Featherweight prospect Joseph Diaz Jr., a 2012 U.S. Olympian, is moving to the next stage of his career. The apprenticeship is over. So too is the record building. Now it's time for the big stage.
Diaz will step up the level of his opposition considerably when he faces former world title challenger Jayson Velez on Saturday night (HBO, 9:45 ET/PT) in a 10-round bout at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.
The fight will open the telecast headlined by former super middleweight champion Andre Ward (28-0, 15 KOs), of Oakland, moving up to light heavyweight to face Sullivan Barrera (17-0, 12 KOs), a Miami-based Cuban defector, in a world title elimination bout.
Golden Boy Promotions signed Diaz out of the Olympics and has kept him busy -- five fights in 2015 -- and put him on some of its biggest cards, while matchmaker Robert Diaz (no relation) has also done well building him by matching him with opponents of varying styles, which is what every young fighter needs in order to grow.
"He's ready for the next level," Golden Boy vice president Eric Gomez said. "He's at the position where he's getting a big shot on HBO. He's an Olympian, he's undefeated, he's looked good. So we've done our part. We've brought him along. This is a step-up fight for him. It's an introduction to the championship stage."
Diaz (19-0, 11 KOs), a 23-year-old southpaw from South El Monte, California, who has a fan-friendly style in the ring and is just as friendly outside of it, is excited for the opportunity to be on a HBO for the first time.
"This is a big stage in my career, so I'm mentally focused. I'm well prepared. I feel like this is the moment I have been waiting for my whole entire life." Joseph Diaz Jr.
"Mentally, I am 100 percent ready," Diaz said. "This is a big stage in my career, so I'm mentally focused. I'm well prepared. I feel like this is the moment I have been waiting for my whole entire life. I feel like I'm ready for this, and I can't wait for [Saturday]. I trained very hard for this fight, and I'm well prepared for it."
Velez (23-1-1, 16 KOs), 28, of Puerto Rico, is a battled-tested veteran. In 2014, he fought then-featherweight titlist Evgeny Gradovich to a draw in a world title bout. In November, he lost for the first time in a very close 10-round decision in an exciting fight to Ronny Rios on the Canelo Alvarez-Miguel Cotto undercard.
"I really want to make a statement in this fight," Diaz said. "I want to show the world that Joseph Diaz could be the next big thing in boxing, so I trained very hard to put on a great fight for the fight fans, be very aggressive and make it a war in there. I hope that Jayson Velez is 110 percent ready, because I want him to be at his best."
While the fight represents a chance for Diaz to break through as a contender, it is equally important for Velez if he wants to remain one.
"I have to train harder and improve my defense. I've been working on that," said Velez, who is promoted by Cotto. "If you see my last three or four fights, you will see that I have been dominating in the first couple of rounds and then I run out of gas. I have been working on my stamina, so that won't happen on Saturday.
"I have seen Diaz's fights. We've sparred a couple of times. He's got speed. He's got a hunger. It's his HBO debut, so he's definitely motivated, but so am I. It's going to be a great fight."
Diaz said that even though Velez is coming off a defeat, he is not an opponent to be overlooked. Diaz also doesn't anticipate Velez to fight exactly the same way he did against Rios.
"I can't expect what Jayson did to Ronny Rios during this fight," Diaz said. "I've got to go in there, test him out and adjust when I am in the ring. If the opportunity presents itself where he's hurt and I see that my punches are overwhelming him, then, of course, I'm going to get in there, be aggressive and make sure I take him out as early as possible.
"I have seen Diaz's fights. We've sparred a couple of times. He's got speed. He's got a hunger. It's his HBO debut, so he's definitely motivated, but so am I. It's going to be a great fight." Jayson Velez
"I know getting on the inside, cutting off the ring and taking it to the body right away will break him down. That's going to make him not move as much later in the rounds. I can land vicious blows to the head. I'm going to take it to the body right away."
If Diaz wins, Gomez said Golden Boy would like for him to fight another fight or two before seriously going after a world title fight. However, Gomez also said that if an opportunity to fight for a belt presented itself, they would consider it.
But first Diaz must pass a big test against Velez.
"He's got to win. Velez has been a contender for years, and he needs a win like that," Gomez said. "But not only does he have to win, we feel he has to look impressive. That's what keeps you on HBO. We feel he has all the tools. He's ready to impress and look great. If he does that, we'll keep moving him up the ladder."
That's music to Diaz's ears.
"If I win this fight and make a statement, I think I can move to contender status and hopefully get a world title shot by the end of this year," Diaz said. "I want to fight tough opponents this year because I want to show the world who I am.
"I feel like a beast when I step into the ring, and I can see it in sparring. Whenever I'm landing effective blows, I can tell that I am hurting my opponent."