By Francisco Salazar
Joseph 'JoJo' Diaz does not matter who he faces Saturday night.
It could be Jorge Lara or Rafael Rivera. Or Josh Warrington, but Diaz is over calling out someone who allegedly does not want to step inside the ring with him.
Diaz wants to score an impressive performance that will earn him an opportunity to fight for a world title belt.
The unbeaten Diaz will face late-sub Rafael Rivera at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The 12 round bout is an elimination bout and will precede the main event bout between middleweights Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin (8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT on HBO Pay-Per-View).
In his last bout on May 6, Diaz (24-0, 13 knockouts) won a one-sided 10 round decision over Manuel 'Tino' Avila in Las Vegas.
The 24-year-old Diaz has won his last two bouts by decision after winning his previous two bouts by knockout.
Diaz was originally scheduled to fight Jorge Lara of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. Earlier this week, it was announced Lara allegedly suffered a back injury, forcing him to withdraw from the fight.
Rivera (25-0-2, 16 KOs), who was scheduled to fight Drian Francisco in Ontario, California next Friday night, took the fight on Tuesday. Despite Rivera as a last-minute replacement, the World Boxing Council (WBC) is still honoring the bout as an elimination bout with the winner getting an opportunity to face titleholder Gary Russell, Jr.
"It's a very unfortunate situation," Diaz told BoxingScene.com over the phone on Thursday. "I wanted the fight. It was a dangerous fight. A victory would've silenced the critics who thought that Lara was going to be too much."
"Now I have Rafael Rivera in front of me. He's a good fighter and a good counter-puncher. He's technically on point. I know he's got good skills."
Rivera, who resides in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, has victories over Wilfredo Vazquez and Ruben Garcia Hernandez.
Some may wonder whether facing Rivera would be a letdown for Diaz, the former 2012 U.S. Olympian believes fights against Rivera are more dangerous.
"This is Rivera's first big fight on this stage and he doesn't want to suffer his first loss," said Diaz, who is promoted by Golden Boy Promotions. "I think Rivera is more dangerous because he has more to gain than me in this fight. I'm more focused because Rivera has been training and he's 100 percent ready. He wants to go in there swinging. and I'm taking this fight seriously."
Diaz has gotten used to fighting at bigger venues with larger audiences thing in, whether in person or on television.
While the purses and exposure have grown with each fight, he is sought out more as well.
"Ever since I was a little kid, I've wanted to be a superstar in boxing, where I'm recognized by fans and I'm known in the sport. That gives me a lot of motivation. I want to be that superstar where people can watch and see what I do."
Diaz is not known for his punching power, but he wants to make a statement Saturday night at the expense of Rivera. He believes a statement will send a message to Russell and the other featherweight contenders and belt-holders.
"I want to look very impressive and make a statement in this win on Saturday. I want to send a message to Gary Russell and Al Haymon. I'm sure they'll be tuning in. I want that WBC belt."
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, RingTV.com, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing