No soft touch in Joseph Diaz Jr.’s return
Back on May 19, Joseph Diaz Jr. challenged the highly-regarded WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr., at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Through six rounds, Diaz was right in the fight, as he pressured the defending champion and was hitting him with solid body shots early on.
However in rounds seven, eight and nine, Russell showed his class and experience by adjusting to Diaz’s attack, utilizing more lateral movement and hitting on the fly. To his credit, Diaz rallied late and had Russell in the 12th but, as the scorecards were read (117-111 twice and 115-113), Russell ultimately retained his title.
It was a hard, tough fight clearly won by Russell.
And those middle-to-late rounds really separated the two.
“I’ve seen that I let off the gas in the sixth, seventh, eight and ninth rounds,” Diaz admitted last week at Legendz Boxing during his media day to promote his bout tonight against Jesus M. Rojas, at the Avalon in Hollywood. “I thought Gary Russell wasn’t as conditioned as he was. I went in with the wrong game plan. I feel like if I would’ve established the jab, threw a little more shots and been more active, I would’ve won the fight.
“I should’ve got Gary off his game plan, which was to move around, box around and utilize his jab. I felt like I was the stronger guy in there. If I would’ve applied just a little more pressure, thrown a little more shots, I would’ve come out with the victory.”
And yes, Diaz has reviewed the fight multiple times.
“I get pissed off every single time I watch it because that was the opportunity I was waiting for my whole entire life and knowing that I could’ve been the victor that night, it’s just that I needed to switch things up a tad bit. It gets me frustrated but I know everything happens for a reason and I’m going to come out on top soon.”
As he re-watches the Russell fight, Diaz understands that the margin in winning a round, much less a fight, comes down to a lot of small, singular moments that add up over time. “A second here, cutting off the ring there, applying the jab here and there, applying more pressure, throwing more shots, fighting on the inside a little more. Little things that I just needed to work on and I needed to capitalize on,” said Diaz, who, when asked if he believed he proved at the very least that he was a legitimate world-class 126-pounder, was rather tough on himself.
He answered, “No, I didn’t. I feel like I truly know that I’m a better fighter than I showcased that night. I feel like I could’ve beat Gary Russell Jr. and I know that I’m a better fighter. It just wasn’t my night. Gary Russell had a better game plan and now it’s about going out there and showcasing to everybody that I can get right back on top of the 126-pound featherweight division and then hopefully get a rematch with Gary Russell.”
But Diaz will concede that he left that ring a better fighter than the one who entered it.
“Oh, absolutely. I mean, coming out of that loss, it’s making me a stronger fighter mentally and physically, knowing that I have to work out and adapt to certain styles, don’t just try to rely on my power. Fighting these other champions, I’ve got to be versatile and overall become a better fighter,” said Diaz, whose record now stands at 26-1 (14).
The native of South El Monte, California continued, “That’s what I’m improving on. I watched the Gary Russell tape about a hundred times already, so I’ve seen my flaws and I’ve seen what I need to work on.”
“I learned that Joseph has a heart for this; he has the desire for this. He’s a fighter,” said his father and trainer Joseph Sr. “And he likes what he’s doing and, when it comes down to it, Joseph’s going to give it his all. But at the same time, with those fast guys, you’re got to be throwing with them when they’re throwing. You just can’t be chasing.”
Now he faces the rugged and tough Rojas, who holds a version of the WBA featherweight title. Because Diaz was not able to make the 126-pound limit on Friday, he is ineligible to win the belt. Regardless this is a very tough fight. Diaz isn’t just dipping his toe back into the pool; he’s going right back into the deep end.
His manager Ralph Heredia told UCNLive.com, “First of all, you know how fighters are. They think they’re King Kong but you don’t know till you step in there and fortunately ‘JoJo’ realized he has a few more things to learn. It didn’t go our way but JoJo’s young. Why go back for a tune-up? He’s young.
“Now if he would’ve lost where it was convincing and he wasn’t in the fight, than maybe (you go in easier). But JoJo was in the fight and I believe we’ve got to get right back in there because I know for a fact if this was a 15-rounder, we would’ve had Gary Russell. Unfortunately it was 12 and JoJo started a little late.”
Diaz made it clear to his team, “I don’t want to fight no nobodies, no tomato cans.”
In the 31-year-old Puerto Rican, Diaz is facing a guy who hasn’t lost since 2008 and, last year, Rojas, 26-1-2 (19), defeated Abraham Lopez (TKO 8) and Claudio Marrero (KO 7) in emphatic fashion.
“This fight with Rojas is a very tough fight; he’s a tough competitor,” said Joseph Sr., “but with the kind of style that he has, it’s going to be good for Joseph because he doesn’t have to go around looking for him. He’s going to be right there, so Joseph’s going to be able to do what he does best and, of course, we understand that Rojas is strong, aggressive and he has power.
“But at the same time, it’s going to be an opportunity for Joseph’s skills to shine as well.”
Referee Kenny Chevalier – or was is Shove-alier? – was a constant presence in the Russell-Diaz fight, as he was constantly and forcibly pushing Diaz away, while breaking up the fighters on the inside. At times, it was two-on-one in there.
“It bothered me a lot,” admitted Diaz. “I was trying to avoid getting distracted or getting upset with the referee. But every single time I would try to engage with Gary Russell or we were going to fight on the inside, (Chevalier) would break us to the point where I would have to go back to the middle of the ring. Gary would get his foot back from against the ropes and get himself in the middle of the ring.
“But like I said, we weren’t on an even playing field but Gary Russell did what he had to do and he came out victorious that night.”
Golden Boy Promotions had objected to Chevalier with the Maryland commission prior to the fight, to no avail.
“You go to somebody else’s backyard, you expect those things,” said Diaz Sr.
Here’s this week’s edition of “The 3 Knockdown Rule,” in which Teofimo Lopez and his father drop in for an in-studio visit with Mario Lopez and me:
This card will be streamed beginning at 6 p.m. (PT) on the Golden Boy Fight Night Facebook page, with Mario Lopez, Todd Grisham and Rosci Diaz on the call…The co-feature at the Avalon is Jonathan Navarro facing Damon Allen in a battle of undefeated junior welterweights…The first episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” on the Cleveland Browns was great…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.