Joseph "JoJo" Diaz Jr. promised 135 pounds would be his best weight yet after campaigns at 126 and 130 pounds.
He just might be right.
Diaz delivered the most impressive performance of his career Friday in Los Angeles, scoring a unanimous decision over Javier Fortuna to claim the vacant WBC interim lightweight title.
Scores were 117-110, 116-111 and 115-112. ESPN also scored it 115-112.
In his lightweight debut, Diaz (32-1-1, 15 KOs) showed he could absorb heavy shots from a dangerous puncher and carry his own power, too. He wobbled Fortuna toward the end of the 10th round of a fight that featured some brutal exchanges on the inside, often waged at a frenetic pace.
"I can fight all the top guys at 135 pounds," said Diaz, who entered the bout as ESPN's No. 5 boxer at 130 pounds. "I want Ryan Garcia or Devin Haney. Let's make this s--- happen.
"I've been sparring 160 pounders. I've always worked with bigger guys my whole life."
Despite fighting for his first world title at 126 pounds (a close decision defeat to Gary Russell Jr.) before capturing a championship at 130, 135 appears to be Diaz's most natural weight class. He looked stronger than ever, and without the tough weight cut, showed off energy down the stretch to unleash four- and five-punch combinations against a crafty contender.
The 2012 Olympian was forced to deal with adversity yet again. He suffered a cut over his left eye in Round 3 following a clash of heads -- a gash in the same area he bled from in his title-winning effort vs. Tevin Farmer in January 2020.
The following frame, Diaz, 28, was penalized one point by referee Raul Caiz Jr., for hitting behind the head, a point deduction that seemed borderline. Diaz argued that he was hitting Fortuna on the side of the head to no avail.
Fortuna, ESPN's No. 8 fighter at 135 pounds, pressed the action in Rounds 5 and 6, beating Diaz to the punch with power shots. But the 31-year-old couldn't sustain.
Fighting in front of a hometown crowd at Banc of California Stadium, Diaz ratcheted up the pressure and began to dig away at Fortuna's body with a two-fisted attack that stunted the Dominican's momentum.
Diaz simply landed the cleaner, flusher shots in the exchanges down the stretch, winning the favor of the judges in a bout that featured many tit-for-tat rounds. Fortuna threw 761 punches -- 240 more than Diaz -- yet landed 10 less shots.
With the convincing victory, Diaz set himself up for a career-high payday in one of boxing's most star-driven divisions. Gervonta Davis, Teofimo Lopez, Vasiliy Lomachenko, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia all reside at lightweight.
The easiest matchups to make are with Haney and Garcia, both of whom also compete on DAZN. Haney and Garcia also are available; they each have no fights scheduled. But it's the Garcia fight in particular that is more appealing for many reasons.
Garcia was actually set to fight Fortuna (36-3-1, 25 KOs) on this night before he withdrew from the bout to seek treatment for his mental health. When he pulled out, Diaz quickly lobbied for the opportunity to step in, looking for redemption after losing his title at the scales in February before settling for a majority draw against Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov.
Now that Garcia is back in training with Eddy Reynoso at Canelo Alvarez's gym in San Diego, a bout between Diaz and the social media sensation is a natural. They're both Mexican Americans from Southern California who are promoted by Oscar De La Hoya. Stage the fight this fall in L.A., and they can practically guarantee a windfall at the box office.
"JoJo once again showed a lot of guts, a lot of courage and a big heart," De La Hoya said. "His first fight at 135 was not too shabby. I think he did a great job against a guy who's been avoided for years."
Zurdo blasts out Barrera
Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez made a statement in his Golden Boy debut, scoring three knockdowns -- all from body shots -- before stopping Sullivan Barrera in Round 4.
The matchup was Ramirez's most high-profile fight since he defended his super middleweight title with a fourth-round TKO of Tommy Karpency in April 2019.
Now competing at 175 pounds, Zurdo showed off his power, and a new, more aggressive fighting style fine-tuned under trainer Julian Chua. The first knockdown arrived in Round 3, but Barrera (22-4, 14 KOs) never seemed to recover.
"I think my performance was great," said Ramirez, 30. "I was training for the body shot. And I think it was beautiful. At 175 pounds, everyone saw a better Zurdo Ramirez. This is my division. I'm going to take the souls of all the champions in the 175-pound division."
Next up for Ramirez could be a title shot at fellow undefeated fighter Dmitry Bivol. Ramirez has been calling for the fight, and it's a viable matchup, with Bivol also waiting for a big opportunity.
Ramirez (42-0, 28 KOs) linked up with Golden Boy after buying out his contract from Top Rank last summer. Rated No. 5 at 175 pounds by ESPN, Zurdo has new life with his return to the spotlight.
Barrera, on the other hand, at age 39 and with three losses in his past four fights, could be facing the end of the line.