Sorry if you get bored with the conceit, but yet again, I've come across a kid who has latched on to boxing, and found the sport has given him a purpose in life and a platform to express himself and his talents, and an alternative to the streets.
I don't seek to be repetitive, but it bears repeating, again and again. The sport, with all its woes, with its undeniable and unpleasant drawbacks which can include brain damage, does take dozens of dead-enders off the streets every year, and give them shelter. Imperfect shelter, perhaps, but nevertheless...
Jorge Diaz, age 25, a New Brunswick, NJ resident, gets to show his stuff on "Friday Night Fights" in a couple days, in a featherweight fight against Yenifel Vicente. That's the featured undercard scrap on a card set to unfold at South Mountain Arena in South Orange, NJ, to be headlined by a Jundy Maraon-Juan Carlos Payano fight.
It wasn't that long ago that Diaz, who holds a 17-1 (10 KOs; lone loss to Teon Kennedy in March 2011) record, was pondering his future prospects in a jail cell.
"From age 13 to 21, I was playing both sides," said Diaz, who started boxing while living in Puerto Rico as a pre-teen but who drifted to law-breaking when he got a taste of easy money. "When I was incarcerated for the third time, my cellmate was an older guy. He found out I was good at boxing and he said, 'Listen, I hear you're pretty good. You might as well go for that, the streets will always be there, the streets will always welcome you back.'''
Diaz had a fight set for three weeks from that day he heard those wise words; he exited jail, and hasn't been back since. "That was a turning point in my career," he said. "I said, 'I gotta give it my all.' I was accomplishing so much with only sixty percent effort."
Diaz is an only child, and it was him and his mom growing up. He grew up in New Brunswick and lived in the Robeson public housing. "I had to learn to become a man from the streets," he said. Diaz showed a flair for sales when he was sent to live with his grandma in Puerto Rico, after he and his mom were evicted from their apartment. For a time, little Jorge jacked a window open and opened up the door to the apartment, but after the super got wise, they had no residence. He lived in a car for about a month and then went to grandma.
Shortly after he re-located, he went to buy a cake, and noticed that the wholesaler had them for sale for $1, and that the same cake sold for $2 at the store. So he bought one, and sold it for $3. Then he bought a bunch, and sold them on the street. Pretty soon, he had a wad of cash. Grandma, however, sent him to live with his dad, back in the States, and the cake selling ended, there being no market for door-to-door cakes in Jersey.
"I was used to having money," he said. "I had a cell phone, at age 11 or 12, nobody had that. Then I was introduced to drugs. I didn't use drugs or drink, and I tried to stop a few times but I was addicted to fast money." He still went to the gym, though, and built a base as a boxer.
A righty who moves well, can lead or counter, and has decent pop, Diaz is asked about his Friday foe, Vicente (24-1-1 with 16 KOs; age 26). "I think he's good, but I'm great," said the boxer nicknamed "the King," who says he styles himself after Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Martin Luther KIng, for his resolve in the face of adversity. "He comes forward. They call him the Dominican Bull. For this fight, they can call me the 'Puerto Rican Matador.' I can choose to mix it up, or not. My style is: I'm a winner. I'm like water, I adapt. If I have to bang, I bang, if I have to box, I box. My objective is to perform, and win."
I had to ask; what if the boxing dream doesn't go as planned? Might the streets' crooked finger beckon him back? "I needed to go through that stuff to be the person I am today," Diaz said. "I'm going to be smart, take the money from boxing and invest in real estate, commercial and residential. You can never go wrong with real estate."
Diaz still lives in New Brunswick and sees the positives in the community. But not long ago, he was driving with a pal, and heard an explosion. He flinched a bit, and later learned that someone had blasted a poor soul with a shotgun. At night, it's hard to get to sleep while people hoot and holler on the street. So, he does hope to move to a more stable nabe, close to where he grew up, soon. For now, his team--he's promoted by GH3, Greg Cohen and Pound For Pound--has put him up in a Clifton hotel, so he can rest properly, and focus on Friday.
And what will happen Friday, in the fight against Vicente?
"My prediction: they're gonna be calling me Picasso after this paint a masterpice. The fight does end in a knockout , in the seventh round."
I left my chat with Diaz feeling hopeful about his future. Even if the fighter rated No. 14 by the WBA, who could get into the top ten with a win on ESPN, doesn't climb to the heights he hopes to in the ring, I think he'll be OK. Sure, life isn't smooth and there are holes to fall into, distractions to decipher. But he seems to have a handle on it. "Last Friday, I was in the hospital, my grandma fainted in my arms," he said. "I have stuff on my plate...but she's back in Puerto Rico and she can start chemotherapy there.
"Back in the day, me and my father clashed, and I told him that do things my way, like Sinatra," Diaz said in closing, "and he stayed away from me, because I was a knucklehead. I'm still a knucklead but I don't break the law."
Who's the best Mexican boxer today?