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Juan Diaz faces major crossroads against Juan Manuel Marquez

At 26, Diaz admits he’ll consider ‘other aspects of life’ should he lose rematch

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Associated Press

Juan Diaz of Houston holds up the NABO Junior Welterweight title belt after he defeated Paulie Malignaggi in a decision in 12 rounds on Aug. 22, 2009, in Houston.

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Juan Diaz figures one of two things is going to happen when he faces Juan Manuel Marquez in a lightweight title fight July 31 at Mandalay Bay.

Win, and Diaz will emerge as a true star in the 135-pound division. Lose, and he'll face the possibility he's meant to do something else with his life.

He's prepared for both outcomes.

At 26, and on the verge of applying for law school, the former lightweight champion says he's decided to make July 31 a sort of final exam for his boxing career.

And although he never used the word "retirement" during a Tuesday conference call, it's clear he's not ruling it out as a possibility.

"I consider this a win-win situation for me," Diaz said. "This fight is going to prove to me whether I have it or I don't. Either I'm going to become a world champion once again, or it opens up doors for me to do other things and focus on other aspects of life.

"I'm not going to be stubborn. I'm smart enough to not chase a dream that won't happen again."

Considering what Diaz (35-3, 17 KO) has accomplished in his young career, it might sound as if hanging it up after a loss to Marquez (50-5-1, 37 KO) would be selling himself short.

Diaz won his first world title in 2007 over Acelino Freitas and defended it later that year against Julio Diaz. His first fight against Marquez, a TKO loss in February 2009, was widely was considered the Fight of the Year.

But even as all of that went on, the first generation Mexican fighter also was building a life outside the ring. He graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in political science and began studying for the Law School Aptitude Test.

Whereas many boxers in Diaz's place wouldn't know what to do if they walked away from the sport, Diaz has an exciting life waiting for him.

"My parents were the ones that instilled that in me," said Diaz, on his commitment to his education. "They said, 'We want you to be a professional boxer if that's what you like to do. But the No. 1 objective why we came to the United States is for you and your brother to have a great education.'

"One of the things that has opened my mind has been school. That's what has helped me be the champion I am — I never relied too much on boxing. There are a lot of possibilities out there in the world to be a successful person."

Diaz may be comfortable with the idea of pursuing other goals in life, but that doesn't mean he's approaching his rematch with Marquez lightly.

In their first fight, Diaz said he felt his game plan was working until he became too aggressive in the later rounds.

Known as a volume puncher, Diaz used his speed to offset Marquez's countering ability. When Marquez did finish the fight in the ninth round, the scorecards were dead even.

Since then, Diaz moved up in weight and split a pair of meetings with the speedy Paulie Malignaggi before deciding to come back down to lightweight to face Marquez.

"I'm excited and I'm happy because last year was a roller-coaster ride," Diaz said. "It was an up-and-down situation. I'm very fortunate to be here, and I'm taking full advantage of this situation."

For perhaps the biggest fight of his career, one might think Diaz would want it in his hometown of Houston, where he's fought three of his last four fights.

According to he and Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schafer, however, both fighters requested the fight be elsewhere.

After some of his previous opponents complained he had received favoritism from his hometown officials, Diaz was eager to leave the friendly confines of the Toyota Center and free himself of those distractions.

"I actually love the fact it's in Vegas," Diaz said. "If it was up to me, I'd rather not fight in my hometown. Every time I've fought in Houston, there always seems to be speculation about the judges and referees.

"Even though it's great to have the fans and support there, I'm happy it's in Vegas. I don't have to worry about distractions or controversies."

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at LVSunFighting

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