Message to all lightweight champions: “If you don’t feel that I’m a worthy fighter, then just fight me to get my title.”
Work your way through the amateurs, win big tournaments like the National’s and the Junior Olympics, and odds are you will have mild success as professional fighter. Once turning pro, if you work hard for five years, defeat former Olympians and previously unbeaten fighters on the way, you should earn yourself a shot at the title. And if, in your first attempt at a major belt, you take on a sixty fight veteran, and get most of the judges to side in your favor, then, as the new lightweight champion, all your problems should go away. You would be able to choose your opponents, you would get your fair share of the purses in future fights, and all the blood, sweat, and tears you have shed since being a tender six year old would be worth it. For you have the championship strap around your waist, and you see the world through rose-colored glasses. That was the conventional wisdom that Julio “The Kid” Diaz had from the time he was six to this past week when BoxingTalk caught up with the 135-pound lightweight champ.
The growing frustration with Diaz is that since becoming champion, he feels nobody wants to fight him. “It’s been pretty quiet with me,” said Diaz. “From my point of view, I’m ready to go, I’m staying in shape, and I’m just waiting for the call. I have been ready to fight anybody out there from the beginning, and now that I am a champion, I’m willing to put my title on the line. My title wasn’t handed to me, I had to work very hard for it for a lot of years, and I’m willing to put in on the line against anybody.”
When Diaz says “anybody”, he means “anybody”. The problem, however, is that “anybody” does not necessarily want to fight him. Adding fuel to Diaz’ frustration is, while he has yet to make one title defense since capturing the belt from Javier Jauregui last May, the other lightweight champions like Diego Corrales and Juan Diaz are gaining national exposure in highly profiled fights, which makes it easier for them to have their demands met were they ever to face Diaz. As these fighters are finding their way around Diaz, the IBF champ fails to give up, making noise to have them at least look in his direction.
Diaz recalls his most recent futile attempts to defend his IBF belt, “A few months ago I issued a challenge to Juan Diaz, but did not hear anything back from him. Then my team contacted Diego Corrales, and he decided to go another way. I guess he was looking for another fight. Now, everybody is already scheduled to fight soon, and they found their way around me.” The kicker in all this is that when Diaz’ fellow lightweight champions had their calendar spaces open, Diaz was all but shouting in their faces hoping they would look in his general vicinity. “I was there when their schedules were blank,” said Diaz. “I was like, ‘Hey, I’m over here, I’m over here.’
When they were looking for an opponent to fight Jose Luis Castillo on the Barrera-Morales III undercard, Diaz was telling them “I’m here, I’m right here, but Castillo looked towards Corrales instead. I still kept making noise, and now Castillo has got Casamayor. No one turned around to look at me.” Diaz had some history with Castillo. To Diaz’ chagrin, they never met in the squared circle. “I had been scheduled to fight Castillo twice, and he never showed up. The last time he cancelled a week before the fight, and I had been in Big Bear for six weeks preparing for that fight. I was like, ‘I just can’t go home.’ So they put me up against Ernesto Zepeda. Zepeda is a well known puncher, and he has a great record with a name, and I was like, “OK, I’ll take the fight. I don’t care if it was on four days notice.” I treated him like he was nothing, and I’m still back in the same place.” For Diaz it has gotten to the point in which he feels his championship belt is not even a part of him. “Regardless of my world title, I hardly ever look at it,” says Diaz. “I keep it in my closet because I don’t feel like a champion.”
All this begs the question, “Does Diaz have the worst string of bad luck going or is the IBF champ simply being avoided?” When asked about continuously being overlooked Diaz quickly answers, “For some reason I am being avoided. I’m not saying that these fighters are fearing me, because I know they are all great fighters who will fight anybody too. I have a lot of respect for Corrales – he fights anybody. Castillo as well, but for some reason, I don’t know if it’s their managers or they are trying to play it safe right now, they are avoiding me. We even pursued a fight with Juan Lazcano for a long time. Anybody we see who is free, who doesn’t have a fight scheduled, I throw myself at them, ‘Hey, I’m over here,’ but they go the opposite way and sometimes they take tougher fights, but they don’t come where I am.
Juan Diaz is a fight I’d love to get. People would love to watch it, and I think that would be the fight that would put our names out there. It would bring us a lot of attention. Win or lose it would be a great fight, because we’re both young and in a great position. But maybe they are trying to play it safe and enjoy the title in a safe way.”
With Diaz not able to get a decent title defense, which could bring him more recognition, bargaining power, and a larger checking account, the unwillingness to fight Diaz that seems to be rampant in the lightweight division could come down to a matter of risk versus reward. “Before I would have thought of that,” says Diaz, “but I have always been a top contender. I have fought great fighters, undefeated fighters, powerful punchers, boxers, brawlers, and I have taken every fight and beaten them. The reality of it is the only fighters who have beaten me were from a surprisingly lucky punch that could happen to anybody (against Juan Valenzuela), and Angel Manfredy, which everyone knows he didn’t beat me. Now that I have a title, everyone who fights me has something to gain.”
But it appears that not everybody wants something to gain. If it was for the fact that Diaz was just recently slated to fight on the December 11th undercard of Acelino Freitas’ return scrap in Brazil, Diaz would have had until February to defend his title. If by February, he did not have a scheduled fight, the IBF would have stepped in and ordered him to fight Leavander Johnson, their highest rated lightweight to date. Here is where the avoidance of Diaz’ becomes quite humorous. According to Diaz, “We asked Johnson for a fight, and he took the fight, but then cancelled it a week after taking it. We offered him a chance at the world title, but he didn’t take it. Instead, he took a fight against another guy for the number one ranked spot to fight me. I was already giving him a shot at me. He didn’t have to go through another fighter.” When asked why Johnson would possibly want to fight someone else in an elimination bout for Diaz’ title, when Diaz was offering him a shot at it right then and there, Diaz explained, “The reason Johnson did that was because as a [lesser ranked] challenger, he was being offered some chump change, but being ranked number one gives him a better purse.”
To add a dash of salt to the “avoidance” wound, it seems as though “The Kid’s” has had a much tougher climb to the top than some of his fellow lightweights who are not looking in his direction. As Diaz puts it, “You have some fighters, like me, who have to beat every name just to get a shot, while some other fighters are 16-0 and already have a world title. I was 23-0 and I had yet to be on a televised fight. I had to go to New York and fight Justo Sencion when he was an undefeated prospect with Main Events. They took me to his home town, and yet I still beat him by knocking him out in the ninth round. Then I was put in with Dairo Esalas, a former Olympian who was so powerful. Esalas was undefeated with almost all of his 23 wins coming by way of knockout , and again I didn’t just destroy him (knocking him out in the 4th round), I ended his career. He hasn’t been the same after that fight. He should retire. He’s done. I’ve earned a lot of respect, and yet I’m in the same place as when I began.
The place where Diaz finds himself is as a twenty-four year old lightweight champion who wants a meaningful fight to defend his title, but unable to find one. Right now, he has got youth on his side, but like the rest of us, we are not getting any younger. “I think these are my best years right now,” says Diaz, “and I am just letting them go by.” I don’t feel like I’m wasting my good years because I’m not using up my body, but I don’t want to waste my body over chump fights. I’d rather fight one named fighter, do what I got to do, and if I make it then I make it. I’m a type of fighter that has a lot of pride in myself. Boxing is a hard sport to be playing around with. When I know that I’m not going to be victorious then I won’t take the fight. When I know that my career isn’t going anywhere, I will retire.” What many do not know however, is that Diaz has already been fed up enough with the politics of the sport to call it quits. “I have been at the point already where I told myself, ‘I am done,’ recalls Daiz. “I still have all the newspaper clippings of when I retired, but then Ringside by Sycuan (Diaz’ promoter) came out of nowhere and gave me a second chance. That’s the reason why I am where I’m at, because they gave me a second chance.”
So, if Diaz is so eager to fight and he has a belt to put on the line, is there not one lightweight champion who wants to fight for his title? Diaz explains it this way, “Maybe they don’t want to take the fight, because they feel they have nothing to gain by fighting me, but they have something huge to gain from me. They could start unifying the titles. I will fight anybody, even a veteran who is a drunk, as long as they have a title. I don’t care about who the fighter is, if they have the title, I’ll fight them. I don’t need the fighter, I need their title. That is money in my pocket. You know me Darren, I don’t talk sh_t about no fighter because I don’t take it personally. This is my job. If you have a title, then I’ll come after you. If you don’t then I won’t waste my time, I’ll just leave you alone.”
As a young veteran of the sport “The Kid” is as wise outside the ring as he is inside. For after all this frustration, Diaz has a grand solution to bring an end to his turmoil of seemingly eternal idleness. According to Diaz this message goes out to all lightweights champions: “Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo, and Juan Diaz: I am ready to go with anyone who wants a great fight. I’m here, I’ll fight anybody. If you don’t feel that I’m a worthy fighter, then just fight me to get my title. That is something you will need, just come and get it. Afterwards you can leave, and I’ll be out of your way. Get me out of your way, and I’ll stop bugging you guys. If you do not fight me then I’ll be here for good. I will keep bugging your division, and I will always be a threat to you, so come get rid of me. Come and take me out. Until you do that, I will always be a big threat to you, and I will be haunting you wherever you go, because I will always be ready.”
So let us have it. Seeing any of these four fighters mentioned above fight each other would be a treat to all boxing fans, and boxing fans-to-be. We all know now that Julio “the Kid” Diaz wants these fights. Don’t let promoters, or share of the purses, or who gets the bigger hotel suite stop these fights from happening. In the words of the great Mills Lane: “LET’S GET IT ON!”
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