Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Blue Collar Guy Returns to Work

Chicago's David Diaz has been away from the ring, but he makes his return later this month against Jesus Chavez.

It was the great fight writer A.J. Liebling who once wrote; “I'm impressed with the people from Chicago. Hollywood is hype, New York is talk, Chicago is work.”

So maybe that's why David Diaz fits in so well in The Windy City.

The former WBC lightweight champ has never been afraid of hard work and he puts you in mind of a blue-collar, lunch-pail, time-clock type of guy that toils long hours in order to improve his lot in life.

It may help to explain why Diaz, Chicago born and bred, has had a 13-year-long professional career while building a workmanlike record of 34-2-1, 17KOs. It also might help to explain why he fared better against Manny Pacquiao than either Oscar De La Hoya or Ricky Hatton.

To be sure, David Diaz is the type of guy that will downplay his accomplishments at every opportunity. The humble husband and father of three sons, David, Jr., Elias and Silas (just born in April) is not about hype - and he's not about talk.

So as the friendly and engaging Diaz prepares to return to the ring for the first time since losing to Pacquiao 15 months ago, he does so with the mindset that after some time off, he knows there's lots of work to be done.

“Well, I've just been enjoying the family, hanging around the house and enjoying myself,” said Diaz earlier this week from Chicago. “My wife got tired of me being around the house and asked me if I was going to get a fight. I said, 'Yeah, I've got something coming up.' So now I got this fight against Jesus Chavez that's going to happen here in Chicago.”

Diaz put forth a brave effort in an attempt to keep his lightweight title belt from Manny Pacquiao.

One would think that Diaz must have been quite pleased with his strong performance against Pacquiao. It was a fight in which he was extremely game and a battle in which he demonstrated tremendous toughness against the world's best pound-for-pound boxer. While he was ultimately outclassed and knocked out in the 9th round, Diaz went down swinging and he was there until the bitter end.

“It was OK, yeah, I did OK, but I still lost,” he said with some disappointment when he was asked to comment on his performance against Pacquiao. “I did better than De La Hoya and Hatton, but I still lost. I did better than them guys, but I still ended up on the short end of the stick. Now I've got to fight my way back up and win another world title.”

At the end against Pacquiao, Diaz was soundly defeated and he took a lot of hard shots. Some speculated that the reason for his lengthy lay-off may have been related to injuries suffered during the fight. But Diaz claims there were no serious problems.

“Everything was good physically and there was nothing wrong that way,” he says. “The ego was totally destroyed, but other than that I was OK. I was down for about two weeks before I finally snapped out of it. But I lost to a unique individual...a guy who has done a great job for himself and cemented himself as the top pound-for-pound guy.”

Promoted by Bob Arum's Top Rank, Inc. and trained by Jim Strickland, “Strick has always been and will always be my guy,” says the loyal Diaz of his chief second. Along with co-trainer Mike Garcia, Diaz is getting himself back into fighting shape at the JABB Gym in Chicago and he'll take the first step in his comeback in front of a hometown crowd on Sept. 26th.

A light-hearted Diaz tries to explain to HBO blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley what just happened.

He wants to win another championship, perhaps at 135, or maybe at 140. But he's aware that a lot of those types of questions can only be answered after he faces Chavez at Chicago's UIC Pavilion.

“We don't know yet, we're going to see what the body allows,” says the 33-year-old Diaz of his future. “It's been a year since I made '35 so we have to see if the body can make it. There's a lot of things I've got to prove in this fight, a lot of tests. I've got to see if I can fight my fight and if I can carry the weight. I'll have to see how I feel at 135, if I can make the weight and still be strong. If not I'll have to step up to 140. I was 139 as an amateur and I always wanted to win a championship title at 140. If I have to step up I would. This fight with Chavez is at 136. Right now I'm about 10 pounds away. I got up to about 200 pounds during the lay-off,” said Diaz before laughing. “I got heavy – but not that heavy!

“I've been back in the gym since April, off-and-on. I was in the gym in May, June, July. I was a little heavy, but now the weight is coming off pretty good. I'm getting the rhythm back and getting the feel of it back. I'm beginning to adapt to making the weight.”

It's an all-Chicago main event as Chavez, whose real name is Jesus Gabriel Sandoval Chavez, lived in Chicago during his youth and teen years.

“Jesus Chavez, when I first heard of him, I said, 'I don't know no Jesus Chavez,' said the comical Diaz. “But then when I seen him, I said, 'Oh yeah, man, that was Tom O'Shea's (Chavez' amateur trainer) boy.' When I finally saw his face, we know him here as Gabriel. When people would say Jesus Chavez, I should have put two-and-two together with the 'Matador' name and all of that.”

Diaz is the type of fighter who isn't afraid to take a few lumps in order to get the job done.

Although they both fought in the Chicago amateur scene, Diaz and Chavez have never faced each other in the ring as over three years in age separate them. Diaz says he does know Chavez, but only in a casual way.

“He's OK, I know him. His brother, Jimmy Sandoval, I have more of a friendship type of thing with. We're the same age and went up together in the amateurs. It was through Jimmy that we found out what his brother was up to. So there has been a friendship with the family, I guess. Like me, Chavez is a Chicagoan. He made his bones out here and he has a lot of family and friends in the city. It's like he calls this fight - it's a family feud.”

The fight is a nice attraction for Chicago and it pits former world champs in a fight that will propel the winner forward. Chavez is also returning from a stoppage loss, as in April he retired in the corner after eight rounds with Michael Katsidis. Diaz gave his brief scouting report on Chavez.

“He's a guy that comes in there and wants to get down and fight,” he said. “We have similar styles. I think it's going to be a great fight, a throwback fight. I saw some of his fight against Katsidis, but I need to see more of it. I need to find out what Michael did to him to make him quit and see if I can do the same thing. I gotta' look at that. He must have done something. But I'm coming off a year layoff. I got knocked out in my last fight and have been away for a while. Chavez is probably still in decent shape because he just fought in April.”

During the past year, Diaz took time to enjoy the fruits of his laboriously long slog through the pro game. The Pacquiao fight gave him his biggest career payday which allowed him the chance to take a little break. After Pacquiao's win over Oscar De La Hoya last December, Diaz told the story of an interesting telephone call he received.

When the dust settles on Sept. 26, Diaz hopes he will be striking this same pose.

“Well, I was with my wife and kids, we were getting ready to go sledding and the phone rang,” explains Diaz. “It was Pacquiao and he was inviting me to his birthday in the Philippines. First, one of his guys called me, and then Manny got on the phone and asked me if I'd like to come over. I said, 'Yeah, sure, I'd love to go.'

“It's a very beautiful country. It was a very humbling experience. I met a lot of people and I felt very welcome from the time I got off the airplane at the airport. All the people over there recognized me. It was very humbling and very unexpected. I stayed with a fried of Pacquiao's for five days. Manny paid for the trip over and the whole thing. I went by myself. My wife gave me my passport and said, 'You can go,'” he chuckled.

Diaz also decided to buy himself something nice. Before he faced Pacquiao, he joked with this writer that he was driving a '91 Honda that didn't have air conditioning. But soon after the Pacquiao fight, he bought a new ride.

“I bought a little car,” laughed Diaz. “A 2007 Infinity M45. It's a very nice car. It's very comfortable and it feels good driving it.”

And it has air conditioning.

September 2009