By Paul Upham: Juan Diaz has just started college at the University of Houston, but unlike any other 17-year-old who joins him in class, he may go on to become one of the best Mexican fighters for many years. Considering the rich tradition of Mexican boxing over the last few decades, that is a very big statement, but those who have seen Diaz in the ring already know this kid is something very special.
Diaz began boxing at the age of eight at Willie Savannah’s Boxing Club in Houston, Texas. In December 1999, he won the gold medal and was declared “Outstanding Boxer” at the Mexican Open National Championships, at the age of 15, to qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
However, to his disappointment, Diaz was later informed that he was three months too young to compete in Sydney. “That was real disappointing because I know if I had of gone, that was going to boost up my career a lot. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, so I just had to go back home and think things through and calm myself down that I wasn’t able to go to the Olympics and look to the future and maybe becoming a world champion,” said Diaz.
There was some consideration given to waiting for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, but Diaz decided to pursue his dream of a world title, making his professional debut at the age of 16 in June 2000 after compiling an amateur record of 105-5.
“I did think about it (2004 Athens) and then, with my manager Willie Savannah, we decided it would be too long,” said Diaz. “In amateur boxing, fights can go either way. You are not always sure that you are going to the next Olympics, so we decided to turn pro and hopefully become world champion.”
Diaz, 11-0 (7), returns to the ring this Saturday night against Ubaldo Hernandez, 15-7-1 (8), over eight rounds at lightweight on Showtime Championship Boxing, supporting Juan Lazcano vs Julio Alvarez at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas.
“Right now, I’m just taking my basic classes like algebra and English. I train in the mornings and then I go to school in the afternoons,” said Diaz, who is very dedicated to his college education.
“I’ve been doing this for almost nine years. When I was younger I would go to high school and train and still go to big national competitions. Now I just have to get into the rhythm again. I know I can do it because I did it in the past.
“It’s like following two dreams at the same time. That’s what I want to do. Become a good professional boxer and also have a good education.”
An A grade student who was fourth in his graduating class in high school, Diaz is committed to his two roles which leaves no time for partying. “I’m just starting out, my algebra class is pretty hard, but if I study hard and do my homework I will do good,” said Diaz.
“We are just taking it fight by fight and I am still young. It’s a different thing from the amateurs and after every fight I see what my mistakes were and I try to learn from each fight.
“I don’t want to rush in and fight for a championship soon and then get beat. I want to take it step by step and fight by fight.”
Co-manager Shelly Finkel is unsure in what division Diaz will campaign for a world title shot, but is very confident that he will be a Top 10 rated boxer in 2002.
“Juan is 17 years of age. He is progressing very rapidly when you think about that he has been coming down in weight,” said Finkel. “When he turned pro he was fighting at approximately 140. He is trying to get into what his weight will be to go for his first title. The question is will it be at 135 or 130. That’s still not decided.”
“Once Will (Savannah) and Juan and his physical trainer and myself figure that out, then he’ll be on a pretty good track to go for a title and that should happen in the year 2002. You’ll see him either in the top ten or fighting for a title.”
WBC No.3 lightweight Juan Lazcano has nothing but praise for a 17 year-old, who may be a rival of his sooner than he may think.
“He is a real tough kid. I remember when he was 15 and he was sparring with Zab Judah. I was up there in camp with Zab. Juan Diaz is a fine kid and I think he is going to become a great pro. Juan, I admire you and not only for a fighter, but for yourself,” said Lazcano.
“I want to be a civil engineer, but right now I want to take my basics and see what happens,” said Diaz, who is hoping to show the world that boxers are not stupid.
“I want to become one of the great Mexican champions that ever lived and I know that is not going to be easy. Not only do I want to become champion, I want to show them that young professional boxers are not always dumb,” said Diaz.
“Once professional boxers start making money, they jump out of school, all they do is box. I want to show people that by working hard, I’m a professional boxer and I’m also going to school. I want to be a great champion and a college graduate to show people that not all boxers are dumb.”