By Francisco Salazar
Christopher Diaz does not want to hear about who is favorite and who is the underdog leading to tonight’s clash against Shakur Stevenson. All he wants to do is fight to his best and come out victorious.
Diaz intends to put those words into action when he faces the unbeaten featherweight at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The 10-round bout will be part of the ESPN Pay-Per-View telecast, which will be headlined by the fight between WBO welterweight titleholder Terence Crawford and Amir Khan (9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT).
The 24-year-old Diaz, who resides in Barranquillas, Puerto Rico, returned to the ring on Nov. 24, knocking out David Berna in the opening round. The win came four months after his thrilling fight against Masayuki Ito on July 2, which he would lose by unanimous decision. Ito would win the vacant WBO junior lightweight title.
Diaz (24-1, 16 knockouts) is still considered more than being a ‘live-dog’ against Stevenson, who will take a significant step-up in competition against Diaz. Some boxing scribes and diehard fans believe Diaz is the favorite to defeat Stevenson.
“I don’t focus on who is the A-side and who is the B-side,” Diaz told Boxingscene earlier this week. “I just focus on the work. He hasn’t said anything negative about me. I’m just focused on the fight. I don’t care who is the favorite or who is the underdog. I just want to do my best to take home the victory that night.”
Diaz, who has fought most of his fights at 126 pounds, sees a lot of upside in Stevenson, a 2016 Olympic Silver medalist and top prospect, but that’s where the compliments end with Diaz.
“(Stevenson) is a good fighter,” said Diaz, who is trained by Freddie Roach. “He has a good foundation. I believe he made a mistake by choosing to fight someone like me. He hasn’t fought the level of competition that I’ve fought. He will realize that (tonight).
Diaz was the favorite to defeat Ito when they squared off, but came up short. He was knocked down during the fight, but still came forward in a losing effort.
The Ito fight served as a lesson for Diaz to continue to learn from mistakes and to move forward, something he believes many fighters do that hinders their progress.
“Not every fighter is going to go down. You give your best and sometimes that fighter is able to take your best punches. I learned a lot in that Ito fight. He was able to work the body, which took something out of me. He did a good job applying his game-plan. He fought a good fight. I learned and I went forward.”
“I can box and stay in the pocket and trade. People think I’m going to box the same way I did against Ito, that I come forward, but that’s not the case. I can fight a variety of ways. I keep learning so I could fight to my best and win.”
Diaz believes a victory overt Stevenson will put him back in line to fight for a world title belt at 126 pounds. He is currently ranked No. 3 by the WBO.
Diaz also has his family that gives him the motivation to fight for bigger paydays and title shots. He does not want those opportunities to pass him by, which he believes his mental approach will be the deciding factor tonight.
“I do everything for my family. I have three daughters and a wife. My family is what motivates me and makes me give it my all in the ring. (Tonight), boxing fans will see will see the results of the great work we put in for this fight.”
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing