By Jake Donovan
Felix Diaz thought he found the perfect ending to a long-overdue breakout campaign in 2015. After 12 rounds of action versus Lamont Peterson, the unbeaten 2008 Olympic Gold medalist for Dominican Republic believed – along with many viewers who watched their NBC-televised bout last October – that he’d scored a career-best victory.
The local judges in Fairfax, Virginia – barely 30 minutes from Peterson’s hometown in Washington, D.C. – felt different, with Diaz coming up on the short end of a highly disputed split decision verdict in favor of the former 140 lb. titlist. It has been his last piece of ring action, an uncomfortable way to spend his downtime.
“It hurt, and no matter how many times I watch that fight, I know that I should still be an undefeated fighter,” Diaz (17-1, 8KOs) told BoxingScene.com on Thursday, ahead of this weekend’s showdown versus unbeaten welterweight Sammy Vasquez in Birmingham, Alabama.
The opportunity to face Vasquez – a fan-friendly slugger and a decorated war veteran with the U.S. Army – actually landed in his lap by accident. Diaz was due to face Levan Ghvamichava this past Tuesday on FS1, but was pulled from the show when Luis Collazo – originally due to face Vasquez – suffered an injury.
Instead, Diaz gets to fight on his biggest stage to date as a pro, performing in the chief support slot to a Fox-televised show in primetime topped by unbeaten heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder in a home-state showcase against veteran contender Chris Arreola.
“This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for my whole career,” Diaz notes. “It was an incredible honor to represent Dominican Republic and winning the gold in the Olympics (in Beijing). A win here, though, can lead to an even bigger dream of fighting for a world title.”
Of course, he once again runs into a touchy situation. Diaz comes in as a late replacement to face a marketable opponent who is considered the “A-side” as far as the promotion is concerned. It will mark the third straight time he enters a fight under such circumstances, previously beating Brooklyn-bred Gabriel Bracero in their cross-borough battle last April at Barclays Center (Diaz is now based out of Bronx, New York), facing Peterson mere miles from his hometown.
Still, there’s no concern of politics getting in the way of doing what he believes he does best.
“To be honest, we didn't really train that different than when we fought Lamont Peterson,” Diaz admits. “Everyone knows I won that fight, so there's no real need to change my style, just to improve on what I already do well.
“I have a lot of respect for Sammy Vasquez, but I'm going to prove on Saturday what I already know - that I'm the better fighter.”
Whether or not he’s able to convince the judges – should it go the distance - remains to be seen.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Follow his shiny new Twitter account: @JakeNDaBox_v2