Joel Diaz Jr on Thursday Night Fights return, mistaken identity

It’s been over two years since boxing fans last saw a Thursday Fight Night from Golden Boy Promotions. COVID has forced a hiatus on the series which has brought us young prospects, rising and rebuilding talent, and the first two installments of the trilogy between Joshua Franco and Oscar Negrete.

The show returns this Thursday, April 21 on DAZN. And the main attraction of the revival is knockout artist and junior welterweight contender Joel Diaz Jr.

Diaz Jr (26-2, 22 KOs) is perhaps best known for his 2017 showdown against Regis Prograis. Diaz Jr suffered the first loss of his career that night, but won three of his next four, all by knockout in three rounds or less.

In Thursday’s main event, he will face Mercito Gesta (32-3-3, 17 KOs), a seasoned veteran and dangerous fighter for the first time since November 2019.

Diaz Jr spoke with Bad Left Hook about what he wants from Gesta, the likelihood of an early end and the constant confusion online from people who confuse him with the other Joel Diazes in the boxing world.

Our full conversation, slightly edited for length and clarity, follows.

BAD LEFT HOOK: You’re headlining the return of Golden Boy’s Thursday Night Fights. Are you proud to be the first headliner to bring the show back to life after almost three years?

JOEL DIAZ JR: Oh, yes sir. First of all, I want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to do this. I want to thank Golden Boy. And I want to thank my manager-slash-trainer Sam Contreras for making it all possible.

We’ve already seen guys like Joshua Franco and Alexis Rocha use those Thursday night shows to open doors and get new opportunities. What do you hope to come from directing a main event like this?

Just to show everyone what Joel Diaz is. I just want to thank God, for starters. Giving me the opportunity to participate in the main event live on DAZN for Golden Boy. I just have to go out there and show them what Joel Diaz really is!

What is Joel Diaz really?

Man of power. Movement. All. Just a new style, I guess you could say.

At the time, I just wanted to try to use my power instead of trying to dispatch someone. Instead of trying to smell them and fight them, you know? Take it turn by turn. And that’s what we’re going to do. Take it turn by turn.

I think for a lot of guys, as they get closer to the top, the first time you ramp up and get to the point where your power isn’t all you need to win a fight, it can be kind of a shock.

How did you adapt to the need to be more of a tactical fighter and fight at a level where you can’t just rely on the advantage of your natural talent?

Sleeves. The more laps I have, the better to rely on. Just to understand them, study them, instead of getting into the one-hit quitter.

The more rounds we have, the more time I have to study them. And the more time I have to report them.

This isn’t the first time you’ve headlined a show. You fought atop a ShoBox card against Regis Prograis a few years ago. Is it different to prepare mentally or physically for the main event of a TV show?

In some ways it is, but you don’t want to have that in the back of your mind. You just want to go out there and manage what you’ve worked for. What I have worked for all my life. Be the main event. On a Golden Boy card? [Mock surprised/happy voice] “What?

On a Golden Boy card, bro! I hope you are joking? Yeah, to be the main event on a Golden Boy card, that should be a good one. Not just for me, but for all the fans.

You said a moment ago that you try to be more tactical or strategic as a fighter. But the last time we saw you let go was almost eight years ago. Should fans expect a knockout on Thursday night?

You know what? Expect anything brought to the table. If the knockout is there, it’s going to be there. Just know that for a fact.

If it’s not the case ? We are going against – I will say that I am also a veteran. But, we are going to the ring with someone who has faced big name fighters. And he did a few tricks. If he’s ready to go the distance, then let’s go. Otherwise, let’s give people what they want!

You are facing an opponent in Mercito Gesta who is a veteran, and it shows he is a dangerous guy. But, he also hasn’t fought since the start of the COVID pandemic. What do you expect from him on Thursday?

He will bring his “A game”.

covid? If you are a pro fighter, boxer, any type of pro then this is what you want. You still don’t take any days off in this boxing game.

You could say the same for me. COVID happened, but I was still in the gym working out. This is what I want! It’s me.

Fans love unifications and undisputed champions, but it can really slow things down in a weight division. Do you think we’ll see more big names go head-to-head in your weight class at 140 if and when Josh Taylor moves up and there are more opportunities to challenge for a major belt?

I think so. Everyone wants to face Taylor. He’s a great fighter. If it’s put on paper, let’s do it! But, if he goes up, everyone will want to go for that number one spot. That’s what boxers want to do.

We are like vultures! [Laughs] I just come for this first place.

You thanked your coach, Sam Contreras, earlier. You’ve worked with a few other guys in the past. What brought you to Contreras at this stage of your career, and what do you think he brings to you?

I just keep my doors open. We come from the same city… We always talked, but we never really had a one-on-one.

I was able to get in touch with him a few years ago. And I asked him about his gym. From there it went to where now we are headlining a DAZN fight!

I’ve been with him since 2020, I believe. And all is well so far! This is just the start of something big.

I ask this question because I admit I had to double check and try to make sure I didn’t ask you stupid or confusing questions today – Given how many Joel Diazes there are in the boxing world …

[Shakes head, laughs]

…how often do people get confused or confused about who you are, or how you do or don’t behave around others?

A LOT. [Laughs] Lots, man. I can’t even explain that.

When they started promoting this fight, [notable boxing trainer Joel Diaz’s son, also named Joel Diaz Jr.] had his name on Instagram and he was like, “No, fake Joel Diaz.”

It’s much the same thing. Just a lot, man.

Just so everyone is clear, well known and respected trainer Joel Diaz Sr, the one boxers probably know so well, is NOT your father.

No. And it’s funny, because obviously it’s also my father’s name. For the four of us, it’s like “What the hell is that?” [Laughs]

My name is quite common, there are many John Hansen in the world. And I sometimes get emails that are obviously meant for one of the others. When that happens, I usually try to tell people, “No, you got the wrong guy! It’s not my credit card! or “I don’t go to your church!”

Have you and the other Joel Diazes in the boxing world ever had to text back and forth to let you all know when someone is trying to reach you?

Yes my guy! I mean, it always gets crazy on social media.

[Joel Diaz Jr, son of the trainer Joel Diaz] is @JoelDiazJr. I’m @RealJoelDiaz, but not “Jr”. So, it gets complicated sometimes, but we manage.

[Fake conversational voice] “You know what? Can you just be me for today, please? [Laughs]

Well, I’m glad to see Thursday nights happening again, and glad to see you at the top of the map, doing your thing.

[Smiling] Thank you.

Any final thoughts you want to share?

I just want to thank God for giving me this great opportunity. I want to thank my manager and trainer Sam Contreras. And everyone who connected with me, and didn’t forget me.

This is just the start of something new. So let’s go ! On April 21, find me live on DAZN!