The opportunity to face Javier Fortuna on short notice earlier this year turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz.
The former IBF junior lightweight titlist was at a career crossroad at the time, having lost his belt at the scale ahead of his eventual twelve-round draw with Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov this past February 13 in Indio, California. Diaz was in search of a path to regain his title when the chance came to replace Ryan Garcia (21-0, 18KOs) on a July 9 show in Los Angeles. It meant moving up to lightweight, where Diaz debuted in grand fashion with a well-earned unanimous decision win over Fortuna to immediately enter the title fray—and forever exiting the junior lightweight division.
“I feel like at 130 pounds, I was depleting my body, depleting my muscles,” Diaz admitted ahead of his attempt at becoming a two-division titlist in his upcoming challenge of WBC lightweight titlist Devin Haney this weekend. “Not only that, I was taking a lot out by trying to make that weight. Now I don’t feel like I have to deplete myself. I don’t have to take off those extra five pounds. My body is more relaxed and comfortable at this weight.
“I feel a lot more energized. I feel like the speed is there… more crispy. I felt good, I had to improve. I did improve in this camp. I felt like my last fight was one of the best performances of my career. Come December 4, you’re going to look at a completely transformed Joseph Diaz.”
Diaz (32-1-1, 15KOs) has the opportunity to prove it this weekend, as he faces Haney (26-0, 15KOs) atop a DAZN show from MGM Grand Garden Arena in the defending champion’s Las Vegas hometown. The 29-year-old southpaw from South El Monte, California will fight for just the second time as a lightweight, having turned pro as a featherweight in 2012 after having represented the U.S. as a 123-pound bantamweight in the 2012 London Olympics.
Through nine years as a pro, Diaz has twice overstayed his welcome in a prior weight division. He was competitive in a twelve-round loss to WBC featherweight titlist Gary Russell Jr. in May 2018, three months prior to missing weight which left him ineligible to win a secondary WBA featherweight belt in a points victory over Jesus Rojas.
A move to junior lightweight followed, winning four straight including a well-earned unanimous decision over Tevin Farmer to claim the IBF belt last January. The pandemic left Diaz out of the ring for nearly 13 months, only to blow weight ahead of his lone attempted title defense. Diaz missed weight by more than three pounds in his draw with Rakhimov, a fight where he admits to having left more than the title at the scale.
“The Rakhimov fight, I was a lot stronger in the early rounds. I faded out later in the fight due to me trying to cut weight,” admits Diaz. “I fainted a couple of times the day before. My body wasn’t functioning and able to do what I wanted it to do what I’m capable of doing.
“For this fight, my body is perfectly fine. My body is gonna be a lot stronger and I’m gonna be able to perform at my best on fight night. I just feel like my body is gonna be at its best come fight night.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox