In the literal blink of an eye Julio “The Kidd” Diaz’s prophesied boxing path to greatness changed. The year was 2002 and what Diaz didn’t see coming was a winging left hook from a glory starved and rugged lightweight named Juan “El Pollo” Valenzuela. A series of follow-up shots left Diaz knocked out on his feet. His head resting on his shoulders moving disturbingly like a bobble head after each punch he received. Referee John Schorle jumped in just in time to prevent Diaz from taking in any serious health altering damage. USA Today’s 2000 “prospect of the year” had just been handed a devastating first round loss that few would’ve predicted. “It was a strange situation. I was caught cold and unprepared. I thought I would warm-up in the first few rounds and then go to work on this guy. The fight started later than expected and I was feeling out of sorts. I just wasn’t there mentally,” said Diaz (33-3, 24 KO’s) of that fateful night. The once blue chip prospect’s stock plummeted to an all-time low.
The Coachella, California native fought some tough battles on his way back to title contention including one against Ernesto “Baby” Zepeda who he stopped in the seventh round. Trainer Lee Espinoza characterized Zepeda as one of Diaz’s toughest opponents to date. The very tough Miguel Huerta was his next victim as he came back from getting dropped in the second to then submit to the power puncher in the eighth round of a thriller. This was around the time that Diaz’s relationship with his promoters at Top Rank soured. Diaz was fighting less often and resenting the situation. Eventually he found himself working construction in the oven-like Palm Springs area for fifteen bucks an hour to make ends meet. “Boxing is my job and here I was working construction, struggling to make money. I wanted to fight. I definitely built up some anger. I just wanted to tell everyone that I didn’t belong here,” remembers Diaz.
Although hard at work in construction, he was still getting in his training and sparring against some of boxing’s elite like Acelino Freitas, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Diego Corrales. That was the only way Diaz knew how to handle his anger. The Coachella gym and Lee Espinoza had always been there for him since he was six years old. “Every time I was angry or frustrated, I would go to the gym and unload on a punching bag. That made me feel better. We have a strong family and that also helped me get through the tough times.”
The lessons were forthcoming. Not only inside the ring but outside. “I got used to a certain lifestyle as I was coming up in the beginning and when the income wasn’t there it just became really hard. That’s another lesson I learned. I learned to live like a normal person with a normal income regardless of the money I make.”
Diaz and Top Rank eventually split and that’s where Sycuan Ringside Promotions stepped in. Vice President Scott Woodworth signed Julio and set the stage for a fight against the well-regarded Courtney Burton for the #1 IBF spot and a mandatory shot at the title. On March 19, before an ESPN2 audience, Diaz pulled off an excellent performance and stopped Burton in the boxing equivalent of a chess match. The end came in dramatic fashion by knockout in the eleventh round. “He was bigger and heavier than me but I was just too full of desire to lose,” he remembers.
He then fought Javier Jauregui for the IBF title winning with a twelve round majority decision. “That was an emotional time for me and my family. Winning the title was a very special moment. Jauregui was supposed to be my toughest fight until that point but it turned out to be one of my easiest,” said Diaz.
His dream to prove himself against the best turned into a nightmare after he was matched against the very dangerous Jose Luis Castillo. Castillo defeated “The Kidd” with a beating that left Diaz looking like he’d been jumped by a gang of thugs. Castillo used every trick in the book to stop “The Kidd” and took the WBC title with a tenth round TKO. “I learned so much from that fight that I wouldn’t change a thing. A lot of his dirty tricks really affected me. I learned to go in there all business. Not to toy around with my opponent as I often did. I am a lot more aggressive in the ring than I used to be,” said Diaz. Diaz’s trainer acknowledges that some changes have been made to his fighter’s technique. “He’s sitting down on his punches more. He really is a powerful fighter when he tries to be,” says Espinoza.
Diaz proved his newfound punching prowess after scoring two first round knockouts over Marco Perez and Russell Jones. He then won the IBF “Interim” lightweight title with an easy unanimous decision over Ricky Quiles in May of this year. Diaz was set on looking for a banner fight against a big name opponent and thought he had one.
The twenty-six-year-old Diaz was supposed to fight former world champion Acelino Freitas on November 18th but the fight was scratched when the Brazilian decided to retire. Diaz was shocked at the development. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard. I really wanted this fight. I need these big fights so I was disappointed when it fell out,” he said. Diaz will now take on Jesus “El Matador” Chavez at a yet to be announced date and venue. “I’m feeling a little edgy at this point. I feel like people are going to start forgetting about me if I don’t get back in the ring soon.” The cockiness that’s always been part of Diaz’s persona still rears its head. “Chavez is a great fighter and a former world champ but my technique is very solid and I should be able to outbox him,” he said.
There is one fighter he would like to get in the ring with the most. A Texan kid with the same last name is in his crosshairs. WBA Lightweight champion Juan Diaz (30-0, 15 KO’s) out of Houston.
“I would really love to fight Juan Diaz. It would be a great fight and a great promotion. Diaz vs. Diaz. I think Juan is a great fighter that would be perfectly suited for my style. He’s very energetic and throws a lot of punches. A lot of piddy-patter punches. I believe that fight would be a walk in the park for me,” said Diaz. President of Sycuan Ringside, Glenn Quiroga, is also keen on “The Kidd” Diaz taking on the “Baby Bull” Diaz. “It’s a great matchup that works on many levels and I think Julio would win. He’s a better technician than Juan.”
“The Kidd” had one final statement for the Houston native. “I would like to ask Juan Diaz to take a break from his studies and come out and play with the big boys,” he said. “There’s only room for one Diaz to rule the lightweight division and that’s me.”