In 2018, Christopher “Pitufo” Diaz had a chance to become a world champion, but after 12 grueling rounds against then-champion Masayuki Ito, he failed in reaching his dream.
For a lot of boxers, losing a world title fight is soul-crushing and many are unable to bounce back from that kind of defeat (or a defeat of any kind). Diaz suffered a loss to Shakur Stevenson at Madison Square Garden a year later in what was another step back for the Puerto Rican contender.
Yet still, Diaz never stopped looking to improve and grow as a boxer. After winning his two fights that took place in 2020, Diaz is now just days away from another opportunity at winning a world title. Diaz will take on WBO featherweight champion Emanuel Navarrete on April 24 in Kissimmee, Florida, the same city where he came up short in his first title challenge.
Diaz insists that he’s not the same fighter he was in 2018. Now fighting at featherweight, a weight he says is more natural than super featherweight where he fought Ito at, Diaz believes there are several things he’s better at today than he was in 2018.
“The first thing that I would say (that has changed since 2018) is that it wasn’t my weight class (when I fought Ito). The second thing that I can say is that mentally I wasn’t the same back then. The third thing I can say is that I don’t mix emotions with my career. That night, there’s almost 7,000 people over there yelling at me, yelling ‘Pitufo.’ I’m ready for that. I’ve been preparing more for that.”Christopher Diaz
Since the loss to Ito and Stevenson, Diaz started to work more on his focus, figuring out a way to not let the heat of the moment get the better of him in a fight. Diaz also understands that he’ll be fighting in front of what is sure to be a Puerto Rico-heavy fanbase cheering for him on April 24 in Kissimmee. Staying calm and collected will be one a key factor in a potential victory for him.
Looking back on his two wins last year, against Adeilson Dos Santos and Jason Sanchez, Diaz says those types of victories showcased the type of fighter he is today: a boxer who can impose his will from the start of a fight and prevent their opponents from getting into a rhythm.
Beating Dos Santos, whose height and reach are similar to Navarrete, with a shutout on the scorecards proved to Diaz that he can outbox and outwork taller and longer fighters. Beating Sanchez showed Diaz that he can execute his gameplan with relative ease early in a fight if he gets a chance to.
“Navarrete is an awkward fighter. He comes forward. He brings the war. It’s on me to make the fight 70-30. Everybody wants to see a 50-50 fight, banging each other, going toe-to-toe. It’s not like that. Boxing is not like that. It’s made to hit and to not get hit. I think if you’ve seen my last fights, Adeilson Dos Santos, Jason Sanchez, I’ve been growing a lot. Shakur Stevenson made his fight. If I had made it my fight that night, the win would have been mine. Shakur Stevenson was intelligent with his gameplan and he took me apart. He won the fight easy. When I fought Adeilson Dos Santos and I made the fight easy because I fought my fight. With Jason Sanchez, he went the distance with a split decision on [WBC super featherweight champion] Oscar Valdez and if you see the fight, he made it a harder fight for Valdez than for me because I fought my fight,” Diaz said.
With renewed focus and a drive that was previously unseen, Diaz believes it is now his time to shine against his toughest opponent. Navarrete has been one of the sport’s most active world champions (he fought in seven world title fights since December 2018) and is one of the featherweight division’s strongest punchers.
However, Diaz is confident that he has the tools to dethrone Navarrete and finally become a world champion.
“I box, I counter, mentally, I come in there to make something happen and I think [on Saturday], that’s going to be the key,” Diaz said.
Navarrete vs. Diaz takes place on April 24 in Kissimmee, Florida and will air on ESPN as part of a Top Rank Boxing broadcast at 10 p.m. ET.
Video Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5TbqeHthGI