By Michael Norby: Former lightweight world champion Juan ‘Baby Bull’ Diaz made a successful comeback on Saturday night after he out-pointed former junior welterweight title holder Paul Malignaggi in an eagerly fought 12 rounder at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, USA.
Diaz 35-2 (17) who was stopped for the first time in his career when he fell to Juan Manuel Marquez last February, stormed out from the opening bell and maintained constant pressure on Malignaggi throughout the contest. He suffered horrible damage to his eye in the fifth round which, coupled with his opponent’s terrific ability made for a tough night at the office.
Malignaggi 26-3 (5) had been hoping to return to form after a trio of shaky performances, one of which was a stoppage defeat to Ricky Hatton last year. This evening, the Brooklyn native made up for his lack of power and a pill-box size ring with blistering speed and accuracy and can consider himself unlucky not to have gotten the nod from the judges – especially from Texan Judge Gale Van Hoye who scored the contest a head-scratching 118-110.
Diaz jumped on his opponent from the outset but he was having trouble with Malignaggi’s hand speed in the early going. The New Yorker zipped out a lightning quick jab and occasional right hand to stop the hometown favorite from closing the distance in the first half of the frame. The Texan managed to sneak in a few body shots in the final minute but the gnat-like speed of Malignaggi was the story of the frame.
Malignaggi suffered a cut on his left eye at the end of the round but he emerged for the second round as brightly as he had for the first. Diaz caught up with him early in the round, however, and blasted the 28-year-old with a series of power shots upstairs and thumped him with hooks to the body and head not long after as he began to find his range. Malignaggi didn’t panic, though, and reverted to his jab to calm things in the final minute. Desperately toiling to find a path to the inside, Diaz emerged from a particular exchange with a small cut on his left eye-lid – ruled a punch by referee Laurence Cole.
Both guys traded from distance in the opening minute of the third and Malignaggi’s speed ensured that his connect rate was superior to his opponent’s. Diaz was fumbling on the inside this round and was clearly out-landed as Malignaggi set and maintained a frantic pace and improvised his way out of trouble when Diaz closed the distance.
Diaz landed a terrific hook in the fourth round that seemed to stun Malignaggi and he supported that with a three punch combination moments later that backed off the New Yorker. Malignaggi responded, however, and unleashed several straight right hands that furthered the damage to Diaz’ left eye.
Diaz was finding his man more frequently in the fifth and connected with a slew of punches throughout the round, but Malignaggi took them well and responded with accurate, straight right hands consistently. An accidental clash of heads caused a second, nastier cut on Diaz’ left eye that was clearly bothering the young Texan – allowing Malignaggi to score in the final moments of the round.
Perhaps worried about the severity of the cut, Diaz stepped up the urgency in the middle rounds. He was taking a lot of punches in order to get set, however, and was frankly being out-boxed by the Brooklyn fighter in the sixth. Diaz managed to surge forward and find Malignaggi’s body in the seventh and he connected with a handful of left hooks upstairs in his best round of the fight thus far.
Malignaggi controlled the eighth with his footwork and left jab but Diaz enjoyed success in the ninth with a set of combinations and single right hands that disrupted Malignaggi’s rhythm and furthered the intrigue of this contest as the fight entered the business rounds.
Malignaggi listened to his corner and fought with intelligence and guile and would not allow Diaz an opportunity to buckle down. He campaigned with speed, accuracy and volume in the eleventh to frustrate the former lightweight champion in the eleventh but was drawn into a trading game with the tenacious Texan in the final round.
It wasn’t enough, however, as the judges preferred Diaz’ grit and pressure to Malignaggi’s on his toes boxing style and handed the Houston native a unanimous decision victory.
Scores: 116-112; 115-113; 118-110