By: Sergio L. Martinez
For those of us fortunate enough to have witnessed the first incarnation of Juan Diaz, then we remember this: he was a young, affable, passionate kid with a great smile and incredible humility. He often spoke of an exit plan that would culminate in him leaving boxing in his twenties to become a lawyer. Being a fellow Texan, I covered many of Diaz’s early fights, his rise to stardom and remember his constant mantra: he would not box past his mid-twenties as he was going to retire to practice law. Diaz always uttered this with great pride and his manager at the time, Willie Savanna, would also reiterate the same message.
Photo: Chris Farina – Top Rank
In 2010, after losing three out of his last four fights, albeit to world-class fighter Paulie Malignaggi and Mexican legend and future Hall of Famer Juan Manuel Marquez, Diaz called it a career. There was a naive sense that this may be the real thing as Diaz had earned a bachelor’s degree and was a budding businessman in the process of building his empire. Considering his acumen and knowing that the same people that guided and protected his best interests for years were still around, it seemed that the Baby Bull was completely prepared for life after the Sweet Science.
Rumors of a comeback first surfaced in 2012 and in March 2013, Diaz began his second incarnation as a prizefighter. This time, Diaz had a new team around him and the “Baby” in Baby Bull was missing. Diaz was now a 29 year old man that purported himself to be a highly successful businessman, alleging that one of his assets raked in over two million dollars annually.
The obvious question: Why would anyone that positioned himself to be successful outside of boxing, now claiming great financial success outside of the ring, want to return to the spot he swore he would not be involved in by this stage in his life?
Speaking to Boxing Insider from his home base in Houston, Texas, Juan Diaz responded, “I did say [back then] that I didn’t want to be an old man and still in the sport, but I believe that I’m only 30 and I don’t feel like an old man. I took a two and a half year hiatus, enjoyed myself, and I decided not to go to law school. I started some businesses of my own and I was real successful.” Diaz added, “Still, I felt something was missing. My last fight [before retirement], I lost that fight to Juan Manuel Marquez so that left something in me that wasn’t quite settled. I looked at myself and I don’t want to have any regrets in my life, so I decided to lace up the gloves one more time. I have my businesses but I wanted back into boxing.”
Diaz certainly reports several business ventures as Baby Bull moniker trademarks a small empire that includes a coffee company, a trucking company, a sports management company and the newly added, rejuvenated boxing career of Diaz. Each and every venture takes great time, effort, and money to have a chance to grow and maintain. Although Diaz has a “team” behind him, one still has to wonder if there is too much on his plate to consider his return to boxing a serious one.
“I don’t really get involved in the coffee business,” Diaz said. “I have my guys, Alex Parra (marketing) and Abby Katz who are my roasters. They’re the ones that handle the day-to-day operations. I only do public appearances when my schedule allows me but that’s about it. My brother and his assistant run the trucking company, so I’m not involved in that on a day-to-day basis, either. Brian Caldwell and Cory Hawryluk are the ones in charge of the sports management and all of the things involved with that. My role is dedicated 100% to boxing because if I’m not successful in the ring, then that hurts the Baby Bull name and there are no other parts to Baby Bull.” Diaz added, “I am the one that makes all of the boxing decisions. I listen to my team and take their input into consideration but I’m ultimately the one that is in charge of my career.”
For so long, Willie Savanna successfully guided Diaz’s career as he became a world champion at a young age, making multiple defenses and was carefully matched. As he matured and gained valuable pro experience, the Baby Bull stepped up to big money fights and became a huge draw in his hometown of Houston. Savanna was very much a protective father figure which was something that was often criticized.
This time around, Diaz decided to run without his boxing father and gave these reasons, “I’m a grown man now and felt that it was time to do this on my own. I have great respect for [Willie] Savanna and he respects me as well. It was time to be my own man and I felt that I needed to be free to make the decisions I wanted to make without having to worry about if he was okay with what I was doing. Because we had like a father-son relationship, I was afraid to make my own moves or make a mistake but now, I feel free. If I make the wrong moves, it’s okay because I can learn from it without feeling that pressure like before.”
Although Diaz has alleviated that pressure, stress continues to be a factor for the Baby Bull as Top Rank is investing in the Texan, hoping he is able to rekindle the fire and mobilize the Lone Star State’s masses like before. His re-creation has been careful: Diaz has been matched with D and C minus level opposition in his last three fights. His next fight, which will be part of the Chavez Jr. v. Brian Vera II undercard, the Baby Bull is pitted to face perennial opponent Gerardo Robles. Robles sports a record of 16 wins 12 losses and is coming off of 2 losses, his last being via corner retirement. Robles’s value comes in the fact that he is easy to hit, does not present too much of a threat to any fighter with reasonable skills and has some durability which results in rounds.
Having been to the top of the boxing mountain, and with so much out-of-boxing success reported, it is easy for Diaz to overlook such an opponent which can lead to disaster. There is also the risk of the Baby Bull not being his best as not too much is needed to defeat Robles.
Diaz, of course, disputes the possibility of this. “Brad Goodman [of Top Rank] called me and said, ‘Look, man. Do not take [Robles] lightly. He’s a journeyman but he’s a tough fighter that can punch and his record does not really show how good of a fighter he is. If you come out on top and you win big, we’re looking to put you in a big fight over the summer.’ When you get a call like that and you’re promised championship fights and H.B.O. dates, how can you not get up for a fight like that?” Diaz added, “This guy is in the way of me getting to big fights on H.B.O. and possibly on Pay-Per-View. I’m working to be more controlled in the ring but that killer instinct that’s in me gets out all the time. I’m going to try to manage that in this fight. I’m going in with a plan but I know that once I get hit, all the training and mental training goes down the drain as I just want to hit the guy back with two or three shots. The anger and rage comes out of me but I’m going to try hard to control that and be a smarter fighter as I’ve got to keep my career going. I want to be back on top soon.”
Diaz closed with, “For those that question my comeback, my actions speak louder than words. I came back in 2013 and I won the three fights I had and I looked impressive. 2014 is going to be the year of the Baby Bull and I’ll be world champion again. I also want to thank all my supporters and let them know that I’m back and this is for real. I’m going to be world champion again and I want to thank them for their love and support. I really mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
Second careers often do not work out but there are exceptions to this and rest can never be a bad thing in a sport that is so taxing on both the physical and mental aspects of the human condition. Questions about the true reasons behind the Baby Bull’s return to boxing will linger for as long as he is back. The one certain thing is this: considering that he has so much of his future business success riding on his present achievements in the ring, it is likely that Diaz will be as ferocious as ever towards anyone that poses a threat to that reality. Because of this, Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz will remain must-watch television and that cannot be a bad thing for boxing.