Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz is at a point in his career where it’s easy to mistake him for a gatekeeper to the younger guns in the lightweight division.

To his credit, the former IBF junior lightweight titlist understands that perception, which he plans to disprove in his crossroads clash with unbeaten lightweight William Zepeda. The terrific matchup of lightweight contenders headlines a DAZN show this Saturday from Pechanga Arena in San Diego, one which Diaz views as the perfect opportunity to remind the world of a championship pedigree he still carries.

“This fight represents everything in my career right now. I will do everything to win,” Diaz vowed.

The fight is the first for Diaz since a competitive but clear points loss to Devin Haney last December 4 in Las Vegas. Haney defended his WBC lightweight title at the time, having since become the undisputed lightweight champion following back-to-back landslide wins over George Kambosos Jr. in 2022.

Diaz (32-2-1, 15KOs)—a 2012 U.S. Olympian—had an opportunity to derail that train, but came up short in his entertaining battle with Haney last fall. It was the second fight at lightweight for the now 29-year-old southpaw from Downey, California, who moved up in weight to replace Ryan Garcia (23-0, 19KOs) in an eventual win over Javier Fortuna last July 9 in Los Angeles.

His own fight with Garcia was supposed to take place last November, only for Garcia to withdraw due to a hand/wrist injury requiring surgery. It paved the way for Diaz to instead challenge Haney for the WBC title, albeit unsuccessfully.

“We went in there with a game plan to win his world title. It unfortunately turned out the way it did,” acknowledged Diaz. “I watched it back multiple times. I still feel like I’m the better fighter, but I didn’t execute. I relied on one punch at a time when I should have been throwing more combinations.

“You could see that I landed the cleaner shots but I just wasn’t active as I should have been, especially fighting a champion in his hometown. I needed to apply more pressure than I did. It made me add more fuel to my fire for this fight. I’m looking forward to showcasing why I am one of the best lightweights in the world.”

A near 11-month ring absence is less than ideal in taking on a young gun such as Zepeda (26-0, 23KOs), a red-hot 26-year-old southpaw from San Mateo Atenco, Mexico. Still, Diaz’s mentality prompted him to run towards this type of challenge rather than seek out or settle for a soft touch.

“Once the bell rings, he’s going to be a live dog and I’m going to be a live dog,” stated Diaz. “It’s going to come down to who is the best prepared. I have a lot to fight for, I know that I have a lot to lose. I’m not going to lose. I’m not going to shy away and back down from anything. I’m going to adjust and come out victorious."

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox