Joel Diaz, Jr. never had a chance going into his June 2017 clash against Regis Prograis.
It was not that Diaz did not train enough or overtrained for the Prograis. Instead, Diaz had the wrong game plan and he paid the price for it.
“Maybe I should’ve just felt him out during the first couple of rounds instead of trying to knock his head off,” Diaz told BoxingScene earlier this week. “Instead, I have knocked my head off.”
Lesson learned for Diaz, who decided to give boxing one more go and has done well in recent fights. He faces former world lightweight title challenger Mercito Gesta tonight in a 10-round bout at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California (DAZN, 9 pm ET/ 6 pm PT).
At Thursday’s weigh-in, Diaz weighed 134.6 pounds. Gesta weighed 134.8.
Diaz (26-2, 22 knockouts), who resides in Palmdale, California, last fought on August 20, knocking out gatekeeper Francisco Gabriel Pina in the second round. The victory over Pina came over eight months after his third round knockout victory over Saul Banos Juarez.
The 30-year-old is in a better place now than after the Prograis fight. Both Diaz and Prograis were unbeaten prospects leading up to their clash that aired on Showtime’s ShoBox series in June 2017. After a competitive opening round, Diaz was dropped multiple times in the second round before the fight was stopped.
After knocking out Miguel Angel Huerta 16 months later, Diaz returned to action on a Top Rank card in February 2019 against Cristian Coria. After dominating the first two rounds, Diaz was hurt in the third round and was battered by Coria before the fight was stopped.
Diaz learned a lesson from the two fights, something he would have applied during the Prograis fight.
“(I am) just trying to stay more patient,” said Diaz, who is trained by Pat Contreras and works with strength and conditioning coach Sam Cheka. “I worked on being more patient during sparring. To be more patient during a fight and not get carried away.
“I’m not going to knock everyone out. That’s what people want. I can’t give fans knockouts each time. If the knockout is there, it’s there. But if it’s not, I’m ready to go the distance against whomever, including Mercito Gesta.”
The defeats to Prograis and Coria almost forced Diaz to permanently hang up the gloves. Diaz spent time analyzing and reanalyzing the fight in his head, even taking time away from the ring to clear his head.
The time away served Diaz well as he was able to move on from the two defeats and learn from the mistakes he made in each fight.
“Power against power against Regis was where I went wrong,” said Diaz. “That’s where I went wrong with Regis. He’s an experienced fighter and that’s where I went wrong. Never again.
“I wanted to step away from the sport and come back on my own time. I needed to think it over. (The knockout loss to Prograis) was my first loss since my amateur days. I had thoughts of calling it quits. After the second loss, I really wanted to call it quits. I couldn’t because boxing is in my blood. It’s what I do. I was not going to go out like that.”
A victory over Gesta (32-3-3, 17 KOs), a former two-time world title challenger who is promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, could put Diaz into title contention in a very competitive lightweight division.
Diaz believes he has yet to hit his peak as a pro. A win would give Diaz validation that he made the right decision to restart his career and fulfill his goal of winning a world title belt. He is also currently a promotional free agent.
“We’re going to have to see after the outcome of the fight. If we come out with a win, that puts us back in the rankings. Whatever they bring to us, we will be ready.
“I yearn for that moment (where I accomplish my goals). I don’t think I’ve hit my peak yet.
There’s still a lot in me. There’s still a lot that I can do. I feel that boxing fans haven’t seen what I’m capable of. I’m going to have to show that (tonight) against Mercito Gesta.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for BoxingScene since September 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing