By Keith Idec
Joseph Diaz Jr. took in every derogatory thing Gary Russell Jr. said about him Tuesday.
Diaz will use the defending champion’s criticisms as motivation during what’s left of training camp before their featherweight title fight May 19. Diaz and Russell met face-to-face Tuesday during a press conference at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, the site for their fight.
“I know what he’s capable of doing,” Diaz said. “He says I don’t have the boxing IQ or the power and speed that he has, but he’s going to be in for a rude awakening come fight night. He’s going to see that I have all the tools.”
The 25-year-old Diaz realizes, of course, that Russell will be by far the toughest opponent he has faced since turning pro in December 2012. Russell doesn’t fight often, but the skillful southpaw has proven himself as one of the most talented boxers in the sport.
“Gary Russell Jr. is by far the best featherweight in the world,” Diaz said. “Leo Santa Cruz, Abner Mares, Lee Selby, none of these guys want to fight Russell. They’re afraid of the speed and the counter shots. But I know what I’m capable of doing and I’ll showcase it May 19.”
Diaz, who’s younger and much more active, hopes Russell’s inactivity factors into their scheduled 12-round fight. The Downey, California, native will fight for the third time since Russell’s last bout when they meet three weeks from Saturday night.
The 29-year-old Russell (28-1, 17 KOs) will end almost exactly a one-year layoff the night he defends his WBC 126-pound championship against Diaz, his mandatory challenger. The Capitol Heights, Maryland, native last fought May 20, when he stopped Colombia’s Oscar Escandon (25-3, 17 KOs) in the seventh round at MGM National Harbor.
The 2008 Olympian has boxed just twice since he defeated Mexico’s Jhonny Gonzalez (65-10, 54 KOs) by fourth-round technical knockout to win the WBC featherweight title in March 2015. Russell has been sharp, though, when ending comparable layoffs in recent years.
“I think his speed is an obstacle – he’s very fast,” Diaz said. “But that’s the thing about me, I’m good at adapting to any style that I fight. Come fight night, I know that his speed is going to be fast, but it’s nothing that I won’t be able to take or nothing that will shock me. I’m going to be able to adapt to that speed and make sure I’m able to land my shots when he’s opening up.”
Showtime will broadcast Russell-Diaz as the opener of a split-site doubleheader. In the main event, Quebec’s Adonis Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs) will defend his WBC light heavyweight title against Sweden’s Badou Jack (22-1-2, 13 KOs) at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.