I first noticed Joseph Diaz when he was representing the United States at the 2012 Olympics in London, fighting at 56 KG. He had yet to turn 20. In Round 1 he defeated the Ukraine’s Pavlo Ischenko, by a margin of 19-9.
In the next round, he drew Cuba’s Lazaro Alvarez, the reigning world amateur champion. The upstart American youngster engaged the more experienced Cuban in a high-paced battle, losing 21-15, in a decision that was widely criticized.
What impressed me about Diaz at the time was his pressure style. Even under an amateur scoring system that encouraged attacks to the body, Diaz showed the kind of technical ability that would obviously translate well to the professional ranks.
Now, over four years later, he is on the verge of stardom. His record stands at 23-0 with 13 KOs. He has handled respectable contenders like Jayson Velez and Horacio Garcia. The Transnational Boxing Rankings place him No. 7 at featherweight. The Ring has him at No. 8.
This Saturday in Las Vegas, Diaz will be in the most high-profile fight of his career, when he faces fellow unbeaten Manuel Avila in the top undercard bout on Canelo Alvarez’s pay-per-view clash with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Avila is 22-0 with 8 KOs. He has so far fought exclusively in his native California, defeating such experienced journeymen as Jose Ramirez (by split decision) and Rene Alvarado.
Avila is a tough, young fighter and will no doubt come into this bout motivated. But he would seem to lack the experience and technical expertise of Diaz. My guess is that he has been hand-picked as an opponent who can make Diaz look good.
The featherweight division is full of quality talent right now. Golden Boy would no doubt love to develop the former Olympian for a high-profile clash with either Leo Santa Cruz or Gary Russell Jr.