Right, I'll be honest with you, I'm taking advantage of a really slow week in the office and I'm firing away at as many of these prospect reports as I can. In case you're just joining us, I've decided to take a look at a few of the better young boxers in the world today, to try and get a feel about who some of tomorrow's contenders/champions could be. I try to watch a few of their fights, try to pick out some of their strengths and weaknesses and try to assess what their chances of success could be at the world championship level.
So far we've had a look at:
Heavyweight Anthony Joshua, touted as the next great heavyweight of his generation.
Light heavyweight Russian youngster Dmitry Bivol
Minimumweight titleholder Kosei Tanaka
Former 2012 US Olympian Jose Carlos Ramirez, fighting at jr. welterweight.
Power punching American super-featherweight Saul Rodriguez
Today I'll continue my recent focus on the American scene, specifically the boxers who either competed in the 2012 Olympics (Jose Carlos Ramirez) or fought for a place in the team (Saul Rodriguez, who lost to aforementioned Jose Carlos Ramirez in the trials). Today I'll be looking at Joseph 'JoJo' Diaz Jr., another member of the American 2012 Olympic team, who turned pro afterwards as a featherweight, signed with Golden Boy and has thus far accumulated a pro record of 19-0 with 11 KOs. Both Bad Left Hook and ESPN dub Diaz as the second best featherweight prospect in boxing behind Oscar Valdez. And to that point, I would like to start showing you a few of Diaz's bouts, beginning precisely with an amateur showdown between these two men at the 2011 AIBA World Amateur Championships. Not phenomenally relevant to their current pro status, but a very interesting starting point in getting to know the young man. Now I warn you, most of the fights I managed to find on Youtube go quite a few rounds, so to be honest it might not be worth your time to watch all of them from start to finish, like I did. If you want to get a general idea about Diaz, I suggest watching the 1st fight (the amateur bout), the 3rd (Rodriguez) and the 6th fight (Tamayo) in the following list:
Here is the aforementioned amateur bout against Oscar Valdez (an excellent fight, by the way)
Here is his 4th pro fight, basically against some dude
Here is his 8th pro fight against a Carlos Rodriguez, a journeyman with a lot of experience
Here is his 12th pro fight, similarly against a journeyman, Raul Hidalgo
And more of the same in his 13th pro fight, against Roberto Castaneda
His 18th pro fight was against a slightly fresher fighter in Ruben Tamayo
And his most recent bout was a pretty dominant stoppage against gatekeeper Hugo Partida - by the way, late stoppage in that one. Pat Russell should be made to take all those blows himself and see how he feels.
I am unfortunately pretty pissed I wasn't able to find his most relevant fight on Youtube, his very close decision win over fringe contender Rene Alvarado. Now that would have been more relevant, as Alvarado was easily the best fighter Diaz has faced thus far and unsurprisingly gave him the biggest test.
As usual, here is a list of things I noticed, divided into several categories:
The Very Best
1) Punch technique. Just like Jose Carlos Ramirez, JoJo Diaz really knows how to put his body and his weight behind his punches. Almost all of his punches land with a thud.
2) Punch accuracy. Punch stats or not, Diaz finds his opponent square-on with his punches a lot more than other fighters. Very few glancing blows and wasted energy from him.
3) Inside and outside fighting. Diaz seems comfortable both operating from a distance and figting inside.
4) Stamina and resiliency. He is very obviously used to having bouts run into the late rounds, in which he is pretty much just as fresh as in the early rounds. He is very good at conserving energy and at the same time very good at taking punishment and not letting it affect his concentration and work rate. I think he is both very tough and in tip-top physical condition.
5) Pro experience. For a prospect with 3 years' experience, Diaz has spent a pretty significant time in the ring already (106 rounds) against decent opposition.
6) Body punching. I think there are improvements to be made here and he doesn't seem to get the same leverage on his body punches as he does on his head shots, but he does go to the body often enough to get his opponents both tired and to lower their guard. Strangely enough, unlike other areas I would say he has regressed in this aspect over time.
7) Power. Well, he is definitely not a one-punch KO artist. Most of his deceptively high 11 KOs have come as a result of tiring and grinding his opponents down. But he has enough thud in his punches to keep his opponents honest.
8) Composure. I like that he sticks with what works and doesn't try to go wild in fights that start going a few rounds. If he finds a combination that his opponent is vulnerable to, he will notice that and come back to it again and again until the opponent is taken down or has adjusted.
The Not So Great But Improving
9) Work rate. For a featherweight, he could definitely stand to be more active. Perhaps his lack of jab is fooling me but for a guy spending so many rounds in the ring, most of his attacks seem designed to hurt his opponents and hopefully get them out of there instead of piling up points. I wouldn't say he head-hunts, but he is definitely more preoccupied with power than he is with volume. I think he can definitely be outpointed, as a matter of fact that amateur fight where he "beat" Valdez was a gift decision, as Valdez seemed to outland him and outhustle him.
10) Hand speed. For a featherweight, to me it seems like his punches are pretty slow.
11) Guard. Diaz has all sorts of problems using his hands to protect his face. He is also surprisingly susceptive to uppercuts from his opponents.
12) Combination punching. Earlier in his career I don't think he understood how punch combinations work. He waits for a fraction of a second after each punch, almost like he lets the impact of the previous punch take its toll before throwing the next one. It's not like 1-2, it's more like 1-pause-2. I have seen some slight improvements in this area in his most recent bouts.
13) Size. JoJo is short for a featherweight and has a visibly short reach. And he doesn't seem like he is too preoccupied with implementing a gameplan to counter this disadvantage. As a matter of fact, of the World-ranked top 20 featherweights, only Gary Russell Jr and Abner Mares are anywhere near as small as JoJo, the rest are significantly bigger. The thing is, JoJo is so young that you kinda have to worry if featherweight really is his natural weight. I'm worried he'll grow into a super-featherweight with time, at which point he'll either kill himself trying to make featherweight or he'll be at a really painful length disadvantage against super-featherweights.
14) Jab. In his earlier bouts I did not notice any useful jab on his part, either to close distance or to keep his opponent away. In his most recent bouts he does display a bit of a jab in the first 30 seconds of every round, but doesn't get any obvious advantage out of it and almost always abandons it by the time the 2nd minute of the round has started.
15) Slow feet. Diaz is just a lumbering fighter, it's simple as that.
16) Head movement, upper body movement
17) Leading with the back uppercut. Who the hell lunges in with an uppercut from a distance, and with his back (left) hand at that!
18) One-handed fighter. Now this is not necessarily a deal-breaker as many fighters have crafted very good careers relying mostly on one powerful punch, but for opponents looking to prepare a game-plan against JoJo, it is worth noting that most of his power is in his left hand and he uses it a whole lot more than his lead right.
19) Counterpunching. Diaz is so used to be the dictating the offense, that he does not seem to have developed a tactic for an opponent coming at him. He covers up and waits for the attack to be over. There are many oportunities that his opponents offer him that he doesn't take. He doesn't seem to be preocuppied with punishing a lazy jab or a reckless step forward.
The Downright Horrible
20) Dropping his right hand. One of the most noticeable things that has not changed one iota from the first pro-fight I saw to the last is that he drops his lead (right) hand away from his chin when throwing power punches with his back (left) hand. In my book, Diaz is a counterpuncher's dream, he leaves plenty of opportunities. The fact that he drops his right hand so much during combinations is especially enticing for a southpaw opponent. Tamayo had repeated success landing power punches with his left (strong) hand during exchanges. Fun fact: 4 of the World's top-10 featherweights on boxrec are southpaws.
JoJo Diaz has a lot to work on still, despite his pro experience. His lack of reach, his lack of head movement, his slow feet and his crappy guard make him a sitting duck against a fighter with a good jab or against a slick fighter with lateral movement. Soooo, are there any fighters with either length, slickness, jab and/or movement in the featherweight rankings? Checks featherweight rankings... Vasyl Lomachenko, Leo Santa Cruz, Lee Selby, Gary Russell Jr., Jesus Cuellar, Simpiwe Vetyeka... AWWWWW, SNAP!!!!
Seriously, his best strengths (punch accuracy, toughness and stamina) only work against opponents dumb or limited enough to stay in one place and exchange with him, which is exactly what he's been fed thus far. The first fighter who runs away from him, potshots him and most importantly counters his reckless lunges (which he does not set up with a jab) will take his lunch money.
He is also unlucky to be coming into a featherweight division that is bursting with talent and class. Here's the thing though: 3 of the 4 major titleholders are with Al Haymon, and JoJo is with Golden Boy, who won't do any business with Haymon. The only titleholder they could possibly match him with in 2016? Lomachenko. Bob Arum would like nothing better than to feed JoJo to his wolf. Oscar De La Hoya would be wise to resist the temptation to throw one of his few remaining talents in with a bad, bad man, like he got duped into throwing Lucas Matthysse in with Viktor Postol. Golden Boy need to take advantage of the unfavourable title picture and get JoJo another year of seasoning. Who knows, maybe by 2017 the PBC money will have dried up and more Al Haymon fighters will be available for cross-promotional bouts.
Take advantage of this extra year you've got while things shake up at least a little bit in the division. At the very least Diaz needs to learn to keep his right hand up or his chin tucked and needs radical education into cutting off the ring. He's never going to be a complete fighter, but the least they can do for him is teach him how to manoeuvre his opponent into a position where he can be hit and also teach him how to hit safely. I cannot overstate how likely this ending is for a southpaw fighter who attacks with the left hand cross without setting it up with a jab and who drops his right hand in the process.