Diaz lets Morales get the hype

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

The Cubs are 34-18 since June 3, owners of the best record in Major League Baseball in that span and looking for all the world as if they're playoff bound.

And David Diaz has noticed.

Grew up on the North side of Chicago, he points out.

"A Cubs fan as long as I can remember," he says. "With them through everything the good and the bad."

He kind of chuckled nervously. He didn't want to say it, so I said it for him: It's been mostly bad.

"Yeah," he said. "But maybe it's finally turning around. Maybe we can bring it back to Chicago finally. Maybe I started something."

Diaz won a world title last year when he rallied to knock out Jose Armanda Santa Cruz in an ending so hokey Sylvester Stallone would have rejected it.

Diaz was hopelessly behind when he socked Santa Cruz with the perfect punch, a left uppercut, that left Santa Cruz unable to continue.

Diaz was spending his time working the body, believing that Santa Cruz would eventually slow down and he'd be able to catch him.

But while Diaz was working the body, Santa Cruz was piling up a seemingly insurmountable lead.

"I personally don't think I was as far behind as the announcers were saying," he says. "It wasn't that one-sided. But it felt good to do that in that kind of a situation. You dream of doing something dramatic like that, but I'm not sure you ever really expect it to occur." His reward for that moment is a title fight at home Saturday, when he defends the belt for the first time at Allstate Arena against future Hall of Famer Erik Morales.

Diaz, 31, is playing a decided second fiddle to Morales in this promotion. Morales is making $1.2 million as the challenger and the loser of three straight, as well as four of his last five.

Diaz, as the champion and winner of three in a row, is making $350,000.

The title of the fight, "The War for Four," alludes to Morales' pursuit of a championship in a fourth weight class.

Diaz, though, accepts it with equanimity. Morales is one of the most accomplished fighters of this generation and has earned that respect, Diaz says.

"I'm a fan of Erik Morales," Diaz said. "If you call yourself a boxing fan, how could you not like to watch that guy fight? He gives you a show. I don't think too many people have left his fights feeling they didn't get their money's worth. He's a star."

But Diaz is the champion and the kind of a guy you want to see good things happen to. Roman Modrowski of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote on Friday that "Diaz is one of the nicest, most humble athletes I've met."

His wife, Tanya, told the paper that Diaz is humble and unassuming that he won't tell people he's a world champion or that he was an Olympian.

Diaz was a member of the same 1996 U.S. Olympic team as Floyd Mayweather Jr., Fernando Vargas and Antonio Tarver, but no one seems to care. He is a three-time national Golden Gloves champion. Most act as if it doesn't matter.

Diaz, who is 32-1-1 with 17 knockouts, said it doesn't.

"Sports are a business and people don't want to know what you did years ago, they want to know what you're doing now," Diaz said. "This is my chance. I'm fighting a guy everybody knows in front of what I hope will be a big crowd. I can't ask for anything more than I'm getting. This is all I've ever wanted."

Other, perhaps, than a World Series victory for his Cubbies. But from the time he first laced on a pair of gloves, he would dream of one day being a champion.

He recalls walking in the icy cold Chicago winters with his father, Anselmo, and talking about what it would be like.

"He would always encourage me, like, 'You're going to do it. You can do it,' and I would talk about how it might feel," Diaz said.

They would be so engrossed in their talk that they would forget how cold it was and how long they were waiting for the bus.

And so when the day came for his title shot last year, the one person he wanted to share the day with him was his father, now 73.

But there was a mix-up with the credentials and a security guard at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, where the fight was held, refused to permit Anselmo Diaz to climb through the ropes to celebrate with his son.

David Diaz was disappointed, but he didn't complain.

"The bottom line is, we have the belt and we accomplished our dream," Diaz said. "How many people can say they dreamed of doing something from the time they were a little kid and then actually go out and do it?

"I don't have any pressure on me any more. I can just go out there and have fun and fight. I've been doing that all my life."

Click here for Kevin Iole's column on Erik Morales.

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