Champions Marquez, John take to the road

Updated: February 27, 2009

AP Photo/Eric Jamison

Road warriors: Chris John and Juan Manuel Marquez, left, step into enemy territory to face Rocky Juarez and Juan Diaz on Saturday.

Champions embrace road games

HOUSTON -- Sports teams battle throughout their seasons not only to make it to the postseason, but also to secure home-field advantage. In any sport, it's viewed as a significant benefit. The fans are on your side, the setting is familiar, and sometimes a close call just might go your way.

It's no different in boxing, where champions usually dictate the site of a fight. But on Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET) a pair of them will enter the lion's den of the Toyota Center to defend their crowns against two Houston native sons, knowing how cruel the results can be when you're on enemy turf.

Although lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez (49-4-1, 36 KOs) will have many Mexican fans cheering him on in the highly anticipated main event, the expected sellout crowd of about 15,000 undoubtedly will be cheering louder for former titleholder Juan Diaz (34-1, 17 KOs), who has aspirations to one day be Houston's mayor.

And featherweight titleholder Chris John (42-0-1, 22 KOs), making his American debut, has made the long trip from Indonesia to defend his title for the 11th time in the hometown of challenger Rocky Juarez (28-4, 20 KOs).

Both titleholders understand the difficulties of the task at hand as much as the challengers relish the opportunity to win in front of family and friends.

Marquez claimed the title in his 135-pound debut in September by knocking out Joel Casamayor in the 11th round, but instead of a victory-lap first defense, he agreed to face Diaz, the most difficult opponent available -- and to fight in Diaz's hometown.

Juan Diaz

Courtesy HBO Sports

By fighting at home in Houston, challenger Juan Diaz will have an advantage against Juan Manuel Marquez.

An old pro at 35, Marquez, who has won titles in three divisions, said he feels comfortable fighting in Diaz's backyard.

"This is like every fight," he said. "I always prepare very well and this isn't an exception. I feel calm and have no worries whatsoever. Part of the deal is I would take the fight in Houston as long as we had neutral officials and my promoter, Golden Boy, did its job. I am satisfied with the judges as long as they score what they see in the ring."

Said Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, who also promotes Diaz and Juarez: "When we made the fight, it was important for us that there is fair and proper judging. We talked to the commission about it to make sure it was even for both guys. There are a tremendous amount of Mexican fans which I know have purchased tickets and are coming from Mexico, where Marquez is undoubtedly the No. 1 fighter."

Marquez does have a bitter experience of traveling to his opponent's hometown, one he says he's learned from.

In March 2006, when Marquez was a featherweight, he went to Indonesia to face John in a title bout and lost a decision that many viewed as a hometown gift for John.

"One of the most important things is to be strong mentally. That's what I learned from that experience. I learned a lot," said Marquez, who would like a third bout with Manny Pacquiao but could also find himself in a rematch with John. "Be strong mentally, be strong physically and win convincingly and score convincingly."

Juan Manuel Marquez

AP Photo

Juan Manuel Marquez, left, knows a thing or two about hometown decisions.

This will be the second fight in row for Diaz, 25, at home and the 13th fight of his career in Texas. So while he has often had the comforts of home when he fights, he respects Marquez for coming to his town.

"He's a man on a mission," Diaz said. "Obviously, we all know how unhappy he was from his two fights with Pacquiao [a disputed draw and split decision]. It looks like he doesn't care about where and who he fights. It shows me a lot because he's a great fighter and I respect him a lot for coming here to Houston and fighting me. Obviously, he knows he has a challenge in front of him. He knows it will be a tough fight and I respect him for coming here and fighting me."

By the same token, Diaz is the kind of fighter who embraces fighting at home rather than feeling pressure because of it.

"I definitely embrace it. Fighting here in Houston, I feel comfortable," he said. "It's where I've been training. I don't have to go anywhere. I love it because I know the fans will be behind me and pushing me. If I get into some tough rounds and the crowd starts to chant my name it will push me to go forward and not lose the fight."

Said Ronnie Shields, who trains Diaz and Juarez, "We are confident that Diaz can and will pull out the win here in Houston. Marquez has been around for a long time and fought the best. We are happy he is not ducking Diaz and he is going to come here to fight in Houston in our hometown. We realize that just because we are in our hometown, we don't get any special treatment and Juan knows he has to be prepared."

John has fought mainly in Indonesia, although has gone on the road to Australia and Japan for title defenses. He's wanted to come to America for a big fight for the past few years and when the opportunity to face Juarez presented itself, he embraced it. So excited to be in America to fight -- regardless of if it is in Juarez's hometown -- that he has been in Houston for about a month on his own dime training and getting used to his surroundings.

"I have had good preparation and I believe everything will be fair," John said. "It doesn't matter where I fight. I am pleased to be in America to show the fans here that I am a good fighter."

Juarez will be fighting for a world title for the fifth time, having previously lost a featherweight title bout to Humberto Soto and three junior lightweight title bouts [one to Marquez and two to Marco Antonio Barrera].

Juarez knows this may his last shot at a world title and, like Diaz, he is happy to be at home.

"I'm motivated because I'm fighting for a world title, but being at home is even greater motivation," said Juarez, noting that he turned down more money to challenge titleholder Steven Luevano on neutral ground in Puerto Rico in April to instead face John in Houston. "Winning a title here in Houston is always something I've dreamed of, but when we're fighting I won't be thinking about where we are fighting. I'll just be trying to win."

Rodriguez relieved

When welterweight Oscar Diaz was released from a San Antonio hospital this week seven months after suffering a brain injury during an 11th-round TKO loss to Delvin Rodriguez in an ESPN2-televised fight, the boxing word breathed a sigh of relief. Diaz, 26, spent two months in a coma after the injury and has finally been released to a rehabilitation facility, where his doctor believes that in time Diaz will be able to walk and talk again.

Delvin Rodriguez

Emily Harney/

Delvin Rodriguez can breathe a sigh of relief now that Oscar Diaz is out of the hospital.

Nobody was more relieved by the news than Rodriguez, who has kept tabs on Diaz since their fight.

"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about Oscar," Rodriguez said. "He is a great boxer and more importantly a great human being. I will always keep Oscar and his family in my thoughts and prayers."

Rodriguez, who fought to a draw with Isaac Hlatshwayo in South Africa in a welterweight title eliminator in November, will have his second fight since Diaz's injury on March 6. Rodriguez headlines on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" against Shamone Alvarez in a title eliminator at the Mohegan Sun resort in Connecticut.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for


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