Photo: Joseph Diaz Jr - USA Olympics
Despite being the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic boxing team, 19-year-old Joseph Diaz Jr. has his goal clearly in mind: to bring home a gold medal and go professional after the Games in London.
He says that his love for boxing arose as a survival reaction to the ongoing harassment he suffered from schoolmates who picked on him because of his small stature.
“I started (boxing) at 11 because I was small and they picked on me at school. Then, I wanted to learn to defend myself and ... I met (the person) who was bothering me in the gym,” Diaz, who grew up in South El Monte, California, told Efe in an interview.
The sensation that remained with him after the defeat he dealt his harasser led him a few weeks later to begin his boxing training and now that work has brought him close to attaining his Olympic dream.
His father, however, dreamed that young Joseph would to go college on a baseball scholarship.
“Now, he wants to make money as a pro and have a fan base. My plan for him was baseball, which proved not to be the same plan that he had for himself,” said Joseph Diaz Sr., his son’s trainer.
Diaz Jr. has won 106 of his 110 bouts as an amateur.
He has been the national boxing champ in the bantamweight category twice and came in 5th at the 2011 World Championships in Azerbaijan.
To prepare for the Olympics, he has been spending five hours a day on physical training activities and technical preparation at the gym.
“I’m focused on winning the gold in London and I know that if I lose it’s because my rival was better than me, and not because I was in bad shape. I feel strong and I know that I’m fast,” said the boxer, whose first Olympic bout is set for July 28.
Diaz Jr. feels that his main strength is maintaining his composure in the ring, whether he is winning or losing a bout.
He acquired the certainty with which he speaks of his qualities and characteristics, perhaps, partly from being trained by his father, with whom he said he has excellent communication and to whom he can express himself without reservation.
“If we’re not in agreement on something, we talk about it and resolve it, because I can tell him everything that’s going on with me, something that perhaps I would not be able to do with another trainer,” he said.
Joseph Sr., meanwhile, said that he takes his training duties very seriously, he studies videos and gathers information prior to his son’s fights.
“I’m a trainer. I review what he eats, I seek sparring partners for him who have the proper weight. I ensure that he’s focused on what’s important and, above all, I don’t force him,” he said.
The young pugilist said that Oscar de la Hoya is one of the boxers who has inspired him since he was born in humble conditions in East Los Angeles.
And Diaz said he wants to follow in the footsteps of De la Hoya, who managed to become a multimillionaire celebrity, but at the same time preserve a charismatic simplicity.
“I want other Latinos to know that dreams can become reality and that the road to (attaining) them is to remain humble and focused on the goal you’re trying to achieve,” said Diaz.