By David A. Avila
Two red hot featherweights taking starkly different paths meet when Jojo Diaz faces Andrew Cancio (pictured) for the NABF title on Saturday, Sept. 17, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
One walked a spotless road paved by brilliant success and the other walked a road filled with potholes and detours. But here they are.
When Cancio (17-3-2, 13 KOs) meets former Olympian Diaz (21-0, 12 KOs), he’s proving that his warrior’s journey filled with obstructions and heartbreak were not in vain. It’s also proof that determination has its rewards.
“I’ve been here before and always had to go out and prove them wrong. And here we are again,” said Cancio, 27, who grew up in the small desert town of Blythe, Calif.
It’s been a decade of filthy hot gyms and treks across the border to showcase his boxing skills for Cancio. In Blythe, temperatures can hover above 110 degrees for months. For the past few years he’s been training in the cooler temps of Ventura. But don’t say he’s from Ventura.
“Oh no, I’m from Blythe,” says Cancio. “Everybody knows everybody in Blythe.”
The California desert town is the last stop before the Arizona border. Because of the town’s remoteness it was always tough for Cancio to get noticed. But those in his hometown know who he is and its common to see dozens of his supporters travel more than 100 miles to see him fight in Indio, Calif.
“I got a lot of family and friends that are going to fly out to Texas as well. It’s way too far to drive,” Cancio said while at a recent media day in L.A.
The desert fighter Cancio will not be the favorite against the speedy Diaz. But he’s fought plenty of fast opponents to finally figure out what works. Plus, he’s just plain happy to be performing on a pay-per-view event before thousands of fans.
“We’re going to be on the biggest stage, the Canelo undercard. He sells a lot of pay per views. So were going to get a lot of views. A lot of people are going to see me and Jojo,” said Cancio. “I know it’s a hard fight, but the way I see it, I don’t want easy fights. I want the ones fans will remember.”
Fans remember Diaz the fighter from the hard knock streets of South El Monte who bedazzles every opponent with blinding combinations.
Diaz, 23, made the 2012 US Olympic team to the surprise of many across the country. But since then, he no longer surprises anyone. People know the South El Monte prizefighter brings the speed and a lot of it. Since turning pro the southpaw speedster has zipped through 20 opponents with only one proving competitive. That was Nicaragua’s Rene Alvarado.
“I know that this is my time to shine and showcase my skills and prove to everyone that I can be the next superstar in boxing,” said Diaz, who only had problems with Alvarado when they fought a year ago at the L.A. Sports Arena. “Andrew Cancio is a dangerous fighter. He is very strong. His last two fights he’s proven he has that power to knock opponents out.”
It’s those last two knockout wins that prompted Golden Boy Promotions to move Cancio from the Fantasy Springs Casino fight card to the Arlington, Texas mega event. Those knockouts spoke loudly.
“They gave me (Rene) Alvarado and I ended up knocking him out. Then I got a third round stoppage (over Hugo Cazares) and now here we are,” said Cancio, adding that Diaz presents another style and problem. “We will try to box more and stuff. I like going in the middle of the ring and throwing combinations.”
Diaz knows he’s the quicker fighter but wants to show he’s got head knocking power too.
“I know I have to be cautious but I’m going to brawl with him and show him my power. I’m going to push him back; he’s not going to push me back,” said Diaz who knocked out his last opponent in July.
Cancio is anxious for this crossroads moment.
“Stylistically it’s a great matchup. If I fight a good fight, that’s how people will remember me,” says Cancio with a smile. “I just can’t wait for that night. Two months of hard training for one night.”
Their roads have converged.
Photo credit: Tom Hogan