FRESH on the heels of his recent victory over Cesar Vazquez in Tucson, Arizona, USA, former four-time lightweight champion Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz (42-4, 21 KOs) sits down with Boxing News to discuss his comeback strategy, the state of the lightweight division, Flanagan, and flaky friends.

You returned to the ring three years ago, why the slow, systematic approach to your comeback?

I think my plan has always been to become a world champion and to capture that fifth world title. It has been strategic. It hasn’t been about the money. I had a great (first) fight back with Golden Boy. After that fight in Corpus Christi, right away they wanted to put me against “Panterita” (Omar Figueroa). I said no and that’s why it didn’t really work out with Golden Boy. I’m not here for a payday. I’m not here to be anybody’s stepping stone. I’m here to capture a fifth world title and I’m going to do it on my terms and on my time.

It’s a mind thing. Being retired for two and a half years, I had jumped on the stair master maybe one day in that time. I didn’t do no running. I didn’t do no kind of exercise and after two and a half years of not doing anything, mentally, you’re not going to be right and I didn’t want to go into a big championship fight with those questions in the back of my head.

“I took my time. I wanted to build my confidence and my conditioning the way it was in the past and I believe now I’ve done it.

Did your move to Top Rank take place immediately after that fight?

It did not. We had, basically, one fight to gauge things. They wanted to gauge where I was at and I wanted to see how they were going to work with me. We had that fight for me to say “this is what I have,” and for them to say “we see what you have and this is what we want to offer.” Top Rank was very willing to work with me and to work on my schedule and on my plan so I told them that I wanted to capture a fifth world title. I wanted to take my time, to take it easy and to to build my way up to the championship. I didn’t want any big money fights at that moment. They have been willing to work with me all the way through.

What changes have you seen in yourself and in the sport since you’ve been back?

The key difference now versus when I came back in 2013 is being able to control the fight and make it go as I want to. If you see my last two fights, I’ve been able to control when I want to fight, when I want to box. I’m able to move around the ring and gauge the guy and see where he’s at. I’m able to see punches in slow motion like I did in the past. When I was a champion, from 2004-2007, I would step in the ring and see punches in slow motion. I was able to slip and bob and weave and turn away from punches, which was amazing but I wasn’t getting that back in 2013. That right there told me that I needed more time to practice and improve my craft and now, after last Saturday, I can see all of that is back. I feel that I’m at the top of my game again.

How do you feel now as a 32-year-old compared to the days during which you were a young champion?

I can tell you the main difference is that I don’t wake up in the morning like a spring chicken anymore (laughs). I feel the pain and the soreness a little more than when I was 23, 24, and 25. I used to get in wars in sparring, do all of my strength and conditioning, my running, and I’d get up like nothing the next day. Today it takes a little longer to get up and say let’s do this.

The second key difference is that now I’ve slowed my pace down a bit. instead of throwing 80 punches per round, I’ve brought it down to 60 punches per round. I feel more effective. I’m landing at a higher rate than in the past. When i was throwing 80, I was landing 20%, now throwing 60 I’m more in the 30-40% connect rate.

Regarding the very competitive lightweight division, where do you see yourself fitting in?

I think after last week’s victory, Vazquez is not a top ten contender let a lone a world champion, but I think my performance puts me up there with some of the top guys in the lightweight division . Now they’re starting to say, “Juan “Baby Bull” Diaz is back,” and I think it puts me up there because I have been a world champion. Not a one time world champion but a four time world champion and that adds credibility to my name and also the fact that I have had some wars. But not like the late Arturo Gatti or Jose Luis Castillo, or Antonio Margarito, guys that have been in wars and been beat up. I have been in some wars but I haven’t been beat up physically or mentally. I think that gives me a little credibility. Even though I didn’t beat a top ten contender in my last fight, I’m starting to beat these guys and making it look easy.

I see myself right there fitting right in next to them, competing with them at a top level and beating them. I believe that I have what it takes to become a world champion.

I’ve said it before, I’m not the hardest punching guy in the division I’m not a one punch knockout artist but I believe that my determination and my will is what carried me in the past to become a world champion and I still have that. I believe that my determination and my will to win is far greater than their determination, will to win and what they have inside of them. That’s what will make me champion again. I have no quit in me, they have to carry me out in a stretcher before I quit.

How do you see the fight between Jorge Linares and Anthony Crolla going down?

Styles makes fights. Linares will have the edge because he is a boxer but if Crolla can keep good constant pressure, he can take the win.

How do you respond to the talk of you potentially facing Terry Flanagan in the future?

As far as the rumours are concerned, I think me and my team are probably the main ones begging for the fight and maybe starting some rumours. Not saying that we’re going to fight but saying that we want to fight and maybe people take it from there.

As far as conversations with Top Rank, there’s been no news since my last fight. We’ll be talking to them sometime this week to see what’s the plan for me for this year and next year so I’m hoping that that they’re able to maybe squeeze me in to replace Verdejo. We hope that he heals rapidly and that didn’t have any major injuries but, in the meantime, I’m going to express my feelings to my promoter that I want to bring a belt back to the states and into Top Rank.

How do you see that fight going against Flanagan?

Flanagan, of course, is the taller fighter. He’s going to come out and try to box me. I’m going to be the shorter fighter. I think that at the beginning we might feel each other out but I plan on bringing it from the first round. I don’t think he’s going to be able to hang with the pressure that I bring and I think eventually I’m going to wear him down. I’m not going to say I will stop him but I will say that I can outwork him and out punch him and I don’ think that he’ll be able to keep up with my volume if we were to fight.

Please tell us about your current team.

My team is just as good or even better than in the past. I have my chief training Derwin Richards, 2nd trainer Timothy knight, and my 3rd trainer, who is also my brother, Jose Diaz. My Strength and Conditioning Coach, Brian Caldwell, has been with me since the beginning and he’s sticking with me. He does a great job and Alex Parra who handles my marketing and is also in charge of setting up media interviews and making sure that the people know that I’m still relevant and here fighting for my fifth world title. That right there is what I would call my A-team. They help me stay focused and make sure I’m ready to step in the ring.

Has your family been supportive throughout this new phase of your career?

Oh man, my family has been supportive. I would have to say that that my family members have been the number one people who have supported me throughout my my career but even though they are supportive, they watch me very carefully, especially my mom and wife and they say ‘look we rather you not fight, we want you here. If we see that you’re not competitive in there and you start to get hit too much or we see a drastic change in you behavior, we’re going to have to ask you to really consider maybe giving it up.’ Both of them tell me, ‘you have three kids now, three kids that you have to live for and sometimes it’s not worth it to risk your life when you have everything you want at the palm of your hands.’ They’ve been very supportive.

Friends, of course they always want to go to fights. but I’m going to tell you this. A lot of friends that I had in the past, they’re starting to come back out of the woodwork and I thank them for the support and tell them that if ever want to hang out I’ll call them but they‘ll never receive that phone call again (laughs). The people that are my friends, that I consider my friends, they know who they are. I can count them on one hand. Besides my brother and my team, I can count them with one hand and they know who they are.

Finally, what do you want to say to your fans.

I want thank all of my fans who have supported me throughout the years and who still support me now. We had a great response here on March 19 when I fought in Houston. We sold out the arena theater. Then I go to Tucson, Arizona, and the casino sells out two weeks before the fight. I definitely want to the thank the fans because, if it wasn’t for them I would t be relevant. I wouldn’t be on TV and promoters and writers wouldn’t hear about me. Now they are hearing about me because I’m selling out these arenas and I’m on TV calling out guys and I’m looking good so I want to thank the fans of their support and helping bring me to the place that I am now.