Joseph Diaz, Jr. possesses all the vital components to become one of America's beloved athletic icons this summer: an underdog story, a strong sense of familial responsibility and a resolute dedication to his sport.
South El Monte resident Diaz, aka "Jo-Jo," began boxing at age 10, initially in response to harassment from school bullies. At only 19, he will be the youngest member of the U.S. men's Olympic boxing team competing in the bantamweight division.
Diaz arrived on the boxing scene with a bang -- a victory in the July 2010 nationals, along with a subsequent 2011 national win. He consistently proves that perseverance pays off, winning 108 of 114 lifetime bouts by his count.
His victory at the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer, where he twice defeated 2010 Police Athletic League national champion O'Shanique Foster, sent him to Baku, Azerbaijan for the AIBI World Championship. There, he ultimately secured his spot in London by defeating 2004 Olympic silver medalist Worapoj Petchkoom of Thailand, as well as eking out a victory over Mexico's 2009 world bronze medalist Oscar Valdez.
He deems his composure his greatest boxing strength and describes his biggest influences as his mom and dad. Constantly striving for improvement, Diaz outlines his life goal as success both in and out of the ring.
But the two-time reigning bantamweight national champ didn't always dream of being a boxer. He once held high hopes of starring as a center fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. According to the Los Angeles Times, Diaz describes choosing between baseball and boxing as "really a tough choice," but "boxing was the one."
Joseph Diaz Sr. serves as his son's coach. Although he had no prior coaching experience, Diaz Sr. dedicated his life to helping his son and watched countless Youtube videos, along with studying up on the sport.
The younger Diaz's training regimen can be summed up in one word: committed. He tells BoxingScene's Ryan Maquinana, "I get up at six o'clock every day to run six miles, mostly around El Monte and Mt. Baldy. I do 200 push-ups a day and 300 sit-ups. I love doing all the shadowboxing and the bags and sparring and stuff. This is my life now." When he’s not training, Diaz enjoys going to the mall, hanging out with friends and just having fun.
"I've got some big dreams," he tells the Los Angeles Times, "My mom and dad have been making all kinds of sacrifices for me, and keeping me out of trouble. I want to buy a new house for my family and take care of them.
"So I just think about getting the gold medal, think about helping my family out, think about the future that I'm going to have if I just stick to it."