Warrior Diaz Refuses to Fold, Goes Out on His Shield in 9!


Warrior Diaz Refuses to Fold, Goes Out on His Shield in 9!
Pacquiao wins fourth weight class title by Knockout in his best performance yet
By Juan C. Ayllon at ringside
Lead photo by Tom Barnes

Diaz (left) attacks Pacquiao

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Blood streamed down the right side of his face from a one inch cut over his eye. Right hooks, straight lefts and uppercuts slammed into his head over and over. Still, he kept moving forward. As early as the fifth round, some people in the press corps were calling for them to halt the brutality. Yet, in the end, it took a smashing left hook to the jaw he didn’t see coming to terminate the championship of World Boxing Council Lightweight Champion David Diaz in the ninth round.

His conqueror, highly-favored and rising 130 lb. champion Manny Pacquiao had won a title in his fourth weight division, but he had to earn it the hard way. And he did just that in convincing fashion.

Former WBC Super Featherweight Champion Genaro Hernandez said afterwards, “That was a brutal beating! They should have stopped it a round before. When I fought Floyd Mayweather, Jr.,he was Pound-for-Pound [King], but he didn’t have [Pacquiao’s] power. Imagine if he’d had his power?”

The Crowds

The halls of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino bustled with energy as gamblers worked the tables and machines, sunburned lovers strolled in from the pool and grabbed a late lunch, and yet others made their way to the convention center to watch the fights.

No doubt, there were some who were casually interested, as the young man in shorts, sandals and T-shirt on the elevator en route to his room to recover from late night escapades and the 100 degree temperatures at poolside. Spying the media credentials hanging from my neck, he asked when the “big fight” started. Yet, for many, this bout had a polarizing effect: A huge contingency of Filipinos were rooting for their hero, Manny Pacquiao, while significant numbers of Latin fans rooted for Diaz. And, of course, there was the small but spirited pro-Diaz crowd who’d made their way from Chicago, Illinois.

Prior to the fights beginning, one enthused Filipino put it succinctly: “He’s going to win!”

IBF and IBO Flyweight Champion and fellow Filipino, Nonito Donaire, described Pacquiao’s popularity in the Philippines this way:

“He’s a national hero. The crime is zero percent—even negative one, negative five, whatever—what I’m saying is that nobody does anything when Manny fights. Everybody stops what they’re doing—even if they’re robbing somebody, they’ll stop to watch Pacquiao fight…What I’m trying to say is that with Manny’s victories, it’s everybody’s victory. So if Manny’s defeated, everybody’s defeated. So, Manny has a lot on his shoulders, pressure and everything, but he’s always done that and he’s always been good at keeping the end of his part, you know? So, it means a lot. Manny’s their hero, so they’re going to support him a hundred percent.”

To his credit, Donaire predicted the outcome with chilling accuracy. “I think Pacquiao is too fast, and he’s strong; he has the power,” he said. “[Even though he’s moving up in weight], I think that with Pacquiao’s style, the way he throws his punches, he’s still going to be a devastating puncher. You know, a devastating puncher like him will always have that devastating punch. I think with his speed, he’ll make things happen.

“But you of course don’t want to underestimate Diaz—Diaz is a great fighter. He has a lot of heart, although he knows that he’s slower, so he’s going to be a bull in there and try to make things happen.

“For me, I was a hungry fighter. I still am a hungry fighter. When I fought Darchinyan [to win my titles], I had everything in there. And then for him, he has twice as much. I mean, he’s the champ and he has everything to lose. At the same time, he has everything to gain. So, he’s very determined to make things happen. That’s what makes him really dangerous for this fight, but for me Pacquiao will try to take that in the early rounds like always. It’s always going to be an exciting fight when Pacquiao fights.”

Of course, a Latin fan begged to differ, saying “I think Diaz is gonna win—he’s going to kick Pacquiao’s ass.” Asked if he’s a fan of Diaz, he said, “Yeah, he’s from Mexico and we’re Mexican, too. Cina a lo, Mexico!”

Packed at roughly 95 percent capacity, the Event Center at the Mandalay Bay Casino rumbled with shouted strains of “Manny, Manny, Manny.” A middle aged Filipino held up a sign reading, “PACMAN MARRY ME,’ while his companion held up another reading, “PACMAN #1 LB. 4 LB.”

The crowd exploded in cheers as Pacquiao made his way to the ring to a foundation rattling bass riffed hip hop song. Fighter? This guy’s a friggin’ rock star!

Reaction to Diaz’s entrance, while loud, isn’t quite as imposing—as mirrored in the traditional Mexican fare replete with trumpets and Spanish vocals—and is laced with boos.

Cheers of “Manny, Manny, Manny” echo as celebrity announcer Michael Buffer says, “Ladies and Gentlemen…” The cheers sound like Boeing 747 jets blasting on take-off as Buffer shouts, “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLLLLLLLLLLLE!”

The Fight

Diaz covers, crowds, and attacks in round one. Pacquiao lands straight lefts and uppercuts at range. Diaz lands two rights flush in close as Pacquiao holds. It’s Pacquiao’s round, but Diaz makes an impression.

Down goes Diaz (photo by Harry How/AFP/Getty Images)

In the second, Diaz’s head slams into Pacquio’s as he charges in. Diaz is bleeding above the ear on the right side of his head.

There’s an unwritten rule that reporters aren’t supposed to cheer, but I think I’m going deaf in my left ear from shouts of support from several Filipino reporters seated directly behind me.

Pacquiao dominates the round as he is battering Diaz with right hooks, uppercuts, and straight lefts.

Somewhere between the second and third, Diaz lands a pair of right hooks to Pacquiao’s head. However, they fail to stem the tide, as Pacquiao nails him with hard straight lefts to the head. He’s simply outworking him. Diaz continues to rally back in spots and finishes the third banging hard to Pacquiao’s body with both fists.

In the fourth, referee Vic Drakulich halts the bout momentarily to have a doctor examine a cut over Diaz’s right eye. Resuming, Pacquiao cracks Diaz with a hard right to the head and has Diaz holding and ducking. Another right smashes off Diaz’s right cheekbone. Pacquiao is raining down punches on Diaz. Diaz roars back, battering the sides and midsection of Pacquiao near rounds end. This draws an appreciative roar from the crowd. This kid simply won’t quit.

Pumped up, Diaz smacks his gloves together at the bell signaling the beginning of round five and proceeds to rake the body of Pacquiao. In turn, Pacquiao turns Diaz’s head with a right uppercut and unleashes furious two-fisted salvos. Three right hooks to Diaz’s head follow. And four more flush shots. The crowd roars. Diaz bleeds. Yet still, he comes forward, banging away with both fists.

There is a deep one inch long cut just over Diaz’s right eye. His manager, Jim Strickland who’s served as cutman for such notables as Evander Holyfield, stems the bleeding for now.

Diaz jars Pacquiao with a right to the chin in the sixth. Blood flows freely from his face and stains both his and Pacquiao’s trunks, yet he continues marching forward, with both fists pumping. He smears Pacquiao’s face with a glove in a clinch.

Pacquiao lands four straight lefts to Diaz’s head, staggering him. Referee Drakulich calls time once again to have that cut examined by the ring doctor. Okayed, the two resume.

In the seventh, both are warned for roughness by Drakulich.

Pacquiao’s sharp-shooting with straight lefts and right hooks in the eighth. A hard straight left stuns Diaz. Pacquiao traps Diaz on the ropes with an avalanche of blows. Clawing his way free, he fights his way to rings center. The systematic beating continues. Game and proud but outgunned, Diaz snorts out blood and wades back in.

It’s now the ninth. Diaz is rallying and mixing it up. A hard straight left jars Pacquiao. Pacquiao rocks Diaz with a straight left, right hook and straight left combo.

Choruses of “Manny, Manny, Manny” thunder down.

Suddenly, an unseen left hook to the jaw caps off a vicious combination, sending Diaz crashing face first to the canvas. Referee Drakulich waves off the bout. It’s over at 2:24 into the ninth round. The crowd cheers in sheer bedlam.

Michael Buffer scowls, and then lauds Diaz’s efforts as he puts an official wrap on the coronation of the new WBC Lightweight Champion, Manny Pacquiao (134 ½ lbs at weigh-in). This brings his record to 47-3-2 and 34 knockouts. Meanwhile, Diaz (135 lbs.) slips to 34-2-1 with 17 knockouts.

Diaz remains on the canvas for several minutes as doctors examine him.

“He was conscious, but he was out,” says Dominic Pesoli, promoter of Chicago’s 8 Count Productions, afterwards of the knockout.

Diaz’s wife, Tanya, greets him with a tender kiss as he steps down from the ring for the post-fight television interview.

The After Party

It’s a seven minute walk to the 40/40 Club from the entrance of the posh Venetian Hotel and Casino—with its towering, frescoed ceilings, indoor waterfall and swank shops calling to mind Schaumburg, Illinois’ Woodfield Shopping Mall, as interpreted by Donald Trump.

There’s a list to get in, and Dominic Pesoli and his wife, Tina Park, join Diaz trainer Mike “Fly” Garcia, retired basketball player and sometime boxer Kendall Gill, Chicago Sun Times reporter Roman Modrowski and several others in a small room in the back. Within an hour, the crowd swells to some fifty to a hundred people. The party has now expanded to two rooms and the veranda outside.

The thumping music is loud, and the room is warm with all these bodies and the constantly opened door letting the 90 degree desert night air in, but people don’t seem to care.

Chicago Boxing Club owner Rick Ramos ambles in. Diaz’s chiropractic trainer, Dr. James Stoxen DC, joins the fray, along with Illinois Boxing supervisor Joel Campuzano and his wife. Diaz’s teammate from the 1996 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, Fernando Vargas, shows up notably bigger than his junior middleweight championship form and poses for pictures, and Seattle Seahawk receiver Nate Burleson makes the rounds.

Stitched-up with blood still seeping from one of his wounds, David Diaz arrives fresh from the hospital wearing a pressed shirt, vest, and slacks. His wife, Tanya, walks in at his side looking resplendent in her black dress. Her sister and several others wear similar dresses. Diaz’s brother Jose, his father, and other relatives join the well-wishers. No doubt, this was supposed to be a victory celebration, but the mood is decidedly festive—and why not? He fought like a warrior.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Tanya Diaz says to me with a hug and peck on the cheek. I’ve become the unofficial photographer of their after party and find myself shooting photos of everybody and their best friend sidling up to David.

“With this fight, his kids’ college is paid for,” Tanya says. “That makes him a winner.”

Ever accommodating and gracious, her husband shakes hands, laughs, hugs and converses with nearly everyone. He’s a little guy at 5’ 6” and maybe 140 now, but he’s bigger than life to those present. In an unguarded moment, however, I see a little sadness in his eyes. He’s still smiling, but his shoulders slump just a little. Beat up and no doubt exhausted, he sits wearily on a lounge chair. And the party rages on.



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