I know there are plenty of people out there who don't believe I'm a fighter or a champion. They feel like Morales does, that I'm an amateur. Well, look at where I am.
"I got a little money in my pocket and subconsciously I felt that it was my big payday," the 31-year-old Diaz admitted honestly. "I lost focus of what I was supposed to do and I suffered for it. I made the decisions. I can't blame nobody but myself. I was supposed to go to Florida, train and be responsible and I wasn't. I was supposed to be mature and I wasn't.
"Top Rank was getting me fights but I missed my family in Chicago. I'd go to the gym and look to get out as soon as I got there. I didn't love professional boxing the way I did the amateurs. I wasn't feeling it."
Soon he wasn't in it either, returning to Chicago to fight and win three more times to lift his record to 13-0 before he simply walked away seven years ago. At the age of 24 David Diaz, U.S. Olympian, three-time national Golden Gloves champion and five times Chicago Golden Gloves champion, was through with boxing.
"I didn't want to fight any more," Diaz (32-1-1, 17 KO) recalled. "My Mom had kidney failure so I tried to take care of her. Then my brother passed away from AIDS in Mexico. It was a hard time for all of us."
Then, after two years in the shadows, David Diaz began to feel it again. Not a lot, to be honest, but faintly like a light tap on the shoulder from a referee when you're concentration is elsewhere. Unnoticed at first but hard to ignore, boxing was calling to him. And he was listening. A little.
"At first I just wanted to get back to the gym," Diaz said of the first day he walked back through the doors of the now closed but still legendary Windy City Gym. "I was just testing it out to see if the itch was there."
It was and Diaz knew only one way to scratch it. Put on the heard gear. Slip in the mouthpiece. Get ready to bleed for you breakfast.
"After a while I just thought, 'Let's do this,"' Diaz recalled. "Let's not be one of those guys at 40 who's thinking, 'What if I'd stayed?' One day I just decided, 'Let's go for it. Let's make a run at it and see what happens.' I didn't have high expectations but I didn't want to settle for 'Okay, I tried."'
Two years, three weeks and one ruptured Achilles tendon after his last fight, which had been a win over a journeyman named Steve Larrimore, David Diaz re-entered the ring at the DePaul Athletic Center in Chicago and stopped Anthony Cobb in the sixth round. It was no mean feat, considering that Cobb had a 4-28-3 record at the time. But it was a start.
It was four fights before he faced an opponent with a winning record and nearly two years before he got back in with another young contender. When he did, it seemed all the work had been for naught. After being dropped in the first round by Kendall Holt and stopped in the seventh that evening of June 2, 2004, all seemed lost. To most observers of matters fistic, Diaz had proven to be what Erik Morales still thinks he is. He was a good amateur in a pro's game.
But there was a difference between this setback and the one he'd created for himself after the 1996 Olympics. This time the itch was still there. The fire, though tamped down, still burned, and so he fought on, fighting his way to six wins and the lightly-regarded IBA lightweight title before he was given an unexpected chance to make something more of himself after the WBC stripped then lightweight champion Joel Casamayor of their title for negotiating with WBO champion Acelino Freitas.
The WBC then named Diaz as cannon fodder for the man they expected to crown interim champion, Jose Armando Santa Cruz. It was all set up, just the way Morales (48-5, 34 KO) thinks his comeback and a fourth world title is for him.
Santa Cruz was 23-1 and seemingly heading for a coronation when a fight suddenly broke out as the 10th round began in Las Vegas last August 8. By then, Diaz's forehead had been cut, his face was badly swollen and he was trailing by a significant margin on the judges' scorecards. In other words, David Diaz's night was going pretty much the way his career had.
Then one explosive left uppercut sent Santa Cruz tumbling backwards onto the floor. When he got up he was reeling and Diaz was all over him, landing a flurry of combinations that sent Santa Cruz down a second time. Again he got up but he could do nothing but backpedal and eat left hands until referee Richard Steele leapt between them at 2:26 of the round and waved the fight to an end so unexpected Diaz at first wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.
"I can't describe the feeling," Diaz said. "I kept looking for my Dad in the crowd. He always believed I'd do it. It was a typical fight for me lately, a war that I won late when it didn't look too good for me. It's been a long road. I'm glad I stuck with it."
That fight was, in so many ways, a re-run of Diaz' career. It was a night he arrived at unexpectedly. When he got there, things did not go well for long stretches. But through it all he persevered and, in the end, found a way to win. Erik Morales may not respect that but David Diaz does. Just as he respects the moment that is about to come, the moment he will slip lightly between the ropes at All State Arena in his hometown and face the kind of fighter he has always wanted to be measured by.
"My wife and I talk all the time about me being called a world champion," Diaz said. "It was so unexpected it hasn't really hit me yet. I'm still David. I still get sent to the store by my wife. I still take out the garbage and cut the grass. I see I've come a long way but you see a guy like Morales and you wonder, 'How would I do against him?' Now I'm getting the chance to measure myself against a great fighter.
"I know there are plenty of people out there who don't believe I'm a fighter or a champion. They feel like Morales does, that I'm an amateur. Well, look at where I am."
On Aug. 4 he'll be in the ring with "El Terrible," wearing a champion's belt and a smile. Perhaps after twice being stopped by Manny Pacquiao and quitting on the floor after three rounds in their second encounter last November Morales will prove to be a spent shell, a hollow man filled with arrogance for unexpected champions and little else any more.
Or, perhaps he will simply be too much for The Unexpected Champion, a test David Diaz cannot pass. The two of them will decide that on their own because they have signed a joint agreement to commit mayhem at each other's expense. There was a time when David Diaz wanted no part of such a deal. He was young and lonely and unsure of his future then, an amateur really. Today he is a different man. At 31, he is a champion with a title belt locked away in a box that, like his own career, he had to make adjustments to create.
"The WBC didn't give me a suitcase for the belt so I use the IBA suitcase," Diaz said, "but I took the IBA logo off it. I know how hard it was for me to win that belt. I'm not going there to give it up."
He's going there to fight "El Terrible" over it. Fight him, win or lose, like a professional.