David Diaz announces retirement

David Diaz, a 1996 U.S. Olympian and former lightweight world titlist, has announced his retirement from boxing after a 15-year professional career.

"I'm done with the sport. I love the sport, but I would be doing it an injustice if I kept fighting. My heart isn't in it anymore," Diaz, 35, told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "I could have taken fights just for the money, but it's not about that. It's about giving a good fight and having some dignity doing it."

Diaz (36-4-1, 17 KOs) would be the first to admit that he was not a big puncher, not particularly fast and never had the tightest defense. But he got the most out of what he had, riding it to an unexpected spot on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team when he upset heavily favored Zab Judah in the finals of the Olympic trials.

As a professional, Diaz claimed an interim lightweight world title when he knocked out Jose Armando Santa Cruz in the 10th round on the undercard of the heavyweight title fight between Oleg Maskaev and Hasim Rahman in Las Vegas in August 2006.

Diaz was later awarded the WBC's full title after it stripped champion Joel Casamayor. In Diaz's first title defense, he realized a lifelong dream when he got the opportunity to have a world title fight in his hometown of Chicago.

On that night, Aug. 4, 2007, Diaz outpointed all-time great Erik Morales of Mexico in a slugfest that sent Morales into a 2½-year retirement.

"That was one of the greatest moments of my life," Diaz said. "It was always a dream of mine to fight at home for a title or in a title fight and it happened, and it happened against a legend in Erik Morales, who has done tremendous things for the sport and the Mexican people. To share the ring with him and have that fight at home was so meaningful to me."

Seven months later, Diaz won a decision in a nontitle fight on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao's second fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, which set the stage for Diaz's biggest fight -- a showdown in June 2008 against Pacquiao.

Pacquiao, the junior lightweight champion, was moving up from lightweight in what began his historic run of winning titles in four more divisions to give him a boxing record of titles in eight weight classes.

Although Pacquiao bloodied Diaz and stopped him in the ninth round of a lopsided fight to take his belt, Diaz said it was one of the two highlights of his career, along with the hometown defense against Morales.

"Fighting Manny Pacquiao was definitely one of them," Diaz said. "After our fight he went on to do great things. His punching power was nothing that I hadn't felt before, but the speed was something I could not control or adapt to."

Including the Pacquiao fight, Diaz closed his career 2-3 but said retirement had been on his mind since he lost a decision to Humberto Soto for a vacant lightweight belt in March 2010 on the Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey undercard at Cowboys Stadium.

"It's been on my mind since then. I thought maybe I had lost a step or two because I saw openings against Soto and I couldn't take advantage of them," Diaz said.

Diaz returned 10 months later for a majority decision win against Robert Frankel in Chicago, but then lost what turned out to be his final fight.

Headlining on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights," Diaz knocked down rising contender Hank Lundy but suffered a severe cut over his right eye and was eventually knocked out in the sixth round of a bloody fight in Hammond, Ind., just outside of Chicago.

"I felt good going into that fight but Lundy was young blood coming along and I thought if I didn't take that fight, what I am doing, just padding my record? So I took the fight and Hank Lundy deserves credit," Diaz said. "I had him, but he came back and that was it. He's a good fighter with a bright future and wish him nothing but the best."

Diaz, a married father of three boys ages 6, 4 and 2, began boxing when he was 8 and said it was just time to go. He said he will continue with a weekly Internet radio show he hosts and also will try to put to use the license he said he recently received in the financial services industry.

"I didn't want to think, 'Am I fighting just for the money?' Nah. I love the sport a lot but I wasn't performing to my standards and giving great exciting fights," he said. "I wasn't doing that anymore. So I'm getting out while I still have my senses with me. I'm able to have a conversation with people. I'm hosting a radio show and having fun with that. So this is a good time to say goodbye. I love the sport, I love my fans and it was a great run. I've been blessed. I feel humbled by the people that helped me and supported me and always were there for me.

"Now it's time to get a real job, because what I did (as a fighter) was fun -- work out, travel and fight. It was beautiful."

Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter