HOUSTON – Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz both say they’ve reached a pivotal moment in their boxing careers.
Two of the world’s top lightweights will battle for Diaz’s IBO championship and the vacant WBA and WBO titles on Saturday night at the Toyota Center.
Marquez (49-4-1, 36 KOs) is a former featherweight and super featherweight champion fighting for only the second time at 135 pounds. He beat Joel Casamayor by technical knockout last September in his lightweight debut and needs a victory over Diaz to have a chance of lining up another bout with nemesis Manny Pacquiao.
The two fought to a draw in May 2004 and Pacquiao won a controversial decision in the rematch last March.
But first comes Diaz.
“If I win,” Marquez said, “it could mean great things for me, even more important fights.”
The Houston-born Diaz (34-1, 17 KOs) is trying to win back the WBA and WBO belts he lost to Nate Campbell last March. Campbell was stripped of the titles earlier this month when he came in overweight for his fight with Ali Funeka.
“This is the type of fight I’ve been waiting for my whole life,” Diaz said. “They’re going to have to carry me out with a stretcher in order for me to lose that fight on Saturday night.”
The 35-year-old Marquez is a national hero in Mexico, but he agreed to fight Diaz in his hometown. He’s also 10 years older than Diaz and admits that Diaz is a high-volume puncher who brings an awkward style.
But Marquez just smiles when reminded of Diaz’s apparent advantages.
“I feel very confident because I have been training very hard,” Marquez said. “I know I have a difficult fight, but not impossible to win.”
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Top-seeded Novak Djokovic advanced to the finals of the Dubai Tennis Championships on Friday, rallying to beat third-seeded Gilles Simon of France 3-6, 7-5, 7-5.
The third-ranked Serb reached his first final of the season and will play David Ferrer of Spain, who beat Richard Gasquet of France 6-2, 6-2 in the other semifinal.
Lobos lose scholarships
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The NCAA infractions appeals committee upheld a reduction of five scholarships imposed on New Mexico’s football program for major rules violations resulting from an academic fraud investigation.
The NCAA’s infractions committee imposed the penalty in August, cutting New Mexico’s scholarship offers from 25 to 20 each year for three years.
New Mexico’s total number of scholarships was also reduced, from the maximum allowable 85 to 80, each year through the 2011 season.
In its appeal, New Mexico had argued the penalties were too harsh. But in affirming the findings this week, the appeals committee determined the case involved “serious violations.”
Griffin ready to play
NORMAN, Okla. – Oklahoma star Blake Griffin has been cleared to return to action after suffering a concussion.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore has been out since sustaining the concussion during the first half of a loss at Texas on Saturday. He sat out as No. 3 Oklahoma lost 87-78 at home to No. 15 Kansas on Monday.
The Sooners visit Texas Tech on Saturday. Coach Jeff Capel says team physician Brock Schnebel cleared Griffin to play against the Red Raiders.
Griffin is averaging 22 points and 13.8 rebounds, second best in Division I. He also ranks second nationally with 22 double-doubles.