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Livingston and Diaz, Jr. head Costa Mesa to make it four in a row

Tonight at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, CA, two prospects in two divisions traveling down two very different paths will head into action in separate fights. Nineteen year old junior lightweight Joel Diaz, Jr, 3-0, 2 knockouts, twenty six year old middleweight DonYil Livingston, 3-0, 2 knockouts are both solid young fighters with excellent amateur backgrounds but with divergent styles and much different paths en route to becoming professionals.

  “I was born in Glendale, Ca. I grew up in East Los Angeles. Moved to Palmdale when I was what? Four or five. Stayed up there ‘til now. Started boxing when I was eight and a half, nine, ten years I’ve already been in,” Diaz told me recently at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, CA where he trains when he is not working out back in Palmdale.

Diaz tried other sports but the team thing just wasn’t him.

  “I was actually playing soccer. Me, myself I am not really a people person. I like to focus on my own self, you know? I wasn’t a loner. I just liked sports one on one. I don’t know if I can’t get along other people around. Like teammates. I just like solo, you know? Just like that. Pops told me, ‘You know what? You sound like you should start boxing. And I was like kind of ‘Aww no.’ I was worried about getting knocked out, this, this, and that. He was like ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll just go. See how you like it.’ I went. I liked it and stuck to it.”  

Diaz, Jr. liked it to the tune of 85 wins and 10 losses, and “six or seven” amateur titles in the State and National PALs, Silver Gloves, and spots in the Junior Golden Gloves and the Junior Olympics. It was in the Junior Olympics that the hard charging kid found out he had power to spare.  

“The first time I felt power in my hands, I have to say I was fourteen,” said Diaz. “Junior Olympics. Left hook. That’s my hit right there. I love the left hook. Left hook with a right. That’s when I found my power and from there I just kept working the left hook, right hook. Uppercut. And I started building up my power from there.” 

On the day I visited Diaz in the gym, he went four rounds with featherweight contender Alejandro Perez. It was an action packed session with both fighters having their moments. Diaz is going to be a crowd pleaser. A quick with a smile, easy going kid outside the ring, Diaz is anything but friendly in the ring. He comes forward and loves a good phone booth fight. A right hander, Diaz likes to swarm in moving his head, drop a right hand and come back with a left. Both appeared to be money punches on this day. And unlike a lot of young fighters with power, he does not forget to go to the body.  

“A power puncher and a brawler,” laughed Diaz when I asked him to describe his style. “I like to dig in there. I’ve got speed, too. I like to bob and weave, too. You don’t want to get hit.”  

It’s not surprising who he answered as his favorite fighters.  

“I like Victor Ortiz. He’s got an amazing style,” said Diaz. “He’s like a pit bull Him and Cotto. Of course, Pacquiao. That boy is a beast.”  

Perez, who recently stopped Antonio Escalante in one round, has been working at the Wild Card for years and has been in with his fair share of top fighters. When I asked him about Diaz’ power, he said it was real.  

“I’ve been rocked by only a couple guys like [Israel] Vasquez and one other. And this kid,” Perez smiled, shaking his head as if to say “Yeah. He can crack.”  

Diaz won the State Junior Olympics, made it through the regionals and all the way to the nationals in Michigan where he just missed out on the Beijing Olympics by one fight.  

“I blame myself. I wasn’t focused for my last fight. I was stopping all these kids; at the Junior Olympics, at the Nationals, I was stopping everybody. I stopped the Monday and Tuesday kids. Then the third one, he was a chosen. He didn’t have to fight or compete. They just chose him because he was good. That is when his boys saw me and they tried to scare me. ‘You’re too small for 125. You’re going to lose or whatever.’ I was kind of scared because the guy was pretty good. I forget his name. But he was fast. He had power. I had seen him fight. The night before, I was like ‘Damn.’ I was trying to study him in my head.’ We got in the ring the next day. We started fighting. He catches me with a hook, my own left hook. I was like ‘Damn.’ He keeps catching. I was like ‘Alright then whatever. Let’s do it.’ I started studying him and then caught him with a right. BOOM! And a left hook. That is when they started counting on him, standing eight count. Size didn’t matter. I was getting him. I was ahead by 20 fights and they were supposed to stop it. That’s the rule. If you get to 20 points it’s over. They didn’t want to stop it. He was a chosen one. That is when our team had to yell out and tell the ref ‘Hey there is 20 points.” And they stopped the fight.”

Diaz won his Thursday and Friday fights and was all set for the finals. But by then, he was a spent bullet. While he was on the verge of making the Olympic team, Diaz had given all he could.    

“The finals on Saturday, I was beat. Making weight every day. My mind wasn’t on the  . . . it wasn’t me. I didn’t feel it. I was just blown out,” said Diaz. “I was like ‘you know what? I don’t really care.’ I wanted it. I was up 8 to 3 and the third round and that was when he just . . . he was a southpaw, too. I lost by three points.”

Diaz not only learned a hard lesson in the ring, he gained the notice of former featherweight contender Augie Sanchez who was part of Diaz’ team. It was Sanchez who gave Diaz the encouragement and belief he could succeed at the next level.

“After that trip to Michigan. That is when I started noticing. That when I started using my head instead of just fighting. Augie Sanchez was out there. He was part of my team. He gave me some good words and I just took it. I figured I’ve got a good opportunity and I’m not going to let it go. These ten years, I didn’t do them for nothing.”  

A pro since last July, Diaz, who is managed by Mike Criscio, has a second round knockout and a first round knockout on his resume to go with one decision. Before his last fight, he signed with New York based promoter Boxing 360 and now looks to be on his way to building a fan base and learning the ropes of a professional fighter. While he is still feasting on prospect level opposition, Diaz feels he is ready and becoming more so every day, for any challenge that lies ahead.

“I’m ready. I’ve been ready,” said Diaz. “I’ve been in the gym for eight, ten years.”

For DonYil Livingston, the road has been similar but with a bit of a roadblock thrown in. Livingston had an impressive amateur career as well, winning National Silver Gloves in 1996, 1998 and 2000 among other awards. Livingston, who had 200 amateur fights, fell just short in the 2004 Olympic trials. Soon after, Livingston lost his hunger for fighting, worked normal jobs and tried to forget he was a fighter.  

As Andre Ward and Andre Berto, two men in his amateur class, began to move up the ranks, the fighter in Livingston just would not quit. In 2010 he returned to the ring, this time as a pro. But it was not as simple as just announcing a former amateur title winner was making his pro debut. Livingston had just two fights on his five months apart in 2010. Despite an endless search for representation, Livingston, at age 26, was simply too much of a project for most managers and promoters to take a chance on.  

However, his persistence paid off. Just a few months ago, Boxing 360 signed Livingston and immediately got him his third fight. While he had been in the gym from the time he returned to the sport to the day we did this interview, Livingston no longer is training with a sense of “I hope I get a fight.” Instead, he trains with a focused purpose.

“It feels good. To me, it is something to strive for,” Livingston told me this week. “To commute from Palmdale to Hollywood, it is something that is motivational, something to strive for knowing that I don’t have to worry about ‘when I am going to fight again. What am I training for?”

Livingston is facing Loren Myers, a 7-11-1 fighter who is on a seven fight losing streak. In essence, the kind of fighter prospects are first tested on.  

When asked about that, Livingston said “I have seen a couple clips of the guy on youtube. He is not a coming to get a check guy. He is going to be aggressive. He is definitely coming to fight. I’m looking forward to it. Whether a guy has a winning record, losing record, or making his debut, I respect anyone who steps in that squared circle and they are dangerous. My job is to execute what we’ve been working on the past several months. We have been working on some new things. We are going in with our game plan and capitalizing and making sure we do what we trained to do.”  

In his last fight back in April, Livingston went to war with Greg Hackett, an opponent of similar record but who was scrappy and surprisingly tough. It was a surprising test but one that he passed with a unanimous decision after a couple shaky moments. Those moments are what he hopes to build on Friday night.

“The last guy we fought, he didn’t have a winning record but he had some good losses,” said Livingston. “He knew how to survive and he was rugged. For any fighter going from the amateurs to the pros, there is a process of learning and getting into a position where we are fighting on the level we need to be on and learning the proper way. That guy was rugged and we had to dig in to get the victory. Ultimately, I wasn’t satisfied with my performance but I am always hard on myself. In this fight, all of the mistakes that I thought I made were corrected. And hopefully mistakes in this fight will be minimal and hopefully we can keep correcting them and keep getting better.

Livingston has long made the hour commute from Palmdale to Hollywood in order to get the sparring available to him at the Wild Card. Now that everything has paid off in terms of representation, he hopes to now simply focus on honing his professional skills.

“I am learning and am continuing to learn that being a pro takes a lot of patience and a lot of giving,” observed Livingston. “You have to wait but you always have to be ready for when an opportunity arrives. You have a very short window to land that right opportunity. So we stay patient, stay hungry for whatever comes along.”


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