Christopher ‘Pitufo’ Diaz can take comfort in knowing that both career losses came in fights where he was out of his element.
A 12-round unanimous decision defeat to Japan’s Masayuki Ito in their July 2018 WBO junior lightweight title fight was a wake-up call that Puerto Rico’s Diaz (26-2, 16KOs) didn’t have any real business fighting in that weight division. The epiphany was followed by a move back down to featherweight, where he has spent the bulk of his career and failed to win just once—an April 2019 wide points loss to Shakur Stevenson, arguably one of the best defensive fighters in the game today.
Two wins have followed since that debacle as Diaz heads into his second career title fight. It comes versus WBO featherweight titlist Emanuel Navarrete, a no-nonsense fighter who attempts his first title defense this Saturday live on ESPN from Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida.
“This time, (Diaz) has the chance to win a world title against the one style who is the complete opposite of Shakur Stevenson,” Carl Moretti, vice president of operations for Top Rank noted during a recent Zoom media conference call.
Diaz knows better than to assume a victory is all but assured, even with the fight playing to the backdrop of a sellout crowd in Boricua-friendly Kissimmee. The atmosphere can create the temptation to play to the cheers and get sucked into a slugfest, though not at all Diaz’s strategy.
Instead, he plans to bring into the ring the lessons he learned in his most humiliating night as a pro to date.
“I prepared myself for this fight, for (4,000) people screaming in the crowd,” notes Diaz, who is coming off of a decisive 10-round unanimous decision win over Jason Sanchez last June in Las Vegas. “Navarrete is going to come forward. Boxing is meant to be hit and not get hit.
The Shakur Stevenson fight…. I learned a lot from that. Shakur Stevenson was intelligent; he fought a smart game plan and took me apart.”
Diaz went back to the drawing board after that fight, beginning with his pitching a shutout against made-to-order Adeilson Dos Santos last January. Five months later, Diaz registered his most significant win in years, soundly outpointing Sanchez—a former title challenger whose lone career defeat came versus then-featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez in June 2019 for the very belt that will be at stake this weekend.
“Jason Sanchez gave Oscar Valdez a good fight, but I never gave him that chance,” notes Diaz. “I made our fight harder for him than it was when he fought Valdez, because I fought my fight.
“I feel perfect, physically and mentally. We did everything we had to in training camp. Nobody is more confident than I am of my becoming champion on Saturday night.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox