INTERVIEW: Joel Diaz Jr discusses headlining the return of Thursday Night Fights and mistaken identity on social media

Joel Diaz Jr. v Regis Prograis | Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

Make sure you’re supporting the correct Joel Diaz Jr as he prepares for his DAZN main event on April 21st

It’s been more than two years since boxing fans last saw a Thursday Fight Night from Golden Boy Promotions. COVID forced a pause to the series that brought us young prospects, rising and rebuilding talents, and the first two installments of the trilogy between Joshua Franco and Oscar Negrete.

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

Diaz Jr (26-2, 22 KO) may be best known for his 2017 showdown against Regis Prograis. Diaz Jr took the first loss of his career that night, but he’s gone on to win three of his next four, all of them by knockout in three rounds or fewer.

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

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

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

BAD LEFT HOOK: You are headlining the return of Golden Boy’s Thursday Night Fights. Are you proud to be the first headliner bringing the show back to life again 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 that. I want to thank Golden Boy. And I want to thank my manager-slash-trainer Sam Contreras for making all of this possible.

We’ve already seen guys like Joshua Franco and Alexis Rocha use these Thursday Night shows to open doors and get new opportunities. What are you hoping comes from leading a main event like this?

Just to show everybody what Joel Diaz is about. I just want to thank God, for one. Giving me the opportunity to come out in the main event live on DAZN for Golden Boy. I’ve just gotta go in there and show them what Joel Diaz is really about!

What is Joel Diaz really about?

Power, man. Movement. Everything. Just a new style, I guess you could say.

Back in the day I wanted to just try to use my power instead of trying to outbox somebody. Instead of trying to feel them out and fight them out, you know? Take it round by round. And that’s what we’re gonna do. Just take it round by round.

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

How have you adapted to needing to be more of a tactical fighter, and fighting at a level where you can’t just rely on the advantage of your natural talent?

Rounds. The more rounds that I have, the better to actually rely on that. Just to figure them out, study them out, instead of going in for the one-hitter quitter.

The more rounds we’ve got, the more time I have to study them. And the more time I have to point them out.

It’s not the first time you’ve headlined a show. You fought at the top of a ShoBox card against Regis Prograis a few years back. Is it different to mentally or physically prepare for the main event on a televised show?

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

On a Golden Boy card, bro! Are you kidding me? Yeah, to be main event on a Golden Boy card, it should be a good one. Not just for me, but for all of the fans.

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

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

If it’s not? We’re going against– I’m going to say that I’m a veteran as well. But, we’re going into the ring with somebody that’s gone against big name fighters. And he’s done some rounds. If he’s ready to go the distance, then let’s go the distance. If not, let’s give the people what they want!

You’re facing an opponent in Mercito Gesta that’s a veteran, and that’s shown he’s a dangerous guy. But, he also hasn’t fought since the start of the COVID pandemic. What are you expecting to see from him on Thursday?

He’s going to bring his “A game.”

COVID? If you’re a professional fighter, a boxer, any sort 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. This is what I want! This is me.

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

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

We’re like vultures! [Laughs] Just coming for that top spot.

You thanked your trainer, Sam Contreras, earlier. You’ve worked with a few other guys in the past. What is it that brought you to Contreras at this point in your career, and what do you think he’s bringing out of you?

Just keeping my doors open. We’re from the same city… We always talked, but never really did the one-on-one thing.

I was able to link up with him a couple of years back. And I asked him about his gym. From there, it went on to where now we’re headlining a DAZN fight!

I’ve been with him since 2020, I believe. And it’s been good so far! It’s just the beginning of something great.

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

[Shakes head, laughs]

…how often do people get confused or mixed up about who you are, or how you do or don’t relate to the others?

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

When they first started to promote this fight, [notable boxing trainer Joel Diaz’s son, also named Joel Diaz Jr.] had his name popping up on Instagram and he was like, “Nope, wrong Joel Diaz.”

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

Just so everyone is clear, well known and respected trainer Joel Diaz Sr, the one that boxing people probably know so well, is NOT your dad.

Nope. And it’s funny, because obviously that’s my dad’s name as well. For all of us four, it’s just like, “What the hell?” [Laughs]

My name is pretty common, there are a lot of John Hansens out there in the world. And I get emails sometimes that are obviously meant for one of the other ones. When it happens, I usually try to tell people “No, you’ve got the wrong guy! It’s not my credit card!” or “I don’t go to your church!”

Do you and the other Joel Diazes in the boxing world ever have to pass messages back and forth so you all know when someone is trying to reach you?

Yeah, man! 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 get through it.

[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 card, 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 that’s been tuning in with me, and hasn’t forgotten about me.

This is just the beginning of something new again. So, here we go! April 21st, catch me live on DAZN!

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