Felix Diaz has been calling out unified junior welterweight world champion Terence Crawford for months, and he finally got his man.
Their camps have agreed on a deal for Crawford to make his fifth title defense against Diaz on May 20 in an HBO-televised main event at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, both sides told ESPN on Wednesday.
The paperwork is not yet signed, but Crawford promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank and Diaz promoter Lou DiBella both said they have agreed to terms and that they are in the process of finalizing the details.
It brings an end to a very difficult negotiation that came about only when one opponent after another dropped out of contention: Antonio Orozco, because he has an April 1 fight already scheduled; Amir Imam, who was unacceptable to HBO; and Adrian Granados, who was not available for May 20, following a grueling decision loss to Adrien Broner on Feb. 18 (and who has lost to Diaz).
That left Diaz, a 2008 Olympic gold medalist, as the only viable opponent and, according too many, by far the most credible.
"Crawford said that he wanted to defend his titles against the best opponent we can get," Arum said. "The problem with Diaz was the original asking price was higher than other candidates, appreciably higher. After negotiating, the ask was not appreciably higher and, therefore, we were resolved to make the match because he was the best guy available.
"I have matchmakers, Brad [Goodman] and Bruce [Trampler], who say Diaz is a very capable guy and he will give Crawford a good fight. His early fights were not that entertaining, but more recently, he's shown himself to be an entertaining fighter."
The 33-year-old Diaz (19-1, 9 KOs), whose recent fights have been at welterweight because he was unable to lure quality junior welterweights into the ring with him, suffered his lone defeat by disputed majority decision to former junior welterweight titlist Lamont Peterson in October 2015 on Peterson's home turf in Fairfax, Virginia, just outside his hometown of Washington, D.C. In his next fight, Diaz bounced back with an impressive 10-round decision victory against then-undefeated rising contender Sammy Vasquez in July.
When Crawford bypassed Diaz to take on huge underdog John Molina in December, Diaz fought a stay-busy bout in the Dominican Republic and stopped Levis Morales in the sixth round. DiBella also has been campaigning for Diaz to get a shot at Crawford. DiBella was happy he finally could deliver the fight to Diaz, even though he was not happy with the deal.
"I think it's a terrific fight, and it took me almost a year of working really hard to get him the opportunity," DiBella said. "He wanted this fight but, honestly, I don't love the business deal I was forced to make. But Top Rank controlled the A-side, and he's a guy perceived as a top pound-for-pound guy, so I'm a smart guy and had no illusions about my leverage or lack thereof.
"But I made a deal that gives my fighter the opportunity to prove how good he is, and he believes he can win, and so do I. I also think Felix Diaz is the perfect opponent for Newark, because there's a strong Dominican community there and [Dominican-heavy] Washington Heights in New York is just over the river and short drive, so I think there will be a lot of Dominicans representing for Felix."
Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but DiBella didn't get nearly what he wanted for the bout -- or for future fights that Top Rank will control in the event Diaz wins. Still, DiBella said he was happy to get his fighter the chance.
"He has been salivating for this fight forever, and I got him what he wanted, and that's my job," DiBella said. "This was not an easy one to make, but generally, if there's a fight to be made, Arum and I can make it; but I am not sitting around partying about the deal I had to make. But the kid got the fight, and that's the most important thing."
Crawford (30-0, 21 KOs), 29, of Omaha, Nebraska, handily won all three of his fights in 2016, but only one came against a top opponent, Viktor Postol, whom he routed in a unanimous decision to unify two of the 140-pound titles in July. Crawford, the former lightweight world champion and 2014 fighter of the year, also beat heavy underdogs Hank Lundy by fifth-round knockout and Molina by eighth-round knockout.
Now Crawford is stepping up to face a highly regarded opponent again.
"Diaz is obviously a better opponent than Molina and Lundy. No question about it," Arum said. "I'd say Diaz is a very significant opponent, like [Yuriorkis] Gamboa and Postol, who were very significant opponents at the time he fought them. I would put Diaz in the same category as Gamboa and Postol."
Arum said the HBO co-feature has not been finalized, but he hopes to make a lightweight match between Raymundo Beltran (32-7-1, 20 KOs) and Jonathan Maicelo (25-2, 12 KOs).
Beltran, 35, a Mexico native fighting out of Phoenix, lost a 2014 lightweight title fight to Crawford by near-shutout decision. He has won three bouts in a row. But he also served a suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2015. Maicelo, 33, a Peru native fighting out of North Bergen, New Jersey, has won four in a row, including an upset 10-round decision against of Jose Felix Jr. on Feb. 17. Maicelo's last loss was a lopsided decision to Darleys Perez in an interim lightweight world title fight in January 2015.
Also, featherweight Shakur Stevenson, a Newark native and the 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, will also be on the card for his first pro fight in his hometown. He will turn pro on April 22 in Carson, California.