- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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LAS VEGAS -- Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz fought the 2009 fight of the year, an epic slugfest that went down as a modern classic. Their rematch didn't come close to producing the same kind of fireworks, as Marquez shut down his rival with yet another tremendous performance to add to his Hall of Fame-worthy résumé.
Marquez, the seemingly ageless warrior who will turn 37 next month, retained the lightweight world championship with ease, picking Diaz apart and steamrolling to a unanimous decision on Saturday night before a raucous crowd of 8,383 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
In the first fight 17 months ago, the Mexican star went to Diaz's hometown of Houston and knocked him out in the ninth round to end an epic slugfest.
He didn't get rid of Diaz on Saturday, but he turned in one of his finest performances. Marquez, despite a badly swollen right eye for much of the fight, hurt Diaz several times, to be sure, but never got him off his feet.
He fought well enough that you have to consider his lopsided loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in September to be nothing more than a blip on the radar screen. It was purely a business decision to jump two weight divisions and take the biggest payday of his career, about $4 million.
Back at lightweight, Marquez (51-5-1, 37 KOs) looked strong in earning $1 million more, plus a piece of the pay-per-view pie. No matter what division Marquez is in, he's a smart fighter. He mixed it up with Diaz (35-4, 17 KOs), a former unified titleholder, when necessary, so it was a pleasing fight. But Marquez used far more boxing than he did the first time around.
The judges all scored the bout in Marquez's favor, obviously, 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112. ESPN.com also had it for Marquez, 119-109.
"The first fight was difficult, but this was, too, but I was the better fighter tonight," Marquez said. "He's a very good boxer and, like every Mexican warrior, we both fought with our hearts and left it all in the ring."
Marquez's next fight very well could be a Dec. 11 showdown with England's Amir Khan, the junior welterweight titlist who watched from ringside. Marquez would then strive to become the first Mexican fighter to win world titles in four weight classes.
Although Marquez has been champion at featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight, he would prefer a different fight: a third match with rival and pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, who is now a welterweight titleholder. They fought two memorable fights, but Marquez came away with a disputed draw in a 2004 featherweight title fight and a controversial split decision in their junior lightweight championship rematch in 2008.
Marquez yearns for that fight more than any other.
"The trilogy with Pacquiao is what I want," Marquez said. "It's good for all fight fans, the Mexicans, the Filipinos. Everyone wants to see it. That's the most important fight to me now. I'll be ready to fight again in November, so hopefully Pacquiao will take the fight."
The fight coming about is probably wishful thinking for Marquez. Pacquiao is slated to face Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13. Besides, Pacquiao is with Top Rank, and Marquez is with Golden Boy. They are embroiled in boxing's version of the Cold War yet again.
So Marquez probably will have to think about what might be when it comes to Pacquiao. But he can look back fondly at his victories against Diaz, whose time at the top of the sport seems to be over at age 26.
He's never been much of a puncher, so when he was so obviously behind heading into the later rounds, the prospect of a miracle knockout seemed remote.
When Marquez and Diaz got into exchanges, Marquez seemed to get the better of it almost every time, bringing the pro-Marquez crowd to its feet. He wobbled Diaz in the fourth round with an uppercut, the same deadly punch with which he put him away in the first fight.
Marquez kept up the attack in the fifth round, rocking Diaz with a right hand and then doing it again moments later. It was like that almost every round. In the sixth, he had cranked up the left hook and had Diaz, normally the hard-charging "Baby Bull," in retreat.
When it was over, Diaz was a sportsman.
"I fought the best fight I could," said Diaz, who was bleeding from a cut in his mouth late in the fight. "We were trading punches. We fought inside; we fought outside. I didn't stand in front of him. I wanted to get in there and then get out. But it was hard, and I got hit with a couple good shots. I did the best I could.
"I followed the game plan, used my jab, but it was a very tough fight and he's a great fight. He was the better man tonight."
Diaz is a recent college graduate, who is studying for his LSAT with aspirations to be a lawyer. He seems smart enough to know that he shouldn't hang around boxing for too long. He's now 2-4 in his past six fights and certainly could be 1-5 if not for the controversial decision he got against Paulie Malignaggi in their first junior welterweight match last year.
"I don't know what I'm gonna do," Diaz said. "I'm gonna consider all the facts. I'm gonna take the LSAT, and that's another fact. I've been fighting [professionally] for 10 years, which is a lot longer than a lot of fighters do, so I'll just have to figure it out and see what I'm gonna do.
"I'm not going to sit here tonight and say I'm never going to fight again."
While Diaz will ponder his murky ring future, Marquez will hope and dream for Pacquiao. But he is secure in the knowledge that as the great fighter who he is, there will be another big fight in his future.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
Same first name, same result as their first fight: Juan Manuel Marquez again proved too quick and too sharp for a plodding Juan Diaz over 12 rounds.