Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz is still fighting for respect.
Despite having a world title belt and being one of the very best at 130 pounds, Diaz believes he still has to prove himself. But a legit victory over a tough mandatory challenger and a possible unification fight in the near future could bring solace to a fighter who has overcome obstacles in and out of the ring.
Diaz will defend his IBF title against Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov Saturday night at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California. The 12-round bout, along with the WBO junior middleweight bout between titleholder Patrick Teixeira and mandatory challenger Brian Castano, will stream live on DAZN (8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT).
This will be Diaz’s first defense of the IBF title that he won from Tevin Farmer on January 30 of last year.
Rakhimov (15-0, 12 KOs), who is originally from Tajikistan and now resides in Ekaterinburg, Russia, became the mandatory IBF challenger when he scored an eighth-round stoppage of Azinga Fuzile in September 2019. Fuzile’s camp protested the outcome, stating “stimulant-ammonia or smelling salts” were administered underneath Rakhimov’s nose prior to the eighth round, but the IBF upheld the original decision.
Diaz, who is rated No. 3 by The Ring at 130 pounds, respects Rakhimov’s punching power, but he is confident of victory and glad to be back.
“I have this tough challenger ahead of me,” said Diaz (31-1, 15 knockouts) at Thursday’s press conference. “We’ve taken this fight very seriously. We know exactly what he is all about. We know what he’s capable of doing, we know he is a serious threat, but we know we’ll be able to adapt to anything on Saturday night.
“It’s been a year-long layoff, but it’s been a great year-long layoff. I was able to witness the birth of my son and spend some time away from boxing. I was able to enjoy life as a normal person.”
Diaz, who resides in the Los Angeles suburb of Downey, has won his last five bouts since suffering his only loss to WBC featherweight titleholder Gary Russell Jr. in May 2018.
Even though he has posted impressive results, including knocking out fringe contender Freddie Fonseca in May 2019, Diaz has also struggled at times, as was the case in a majority decision win over Jesus Cuadro four months later.
Despite his performance in the Cuadro fight, Diaz, who has admitted that he battled depression prior to the Fonseca fight, believes he has not received the respect due a legitimate world titleholder.
“I faced a bit of adversity in the Gary Russell Jr. fight,” said Diaz, who has been promoted by Golden Boy Promotions since turning pro in December 2012 after representing the U.S. at the London Olympics. “I learned a lot [in the Russell fight]. But I won’t let anything else prevent me from being what I want to be and [from] doing what I want to do I the ring.
“I don’t feel like I get the respect that I deserve in this division. In my career in general, I haven’t gotten the respect that I deserve. But it’s all good. I’ve already dealt with so much adversity in my life. I’m already immune to it. I just focus on training as hard as I can to get the job done that night.”
Diaz is in a better place than he was a few years ago. He continues to press forward with the hope that he can one day become the undisputed champion in a very competitive weight class.
First things first, Diaz has to defeat Rakhimov on Saturday night.
“I’m ready for anything this Saturday,” said the defending titleholder. “I’m ready for anything that he will bring to the table. If he thinks he will come in here and overwhelm me with his power, that is not going to happen. I’m strong and I’m big just like him. I will be able to take his shots and give them back. I worked my ass off to get this belt and I’m not letting go.
“I’m focused on going out there and performing at my best. I want to entertain fight fans and show them what I am all about. I want to show that I am the best at 130 pounds.”
Francisco A. Salazar can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FSalazarBoxing
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