Gary Russell Jr., Joseph Diaz Jr. agree to deal for featherweight title fight
Joseph Diaz Jr. is getting exactly what he wished for.
The Olympian has banged the drums for months asking for a title shot against Gary Russell Jr., and it’s being delivered. A verbal agreement has been struck for Russell to defend his WBC featherweight belt against Diaz, Golden Boy Promotions president Eric Gomez told THE RING on Friday.
The deal avoids a purse bid for the mandatory title fight, which was ordered by the WBC last month, pitting titleholder against No. 1 contender. Gomez said he and Tom Brown, who negotiated on behalf of Al Haymon, Russell’s longtime advisor, agreed on all the major deal points, such as purse split, but the network, date and location still need to be finalized.
The 126-pound title fight could land anywhere from May 19 to June 30, according to Gomez, and both HBO and Showtime are in the mix.
“It’s his time, he’s ready for it, he’s been waiting for this all his life,” said Gomez, who’s promoted Diaz since he made his pro debut in December 2012. “He’s fighting the top guy at the weight class which is Gary Russell. I’m very happy for him, to just to see him grow into a man. It’s time. It’s his time to take advantage of all the hard work.”
It won’t be an easy task, of course. Russell (28-1, 17 knockouts) is a supremely gifted fighter, but inactivity has plagued the Olympian from Maryland. Since he suffered his lone pro defeat, a lopsided points loss to Vasiliy Lomachenko in June 2014, Russell has competed just four times.
When he’s in the ring, though, there’s no denying his immense hand speed and power. THE RING’s No. 2 featherweight has long been regarded as one of the sport’s best pure talents, but at some point, ring rust usually catches up to you.
And if anything, Diaz (26-0, 14 KOs) has been plenty active. In the same time span Russell held four bouts, Diaz has entered the ring 16 times.
THE RING’s No. 7 fighter has steadily developed under the watchful eye of Gomez and Co., and now, he’s ready for a title shot. The 25-year-old’s power has been a question mark, but he scored a third-round knockout of faded former titleholder Victor Terrazas in February.
“I like our chances, you can never underestimate a fighter like Gary Russell, but I think (his inactivity) helps us,” Gomez said. “Inactivity is going to be a big plus for JoJo, but you can never underestimate Gary Russell, he can do it, he’s still relatively young, he’s 29 years old, he’s very talented. It’s going to be a hard fight, but if JoJo wins, it just makes it that much more special.”
Mike Coppinger is the Senior Writer for RingTV.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger