Julio “the Kidd” Diaz returned to his home in Indio with the IBF lightweight world title.

“I’m really happy right now,” Diaz said as he waited for a connecting flight in a Texas airport.

After waiting nearly two years to reclaim his title, suffering through cancelled bouts, retirements by foes, last-minute venue changes and even a frightful storm in central Florida, the black colored championship belt he held for 10 months in 2005 is back in his trophy case.

But for a minute, it looked like the slew of tornados was going to postpone the fight card near Orlando.

“It was pretty devastating,” said Diaz of the storm that was located just north of the fight location in Kissimmee, Florida. “We saw it on the news while we were there.”

Diaz and his team arrived on Tuesday and while waiting for the world title fight they awoke to news of the violent storm that resulted in loss of lives Friday morning. They were located just below the tornado alley’s path.

“They never mentioned the fight was going to be canceled so I just concentrated on the fight,” he said.

Since losing the title to Jose Luis Castillo back in March 2005, Diaz embarked on an impressive journey to recapture the lightweight title he won against Mexico’s Javier Jauregui in San Diego. Instead of accepting an easy title defense, he anxiously signed to fight WBC titleholder Castillo. Diaz lost by technical knockout.

“That fight taught me a lot. I learned more by losing than all of the fights where I won,” Diaz said.

In that fight that took place in Las Vegas, Castillo applied various methods of pressure and tactics including elbows, headbutts and punches that ventured below the belt. Diaz suffered injuries to his eyes that forced him to give up, but not for good.

“After that fight I went back knowing what it takes to be a real world champion. Castillo taught me a lot in that fight,” Diaz said, adding that the two met later in the year at a Mexicali nightclub. They exchanged secrets of the craft and later sparred together.

Following back-to-back first round knockout wins, Diaz demanded a top-flight opponent or a title opportunity. Last year in May he fought Florida’s Ricky Quiles for the interim title and won by unanimous decision.

You can throw away the interim designation. Now he has the real thing.

Jesus Chavez, also a former junior lightweight champion, just didn’t have the firepower or health to beat a lightweight monster like Diaz. His right knee buckled during an exchange and he collapsed to the floor in the third round. He could not continue.

“This was the healthy leg,” said Chavez to Associated Press, who suffered ligament damage to his left knee several years ago. “I never felt pain like this.”

Diaz, who had a four-inch height advantage, said he felt all along it would be a mismatch.

“Chavez is a tough guy but this is my weight class. I’ve been in the lightweight division my whole career,” said Diaz. “I don’t think he touched me once.”

Now the Coachella-raised boxer wants the other lightweight titleholder Juan Diaz, the WBA champion from Houston.

“I asked Don King to let me fight Juan Diaz and he promised that he would,” Diaz said. “You can call it D-day when it happens.”

Nightmare on ESPN

Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola fights on Friday Feb. 9, in Selden, New York against Zakeem Graham (10-1-1, 7 KOs). The action will be televised on ESPN2.

“I can’t underestimate anybody,” said Arreola (18-0, 16 KOs) who recently jumped into higher rankings with his last win over Damian “Bolo” Wills. “The time I did underestimate a fighter, Domonic Jenkins, he almost took me out.”

The Riverside heavyweight fought at his lightest weight ever as a heavyweight when he stepped into the ring at 229 pounds. He’s now convinced he has found his true fighting weight.

“I can throw more punches now and I can throw more combos. And I feel light on my feet,” Arreola said. “I don’t have to take as many punches too.”

The victory over Wills last September has provided Arreola with a clearer vision of his own path.

“I see the light at the end of the tunnel now,” said Arreola, 25, who is trained by Henry Ramirez and managed by Al Haymon, who also manages Floyd Mayweather Jr. among many others.

It’s Arreola’s first time on ESPN2 and he hopes to make people notice.

“This is national television. It’s still another fight but a little more exciting,” Arreola said. “I plan on winning a title (non-world title), that’s my goal for this year. So when people say Nightmare is fighting they know it means Chris Arreola is fighting.”

Also on the same card will be undefeated Eddie Chambers, a young heavyweight out of Pittsburgh fighting undefeated Derrrick Rossy (15-0, 9 KOs) of New York for the vacant USBA heavyweight title.

Chambers (27-0, 15 KOs) is promoted by Goossen Tutor Promotions who also have James “Lights Out” Toney.

Desert Storm wins again

Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley (18-0) of Indio won a wide unanimous decision over Manuel Garnica (20-7) in an eight-round junior welterweight fight. The fight took place at Chumash Casino on Friday.

It was Bradley’s second time on Showtime and he was impressive in this outing with three knockdowns of Mexico’s Garnica. In previous fights, Garnica beat former world champion Carlos Maussa and lost a split-decision to rugged Juan Lazcano.

Bradley, 23, is co-promoted by Thompson Promotions and Gary Shaw Productions. He’s currently ranked number 10 by the WBC.

Another win for Laila Ali

Laila Ali (24-0, 21 KOs) knocked out Gwen O’Neil in 56 seconds of the first round in their match in South Africa on Saturday. It was the second time Ali faced O’Neil who was ranked number one. Their first encounter lasted three rounds.

Ali, 29, told the Press-Enterprise she plans to retire if she cannot sign a contract to fight Ann Wolfe or Leatitia Robinson within the month of February. She plans to marry former NFL pro football player Curtis Conway in April.

Chente victorious

Vicente “Chente” Escobedo outboxed veteran prizefighter Priest Smalls for a unanimous decision after 10 rounds in Sacramento. It was Escobedo’s first fight at that distance.

Escobedo trains out of the Wild Card Boxing gym and is under Freddie Roach’s guidance. Beginning in March, Roach will be in Puerto Rico helping prepare Oscar De La Hoya for his big date with Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Formerly Escobedo was working out in Maywood and living in Newport Beach. Now he lives in Pasadena, California.

“It’s different,” says Escobedo. “But the drive still seems the same to me.”

The lightweight prospect fights for Golden Boy Promotions.

Fights on television

Fri. ESPN2, 6 p.m., Chris Arreola (18-0) vs. Zakeem Graham (10-1-1).

Fri. Telefutura, 8 p.m., Rocky Juarez (25-3) vs. Emmanuel Lucero (23-3-1).

Sat. HBO, 6:45 p.m., Shane Mosley (43-4) vs. Luis Collazo (27-2); Vivian Harris (27-2-1) vs. Juan Lazcano (37-3-1).