By Peter Lim: Former triple-crown lightweight world titleholder Juan "Baby Bull" Diaz, 35-4 (17 KOs), announced his return to the ring in Houston last week after a two-year hiatus from the sport. His first comeback bout is slated for April 13 against Pipino Cuevas Jr., 16-9 (14 KOs), at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Diaz walked away from boxing in 2011, citing burnout and the physical wear and tear after 19 grueling years of competing as an amateur and pro. He had lost four of his last six bouts, including the thrilling 2009 Fight of the Year against Juan Manuel Marquez, and the flame in his belly, though not thoroughly extinguished, was somewhat diminished.
"I knew I wasn’t giving it 110 percent anymore, and I wasn’t training with the same fire," Diaz told the Houston Chronicle. "I needed that break. I took two years off to let my body rest and really think about what I want to do with my life."
Diaz had way more career options than most retired fighters. When I ran into him two months after his retirement, he told me he was agonizing over the choice of pursuing a law degree at a prestigious Massachusetts university and growing a trucking business he had founded in Houston, a dilemma that most people would have been lucky to face.
He eventually opted for the role of entrepreneur in lieu of lawyer. The first year at the trucking company was "hell," he said, but he enjoyed the chaos and challenge of building a enterprise up from scratch. Once it became a profitable business with 15 employees on board, though, the routine day-to-day operations became rather ho-hum and devoid of any adrenaline rush.
An Energizer Bunny of lightweight, Diaz deployed a frenetic, punch-per-second style to outwork and overwhelm his opponents. In order to do that, he had to whip himself into supreme physical condition for each fight. But he ballooned to 160 pounds during his two-year hiatus in an air-conditioned, junk food-friendly office environment and that added body mass wasn’t exactly of the muscle variety. While proving he could hold his own in the business world, he wasn’t too happy about the effects a sedentary lifestyle had on his physique.
Missing the thrill of combat along with the rigors of training in a sweltering gym in preparation for battle, Diaz’s hunger and passion for the sport he had taken up at age 8 was reinvigorated during his layoff. He has reiterated that his comeback is fueled by desire and not necessity.
"There’s nothing on this planet that motivates me like that one-on-one competition," Diaz told the Chronicle. "Last year alone, I grossed $2.1 million with the (trucking) company, so for those people that say, ’Oh, he’s coming back for the money,’ I’ll gladly show them my books."
A product of the Savannah Boxing Club, Diaz, 29, will resume his career with trainers Derwin Richards and Tim Knight in his corner. At press time, he tipped the scales at 142, just seven pounds short of his fighting weight. He intends to fight four times in 2013 before stepping back onto the world stage next year.
"There’s nothing else for me to do than to come back and conquer the lightweight division like I once did," Diaz told the Chronicle. "This time around, I know what it’s going to take to get better and stronger and become not only a good champion but a great champion."
March 12, 2013