Boxing: Diaz Jr. fighting for a better life

LONDON Tue Jul 31, 2012 4:00pm EDT

Ukraine's Pavlo Ishchenko (L) fights against Joseph Diaz Jr. of the U.S. (R) in the Men's Bantam (56kg) Round of 32 Bout 1 boxing match at ExCeL venue during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 28, 2012. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Ukraine's Pavlo Ishchenko (L) fights against Joseph Diaz Jr. of the U.S. (R) in the Men's Bantam (56kg) Round of 32 Bout 1 boxing match at ExCeL venue during the London 2012 Olympic Games July 28, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Murad Sezer

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LONDON (Reuters) - Joseph Diaz Jr.'s Olympic dream is straightforward: Make a big impression in the boxing ring, turn professional and then buy his unemployed parents a new house.

It's a lot of pressure to carry on not-so-broad bantamweight shoulders, but the Californian teenager is desperate to pay back his mother and father who in spite of their plight, sacrificed much to help get their son to London.

Diaz' mother, who lost her job as a secretary and only gets part-time work from time to time, sold t-shirts, washed cars and raised money through table tennis tournaments to make sure she, her husband and daughter could be with Joseph, 19, in London.

Joseph Senior, laid off as a truck driver three years ago, has trained his son since the age of eleven, learning how to coach from books and watching hours of footage on YouTube.

"I really want to help out my parents and my family. I know that if I bring back a gold medal or any medal, it's going to open a lot of doors for me," Diaz Jr., known as Jo-Jo, told Reuters on Tuesday after watching team mate Jamel Herring in action.

"USA boxing give me a monthly stipend so I get to help out my parents with that but man if I bring back a medal, it's going to help out my parents a lot. That's what I came to do, I came to buy my parents a house with all that money I'm going to get."

The youngest member of an American squad who all come to London's boxing arena each day to support one another, Diaz Jr. wowed the crowd with a 19-9 opening victory on Saturday, scoring half of his points in a blizzard of third round left-hand shots.

He said the mayor of his home town of South El Monte has arranged for the local community centre to broadcast his next fight on a big screen, a huge test against top seed and world champion Lazaro Alvarez Estrada of Cuba.

It could have been very different, Diaz Jr. said, had his father not brought him to a boxing gym for the first time at the age of 11 in a bid to keep his son away from the gangs of South El Monte.

"I used to get bullied and when I was in middle school I started having friends who were in gangs and my dad knew that I had to keep away from all that stuff. He was telling me 'Joseph you've got to stay away from all that trouble," Diaz Jr. said.

"Now I tell him, 'dad just don't worry about finding a job right now, this is my time, let's just focus on the Olympics and eventually everything's going to come through and everything's going to be fine.'"

Whatever happens in Wednesday's fight against Estrada or beyond that, win or lose, Diaz Jr. plans to turn professional after the Games.

Affable and polite, the baby-faced southpaw can also slip into the kind of confident bravado that may serve him well in pre-match press conferences in years to come when he plans on emulating his hero Oscar 'Golden Boy' De La Hoya, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist who went on to dominate as a professional.

"Golden boy is my inspiration, he's almost from the same city as me. I know that he was struggling just like me, it's the same kind of story so hopefully I can do the same thing, bring back the medal and give everyone what they want to see," Diaz Jr. said.

"I want to beat these guys, overwhelm them and make everybody watching know that I beat them... We're ready to shock the world."

He's talking like a professional already.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin, editing by Justin Palmer)

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