Whether a fresh start or an entirely new direction, Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz is in desperate need of a makeover.

The former IBF junior lightweight titlist is hopeful of a career turnaround beginning with this weekend’s showdown with fringe contender Mercito Gesta. Their bout was upgraded to main event status after original headliner Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez (44-1, 30KOs) was grossly above the contracted weight for his eventually canceled light heavyweight clash versus Gabriel Rosado.

It was the best news that Diaz has received in some time, although some creativity was required for his bout to proceed.

The bout was originally announced as a lightweight contest but modified to a junior welterweight affair to accommodate his own struggles as the scale, where he weighed a career-heaviest 139.4 pounds—fittingly following a camp spent with Ramirez out of Brickhouse Boxing Gym.

The contract adjustment was agreed to by Gesta, who was 137.2 pounds. It helped pave the way for what Diaz hopes is the start of a much-needed redemption tour following back-to-back defeats and mounting legal issues outside the ring.

“This camp went really well,” Diaz stated during Thursday’s pre-fight press conference. “I went back and reflected on what I have to (improve). I hired a new team. I got a tremendous team now. I feel really comfortable, I’ve been training very hard.”

The proof of his preparation will be revealed on Saturday, when he and Gesta top a DAZN telecast from the Walter Pyramid on the campus of California State University-Long Beach. 

Diaz (32-3-1, 15KOs) enters the ring roughly five months after a lopsided ten-round defeat to red-hot lightweight contender William Zepeda (27-0, 23KOs) last October 29 at Pechanga Arena in San Diego, California. It marked the second straight defeat for Diaz, who was competitive in an ultimately failed December 2021 WBC lightweight title bid versus Devin Haney—who has since fully unified the lightweight division. 

All told, it has been a rough patch for Diaz since the pandemic.

The global health scare was immediately preceded by a career-best win turned in by the South El Monte, California-bred southpaw, who dethroned IBF junior lightweight titlist Tevin Farmer in January 2020. Diaz—who represented the U.S. in the 2012 London Olympics—lost the belt at the scales after weighing more than three pounds above the junior lightweight limit in an eventual twelve-round draw with Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, who has since claimed the belt.

Diaz bounced back with a twelve-round decision over Javier Fortuna in July 2021, a fight he accepted on short notice after Ryan Garcia (23-0, 19KOs) withdrew to instead focus on his mental health. It remains the last win posted by Diaz, who was due to face Garcia later that year, only for the unbeaten lightweight contender to withdraw after suffering a hand and wrist injury which required surgery. Diaz instead faced and lost to Haney, followed by the more lopsided defeat to Zepeda which has left his career in a dangerous place—hence the change in his training camp.

“It was just something new,” insisted Diaz. “When you’re doing this for so long, sometimes you (lose) that hunger. It’s like you’re driving in neutral. I wanted to spice things up. I wanted people that are going to push me to the limits. That’s what I have now. I’m ready to go and put on a great show.”

He will need to do that, at least for the sake of a career revival—and that’s just inside the ring.

Outside the ring, the boxer has appeared in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Diaz was arrested on February 27 in Claremont, a Los Angeles suburb and released later that evening after a $15,000 bail was posted on his behalf according to L.A. County inmate records.

BoxingScene.com was unsuccessful in obtaining a police report, since the matter is not disclosable to the public per Gov. Code § 7923.600- 7923.625 due to it still being under investigation. However, it was confirmed by Lt. Robert Ewing, supervisor for Claremont Police Department Support Services, that Diaz “was arrested on February 27, 2023 for Driving Under the Influence, Child Abuse, and Driving with a Suspended License.

“He was brought to the Claremont Police Department Jail, booked for the above-listed charges, and later released with a citation to appear in the Pomona Superior Court on June 27, 2023.”

The incident was previously reported by TMZ Sports (and aggregated by other outlets) as a child neglect case, a generally broad reference. There was no indication of physical abuse, as falsely suggested by some outlets and the deep-rooted cynics within the sport.  

That said, the incident comes as the 30-year-old southpaw is also the defendant in an ongoing civil case against a Jane Doe filed last April 7 with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Diaz was accused of attempting to entice or coerce a minor into engaging in sexual acts through use of mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, according to the complaint. The alleged victim—identified only as Jane Doe—claims to have received an unsolicited, explicit picture of Diaz through social media app SnapChat that featured exposed genitalia by the boxer. The alleged victim was just 17 at the time of the September 2020 incident.

The matter was then brought to the attention of the plaintiff’s father, who in turn contacted Diaz’s father to inform of the incident in question. According to the complaint, Diaz’s father confirmed that the boxer did in fact send the image, though by mistake in citing excessive drinking as the cause of the mishap.

The matter was brought to Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) seeking criminal charges more than a year later.

A police report was filed “on or about September 20, 2021,” with a detective assigned to the case contacting the plaintiff’s father more than two months later “on or about November 30, 2021. During the conversation, it was explained that a separate interview with Diaz revealed that the boxer claimed that “his girlfriend accessed his Snapchat account and sent the photograph to plaintiff.”

The investigation concluded soon thereafter without charges filed.

The matter did not sit well with the unidentified plaintiff, who obtained evidence in pursuit of justice through a civil court. The complaint was filed pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2255(b) on the basis that the alleged incident falls within the statute of limitations since it is “within 10 years of the violation and injury, and within 10 years of Plaintiff turning 18 years of age.”

Court records indicate that Diaz has missed several hearings along a string of failed efforts by the court and the plaintiff’s legal team to submit legal notifications to the boxer via physical mail. The plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Judgment last October, which the court agreed in a December 1 ruling to allow the matter to be heard and decided during the next scheduled hearing on April 13.  

Diaz has done his best to carry tunnel vision, particularly through fight week as a third straight loss will undoubtedly end his days as a relative player. Gesta (33-3-3, 17KOs) is not too far behind, although he was able to breathe new life into his career in his most recent start. The Filipino southpaw ended a 29-month layoff—and two-fight winless skid—with a ten-round decision over Joel Diaz Jr. (no relation to JoJo) last April 21 in Indio, California.

Gesta was tabbed to face Garcia earlier this year. However, the unbeaten boxer decided against the interim fight and preferred to head directly into his now-scheduled April 22 superfight versus Gervonta Davis (28-0, 26KOs).

At the very least, Gesta is hungry to pick off a big name, which leads to Saturday’s makeshift main event.

It’s now up to Diaz to put aside all out-of-ring distractions and previous in-ring setbacks, to avoid reaching steppingstone status.

:Mercito is a tough competitor and an experienced veteran,” acknowledged Diaz. “After I walk him down and get past him, it’s going to open a lot of doors for me.

“I’m very confident in this fight. I’m going to be explosive and aggressive. It’s going to be an action-packed fight.”

It’s perhaps the one place where Diaz can still control his own destiny.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox