- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Declaring that he has "the fire back," former unified lightweight titleholder Juan Diaz is ending a 2½-year retirement and is anxious to get back into the ring.
Diaz, who has not fought since a unanimous decision loss in a lightweight championship rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez in July 2010, will return to action April 13 (FSN, 10 p.m. ET) at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas. He will face Pipino Cuevas Jr. (16-9, 14 KOs), the son of former welterweight champion Pipino Cuevas Sr.
As far as Diaz is concerned this isn't one a one-shot deal. Diaz (35-4, 17 KOs), still only 29, hopes to eventually reclaim a world title at 135 pounds and then go for a title in the 140-pound junior welterweight division.
"My plan in a dream world is to get three or four fights under my belt this year, be active and let the boxing world know I'm back," Diaz told ESPN.com on Monday. "I want a title shot either by the end of this year or early next year. I want it in the lightweight division. That's the weight I feel comfortable at. I feel I can step up to 140 in time. Right now, without even trying, I'm weighing 142.
"It's the perfect time for me to come back. I think the lightweight division is there for the taking. I feel confident in becoming champion again and moving up to 140."
Known as the "Baby Bull," Diaz, of Houston, was only 20 when he won a world title by outpointing Lakva Sim in Houston in 2004. Diaz's relentless volume punching and penchant for slugfests in the ring and a friendly demeanor outside of it made him a fan favorite.
Diaz went on to make seven title defenses, including unifying three major belts by knocking out titleholders Acelino "Popo" Freitas and Julio Diaz in 2007, before he was upset in a decision loss to Nate Campbell inside a bull ring in Cancun, Mexico in 2008.
Diaz rebounded to defeat Michael Katsidis but then lost three of four fights before retiring. Two of the losses were to Marquez, including by ninth-round knockout in Houston in the 2009 fight of the year. He also split a pair of decisions with Paulie Malignaggi, although Diaz's victory in their first fight, in Houston, was highly controversial and viewed by many as a hometown decision.
After the second loss to Marquez, Diaz took off a year and planned to a July 2011 comeback, but changed his mind and withdrew from the fight.
Diaz earned his college degree in 2010, not long before the rematch with Marquez, and applied to law school, which he often talked about attending. But he eventually turned his attention to the trucking company -- JD Transportation -- that he started with his brother, Jose Diaz.
"Gave it up," Diaz said of his law school aspirations. "I invested some of my money in my company instead of going to law school. It turned out to be a good decision."
Diaz said he is not returning to boxing for the money. He said he makes "plenty of money" from the trucking business, but it doesn't provide him with the
excitement he gets from fighting.
"I've had a few people ask if I'm coming back because of money," Diaz said. "No way. I make more in one week of invoices than I will make in my fight. I have about 12 drivers and another five people in the office. Business is great. I love the sport of boxing. Being here in the office is not fun. I'm making money and that's fun, but being here looking at a computer and going to business meetings, there's no action.
"The adrenaline that I get from boxing is amazing. Even sparring, working out, knowing I can push myself to the limits, it helps me sleep at night. Going to a meeting and negotiating a trucking contract, that's not fun."
When Diaz, who turned pro at age 16, decided to retire, he said it wasn't a hard decision because he knew he would eventually be back.
"When I retired it wasn't the hardest decision to make because I knew eventually I would get the itch and urge to come back when the time was right," Diaz said. "I retired because I didn't want anybody asking me when I was coming back or what was I going to do. I wanted to be left alone. I was sick and tired of boxing. I had been doing it for 20 years (as a pro and amateur). I was ready to let my body rest after 20 years in the game. So, obviously, I had aches and pains and old bruises, physically and mentally, from the losses because I wanted to win so bad and I couldn't find that hot streak again. I took some time off and I got the fire back."
In the six bouts from the loss to Campbell to the rematch with Marquez, Diaz was just 2-4 after starting his career 33-0.
"I wasn't training with the same intensity that I once had when I was champion," Diaz said of his later bouts. "I guess I was going through the motions. I was doing what my coaches instructed me to do, but I wasn't doing it from the heart."
During his retirement, Diaz said he continued to follow boxing and kept his hand in it part-time with a Houston radio show devoted to the sport. But last fall, he began to think about a comeback, which he will embark on with longtime assistant trainer Derwin Richards as his head trainer in place of longtime trainer Ronnie Shields and strength and conditioning coach Tim Knight.
"It was after Thanksgiving," he said. "I indulged in the Mexican pastries and turkey and after that I thought to myself, I think it's about time I start hitting the gym.' I was looking to get a fight. My strength and conditioning started in October and after Thanksgiving I decided it was time for me to start looking for a fight."
Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer, who began promoting Diaz after the loss to Campbell and handling his comeback fight, said Diaz is different than your typical boxer who comes out of retirement.
"I don't think he's one of those fighters where you have to say you wish he would stay retired," Schaefer said. "Juan is still young and gave his body a rest. He'll find out after two fights if he still has it to take it to that next level.
"He wants to give it another run, do a couple of tune-up fights so we worked out a deal for this fight. He's a still a young man and a very accomplished fighter. He gave his body some rest and took his mind off fighting. If he feels he wants to give it another try, he definitely has an opportunity. Nobody really filled his shoes there in Texas. He can have Texas behind him and give it another run and go for a world title again."
Diaz said he signed his one-fight deal with Golden Boy last Friday.
"I've been off for more than two years and I didn't want to have anything exclusive with a promoter at this point," Diaz said. "I just want to go out there and get some of the ring rust off. I have the motivation, I have the desire and I have that -- excuse my French -- I don't give a damn mentality.' I don't care who they put in front of me.
"I know I've accomplished so much in my life, but I don't care who I fight. I'm doing this for the love of the sport. I believe this is what I was born to do. There's nothing that motivates me like boxing does at this point."