Christopher ‘Pitufo’ Diaz learned two valuable lessons in his first career major title fight.
The main takeaway from his 12-round loss to Japan’s Masayuki Ito for the WBO junior lightweight belt in July 2018 was that he didn’t belong at the weight. The other harsh reality realized that night is that entering the ring as the crowd favorite won’t propel you to victory once the opening bell sounds.
“I learned not to mix my emotions with my career,” Diaz told BoxingScene.com ahead of his upcoming challenge of WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete (33-1, 28KOs). “I knew that wasn’t my (prime) weight class, but I also tried too hard to please the crowd instead of fighting my fight.”
The fight with Ito took place at Kissimmee Civic Center in Kissimmee, Florida, barely a brisk jog away from Saturday’s venue at Osceola Heritage Park’s Silver Spurs Arena in the same city. Diaz suffered his first career defeat to Ito, with the Barranquitas, Puerto Rico native left to feel that he let down the pro-Boricua crowd that night.
Two fights later came his second loss as a pro, dropping a 10-round decision to Shakur Stevenson, then a rising-contender in their April 2019 clash at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Two wins have followed, including a convincing 10-round unanimous decision over former title challenger Jason Sanchez last June at MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. The same venue saw Mexico’s Navarrete become a two-division titlist, claiming the vacant WBO featherweight belt in a spirited 12-round win over unbeaten Ruben Villa last October.
“This is a nice clash of styles for me,” believes Diaz. “Navarrete is a come-forward fighter. I like to fight as well—I just have to make sure I make him fight to my style and not (the other way around).”
A socially distanced crowd of 4,000 or so is expected to be on hand this Saturday, with tickets long ago sold out. The crowd will be socially distanced but undoubtedly loud and proud on a night loaded with Puerto Rican boxers in every bout.
Once the bell sounds, though, Diaz will remain focused on why he’s in the building.
“I’ve prepared myself for this fight, physically and especially mentally,” insists Diaz. “I’m mentally ready for the entire building screaming my name, cheering me on. Navarrete is going to come forward and look to draw me into a brawl.
“The thing I keep reminding myself, boxing is about hit and not get hit. The Shakur Stevenson fight, I learned a lot from that. Jason Sanchez was able to give Oscar Valdez a good fight when he was [WBP featherweight] champion. I made in harder for [Sanchez] in our fight then when he was in there with Valdez because I fought my fight. I have to apply that here as well, make sure I [dictate the pace] and fight to win and not just for the cheers.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox