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Put Diaz back in the ring

Put Diaz back in the ring

It’s been 1,772 days since the Arizona Boxing Commission revoked Joe Diaz’ boxing license, compromising the livelihood of a man who had spent five decades getting good at one thing.

At 70 years old, Diaz knows only boxing.

For the past five years, Diaz has operated as a sort of boxing outcast. He is an unsanctioned expert who still runs Joe Diaz’ Top Level Boxing Gym on Ninth Avenue, which has retained a small band of followers. He still works with his most-prized fighter, Ramon “Yori Boy” Campas. And, perhaps more importantly, Diaz is still tough as nails.

Other than that, though, Diaz’ life has pretty much collapsed around him.

He’s had to borrow money from friends to pay his bills and keep his gym open. He’s had to find lawyers who would work for free to represent him as he punches back against the politicians who he blames for tearing down his career. And he’s had to spend much of his time trying to clear his name.

He’s also lost about 90 of the 150 boxers he once trained.

Now Diaz wants back in. He has applied for reinstatement of his boxing license, and the state Boxing Commission is set to make a decision on April 19.

If Diaz has his way, the hearing will include testimony from more than two-dozen people — some of them are Diaz supporters, others are people who may be responsible in some way for pinching him out. Diaz wants his opponents — most notably Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox — to show up and explain why his license was taken away.

Diaz’ problems all started about six years ago when he began a feud with promoter Peter McKinn of Top Rank Boxing. The dispute was over money and, to hear Diaz tell the story, involved betrayal, forgery and general corruption within the boxing world. Diaz tells a wild tale, one that could be a storyline for a movie, but he also provides evidence to back it up.

The short story is that Diaz’ feud with McKinn became a problem for Top Rank Boxing, which is run by Bob Arum, and Wilcox, who was a supporter of McKinn. Both sides went out of their way to trash the other: Diaz accused Top Rank of withholding money from Campas and other boxers; Top Rank accused Diaz of signing for a payout and then lying about it; and Diaz accused Wilcox of engaging in a conspiracy to cover up crimes committed by McKinn.

It’s very complex, believe me. I’ve read dozens of documents about the case, and the Arizona Capitol Times has covered the story for several years now. Accusations are numerous and lofty, and discernable facts are few.

Only Diaz, McKinn and a handful of other people really know what happened — whether Diaz was lying about the money, or whether it was a smear campaign by his enemies. But it is important to note that McKinn was indicted on several felony counts last year and is awaiting trial.

It’s also significant, I think, that Campas’ boxing license was taken away for the same reasons and at the same time that Diaz’ training license was revoked, although the Boxing Commission buckled to pressure from the Attorney General’s Office and later reinstated Campas’ license.

Diaz, though, remains without a license. He has struggled to find boxing venues out of state, and he has to borrow money every time he takes his fighters to places such as Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Texas.  Diaz is still licensed in 22 other states and a few foreign countries.

Diaz fears he’s never going to make enough money to repay all of his debts and retire comfortably. His once flush bank account is empty, and, at 70 years old, much of his life is behind him now.

But when I asked Diaz earlier this week why he decided to take on billion-dollar companies such as Top Rank, politicians such as Wilcox and others who clearly have more clout than a pug-faced boxing trainer from central Phoenix, he said he’s doing it for the sport and for the kids growing up now who need the structure and discipline of boxing to stay out of gangs and away from drugs.

“I want the kids to know the sport is free, that they don’t have to worry about corruption in boxing,” he said. “I want to make sure they never have to kiss anyone’s hand.”

Diaz says he’s pretty sure the Boxing Commission will reinstate his license to train boxers. I hope he’s right, but I’m less certain than he is. After all, if you believe Diaz’ side of the story, then you also have to believe boxing is still corrupt and politicians still act in their own best interests.

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