Devin Haney still doubts whether Joseph Diaz Jr. really wanted to fight him Saturday night.
The unbeaten WBC world lightweight champion suspects Diaz simply succumbed to pressure once Ryan Garcia suffered a fractured right hand, which forced him to withdraw from a fight with Diaz that was scheduled for November 27 in Los Angeles. Diaz contends that it took extra time to sign his contract because he and his handlers tried to secure the best deal possible for the former IBF junior lightweight champ’s shot at Haney’s title.
“I do feel like he didn’t really want the fight because, at the end of the day, he was my mandatory and he took the Ryan Garcia route,” Haney told BoxingScene.com. “And then, once the Ryan Garcia fight fell out due to his injury, he wasn’t quick to jump on the fight with me. It’s a world title shot, and he wasn’t quick to take it. I feel like me and Eddie and the fans really had to corner him in to take it.”
Diaz (32-1-1, 15 KOs), a southpaw from Downey, California, defeated Dominican contender Javier Fortuna (36-3-1, 25 KOs) by unanimous decision to win the WBC interim lightweight title July 9 at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. The 2012 U.S. Olympian replaced Garcia (21-0, 18 KOs) in that bout because Garcia took a break from training in mid-April to focus on his mental health.
Diaz’s victory over Fortuna was his second win against a former champion in his past three bouts. He defeated Philadelphia’s Tevin Farmer (30-5-1, 6 KOs) by unanimous decision in their 12-rounder to win the IBF 130-pound championship in January 2020 in Miami.
Diaz fought to a majority draw with Tajikistan’s Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0-1, 12 KOs) on February 13 in his bout between wins against Farmer and Fortuna. He lost his IBF junior lightweight title at the scale the day before he fought Rakhimov in Indio, California, because Diaz came in a disconcerting 3½ pounds above the division’s limit of 130.
Nevertheless, Diaz has lost only to Gary Russell Jr., the longest-reigning champion in boxing. Russell (31-1, 18 KOs), of Capitol Heights, Maryland, out-boxed Diaz on his way to winning a unanimous decision in their 12-round fight for Russell’s WBC featherweight title in May 2018 in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
“Record-wise, he’s been in there with some of the top guys,” Haney said. “He comes to fight every single time. You know, in his previous fights he hasn’t made the fights easy for his opponents. He comes to fight each and every time. So, we’ve gotta see December 4th what he brings to the table. But at the end of the day, I’m gonna take away the things he does best and use it against him.”
Las Vegas’ Haney, 23, and Diaz, 29, will headline DAZN’s stream Saturday night from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (8 p.m. ET; 5 p.m. PT). Most handicappers have established Haney (26-0, 15 KOs) as at least a 6-1 favorite to defeat Diaz.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.