LAS VEGAS – Strangely, Ryan Garcia has served an integral role in Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz Jr. emerging as a major player in the lightweight division.

Diaz—a 2012 U.S. Olympian and former IBF junior lightweight titlist—made his debut in the 135-pound division this past July, having replaced Garcia in an eventual win over Javier Fortuna to win the WBC “interim” lightweight title that Garcia (21-0, 18KOs) left behind in abandoning the fight. Diaz (32-1-1, 15KOs) was prepared to defend the belt versus Garcia atop a November 27 DAZN telecast, only for the unbeaten lightweight to withdraw from that fight as well due to a wrist injury requiring immediate surgery this past October.

The development led to Diaz being positioned to challenge WBC lightweight titlist Devin Haney (26-0, 15KOs), which takes place this Saturday on DAZN from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Haney’s Las Vegas hometown.

“This was what I envisioned, getting these big fights with Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, hopefully Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis after this,” Diaz told “I knew after the Javier Fortuna fight that these big fights were going to happen.”

The 29-year-old southpaw from South El Monte, California sensed such a path even before his body determined that it was time to move up in weight.

Diaz’ junior lightweight title reign began with a win over Tevin Farmer last January, though sitting out more than a year due to the pandemic. By the time Diaz made his way to the ring this past February, he had unexpectedly outgrown the junior lightweight division. His reign ended at the scale, badly missing weight for an eventual draw with unbeaten IBF mandatory challenger Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov.

A sit down with Golden Boy Promotions and MTK Global revealed that the wisest move for Diaz was to campaign at lightweight in lieu of attempting to regain his old title. The timing worked well in his favor, filling the void left behind by Garcia earlier this summer. Even in missing out on a lucrative all-California showdown with Garcia came just as generous a payday and with increased stakes in Diaz’s challenge of Haney this weekend.

“The fight was always going to get made with Devin Haney but we had the chance to make bigger money facing Ryan,” notes Diaz. “I got to do what is best for my career, for myself and for my family. So, we agreed to that fight.

“I was looking forward to that but Ryan ended up pulling out, so we went on to the next big fight which was Devin Haney.”

Just don’t expect Garcia’s name to make his way to the ‘thank you’ list should Diaz emerge victorious this weekend.

“Nah, f--- him,” Diaz laughingly replied.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox