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Wednesday, September 23, 2009
No surrender

By Roman Modrowski
ESPNChicago.com

To many of his fans, David Diaz's loss to Manny Pacquiao was the perfect final act of a wonderful career for the former Olympian and world champion.

David Diaz & Manny Pacquiao
David Diaz didn't want to leave his sport after such a brutal loss to Manny Pacquiao.

It was quintessential Diaz, leaving his blood and sweat in the Las Vegas ring after giving it everything he had against a superior foe. Unlike Pacquiao's subsequent two opponents, Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton, Diaz lasted nine rounds with the fighter many view as the best in the world.

Diaz paid an awful price in relinquishing his World Boxing Council lightweight title. As the boxer was getting his face stitched and stapled back together on that June 2008 night, Pacquiao's renowned trainer, Freddie Roach, said he thought Diaz should retire.

Others close to Diaz echoed those sentiments, but boxers often listen to just one voice, the one that remembers only the applause and exhilaration that refuse to let boxers walk away.

So Diaz (34-2-1, 17 knockouts) is back, and he's fighting a former two-time world champ who's in search of one more shot. Jesus Chavez (44-5-0, 30 KOs) is coming home, in a sense, to battle Diaz on Saturday at the UIC Pavilion.

In their prime, this would have been a terrific clash of straight-ahead boxing warriors. And even though Diaz, 33, and Chavez, 36, might not be as fast or sharp as they once were, their desire and styles still should create an exciting battle.

"I think this is a do-or-die fight for both of us," said Chavez, whose last bout was a loss to Michael Katsidis by technical knockout on April 4. "We're both coming off losses, but it's going to be a great fight."

Chavez was born Gabriel Sandoval in Mexico and moved to Chicago as a 7-year-old. He learned to box and won several Gold Glove titles. But his life was derailed when he was arrested for robbery and served a three-year stint in prison, after which he was deported.

Jesus Chavez
Despite learning to box in Chicago, Jesus Chavez never has fought as a pro in the Windy City.

Chavez illegally re-entered the U.S. in Texas and began to fight again under his current name, eventually winning a lightweight title. When he applied for a driver's license, his true identity was revealed and he was deported again. But after a lengthy battle with the U.S. government, Chavez returned to the U.S.

This will be his first pro fight in Chicago.

"I feel like I'm coming home," said Chavez, whose brother Jaime Sandoval fights out of Chicago. "This is where I started fighting, but the fact I haven't fought here as a pro is almost incredible."

Diaz's last fight in the area was Aug. 4, 2007, when he won a thrilling decision over former world champ Erik Morales. Diaz said he never gave much thought to retiring after losing to Pacquiao.

"I knew I was going to be back," he said. "I wanted to go to the gym as soon as I got back, but [8 Count Productions owner Dominic Pesoli] said, 'David, you're not going to work out. Take some time off.'"

Diaz was hoping to fight this spring, but a knee injury delayed his return. He said he didn't want a tuneup fight before returning to top-caliber competition because it would interfere with his goal.

"We want to get another title," he said. "We knew we had to get in the mix of it, with somebody who was up there already.

"I'm not a young cat. I don't want tuneups."

Diaz, who will travel to Copenhagen next week with the committee hoping to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago, said the Pacquiao loss was not the farewell he had in mind.

"That was not my way to exit a sport I gave so much to," he said. "I couldn't just walk away.

"But if I get that kind of devastation against a lesser opponent, you know I have to walk away."