welterweight titlist from the late 1970’s who was a contemporary of Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, and Wilfredo Benitez. The opponent was confirmed by Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker Robert Diaz.
The fight is slated to be televised by Fox Deportes on a Leija-Battah Promotions card and will be 10 rounds in the 135-pound weight division, where Diaz once reigned as the recognized lightweight champion, having held the WBA, WBO, and IBF versions of the crown simultaneously.
Missing from Diaz’s corner will be head trainer Ronnie Shields, who will be replaced by Derwin Richards, who was Diaz’s assistant trainer. Diaz hasn’t fought since July 2010 when he lost a clear unanimous decision to Juan Manuel Marquez in a rematch of their 2009 Fight of the Year.
After running his record to 33-0, Diaz suffered losses in four of his last six bouts, with one of his two victories being a highly controversial unanimous decision over Paulie Malignaggi in August 2009 in Houston, a victory that Malignaggi reversed in the rematch that took place four months later in Chicago.
Though Cuevas Jr. (16-9, 14 KOs) has a former world champion as a father, his career has been pretty uneven since turning pro in 2005. All nine losses are via stoppage, with the most recent being a second-round KO loss against Artemio Reyes last November on a small club show in Ontario, Calif.
Diaz (35-4, 17 KOs) will only be turning 30 years old in September, but took an extended hiatus from the ring to focus on obtaining his degree in law. During his time off from the ring, Diaz produced and hosted a radio show in Houston called “The Baby Bull Show.”
Diaz was rumored to be returning to the ring in July of 2011 for ESPN2 Friday Night Fights in a 10-round headlining bout against David Torres, but opted to stick to his retirement just a few weeks after the matchup was announced.
Prior to being handed his first loss by Nate Campbell in March 2008 for the lineal lightweight crown, Diaz had built himself into a pound-for-pound talent with wins over Acelino Freitas and Julio Diaz, which helped the Houston native unify three of the four major sanctioning body titles. Diaz managed to reach that level of success despite his critics, who early in his career said he lacked the punching power necessary to reign at the top of the division.
Diaz’s return would be a welcome shakeup for a division that has recently gone from one of the deepest to one of the more shallow weight classes following names like Juan Manuel Marquez and Brandon Rios electing to move up in weight in recent years.
If Diaz still possesses the tools that made him a legitimate champion, he could prove to be a real challenge to any of the division’s top names, including Adrien Broner or the winner of Saturday’s clash between Sharif Bogere and Richard Abril.
Photo: Ethan Miller-Gettyimages
Mark Ortega is the boxing columnist for the Martinez News-Gazette and is a member of the Boxing Writers Assoc. of America and the RING Ratings Advisory Panel. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com as well as followed on Twitter @MarkEOrtega.