Joseph Diaz Jr., Murodjon Akhmadaliev win titles in night of upsets


Joseph Diaz Jr. and Tevin Farmer traded a lot of harsh words in the lead-up their fight on Thursday night, but it was Diaz who had the last laugh.

Diaz, in the finest performance of his career, overcame a horrendous cut over his left eye suffered in the second round to win a junior lightweight world title on the Demetrius Andrade-Luke Keeler undercard at the Meridian at Island Gardens in Miami, where the show was one of the events surrounding Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Diaz, in his third shot at a world title, won 116-112, 115-113 and 115-113 to take Farmer’s 130-pound belt. He had come up empty in two previous shots at featherweight world titles. He suffered his only loss by decision when he challenged Gary Russell Jr. for his featherweight belt in May 2018. A second title shot went by the wayside when Diaz failed to make weight for a title fight with Jesus Rojas in August 2018.

“I was focused and determined and I got the ‘W’ this time,” an overjoyed Diaz said.

The 27-year-old Diaz, a 2012 U.S. Olympian from South El Monte, California, won his fifth fight in a row since the loss to Russell — and it was the biggest victory of his career.

“I’m very excited I won this. I have waited for this moment for a long time,” Diaz said.

The fight had been much anticipated by hardcore boxing fans since Farmer and Diaz nearly came to blows in May at the Canelo Alvarez-Daniel Jacobs undercard news conference in Las Vegas. Diaz fought on the card while Farmer was simply in attendance, and the two southpaws went nose to nose in a shouting match after the news conference and had to be separated. More words followed in the months that followed, culminating in the eventual bout.

The first round was fairly uneventful, but between rounds, Farmer (30-5-1, 6 KOs), 29, of Philadelphia, told trainer Chino Rivas that he hurt his right hand.

An accidental head butt in the second round opened a terrible cut over Diaz’s left eye. It was long, deep and bloody, and in a terrible spot. The blood was smeared all over Diaz’s face and he continually dabbed at the wound with his glove to wipe it away.

“It didn’t change the fight at all,” Diaz said of the cut. “I just pretended it wasn’t there. I knew it was pretty bad but I knew it was a championship fight. I’m a warrior. I got to go out there and get the W. This was my opportunity. I had to take advantage of it.”

Despite the cut, Diaz pressured the defensive-minded Farmer and landed combinations and forced him back to take control of the bout after a few rounds.

While Diaz (31-1, 15 KOs), whose cutman Ben Lira did a magnificent job containing the cut, had a spring in his step from the outset, Farmer appeared tired. His mouth was open, he continually blinked his eyes and his body language was poor. Farmer is typically a consummate boxer, but he fought more on the inside than usual, perhaps because he was tired and unable to move as well as he usually does.

The ninth round featured a lot of back and forth on the inside, but Diaz landed many combinations and body shots while Farmer barely landed anything solid.

Diaz shook Farmer in the 10th round with a left hand and continued to fire combinations. After the round, Rivas told Farmer he needed to win the final two rounds.

Farmer, who was making his fifth defense, came out with urgency in the 12th round but Diaz met him in the center of the ring and they exchanged for much of the first minute, as well as down the stretch of the round.

Because it was an optional defense for Farmer, who had a rematch clause in his contract, Diaz and Farmer are likely to meet again.

“He put up a hell of a fight,” said Farmer, who went to the hospital after the fight to be examined as a precaution. “That’s all I can say. I did hurt my hand in the first round but I don’t think it played a big part in the fight. I couldn’t use my jab how I wanted to, but he got the job done tonight. There’s no excuses. He won the fight. We’ll be back and we’ll do it again. We definitely got the immediate rematch clause.”

Diaz said he will be happy to face Farmer again.

“Tevin Farmer is a hell of a fighter. He’s been through everything. I respect him,” Diaz said. “I just thank him for giving me the opportunity, and I knew we’re going to have a rematch. So we will run it back.”

Akhmadaliev claims unified junior featherweight title

In a spirited action fight, Murodjon Akhmadaliev won a split decision over Daniel Roman to claim Roman’s unified junior featherweight world title.

Akhmadaliev won 115-113 on two scorecards, and Roman won 115-113 on the third.

Akhmadaliev (8-0, 6 KOs), who was Roman’s mandatory challenger, matched former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks’ record of becoming a men’s unified titleholder in just his eighth pro fight. Akhmadaliev, who won a bronze medal for Uzbekistan in the 2016 Olympics, also became the first unified titlist from that country.

“I cannot describe what I am feeling,” Akhmadaliev said through an interpreter. “I’ve been through so much in my life. Now I am the first in the history of Uzbekistan to be the unified champion in eight fights. It’s something amazing.

“Danny Roman was the most proven 122-pounder in the world. I knew exactly who I was fighting and I was prepared for the best fighter in my division. It was a hell of a fight. He was very sharp.”

Roman (27-3-1, 10 KOs), 29, of Los Angeles, was making the fifth defense of his 122-pound title and fighting for the first time since winning an action-packed battle with TJ Doheny, whom he defeated by majority decision to unify two titles, last April. Roman was coming off the longest layoff of his career because of a shoulder injury.

The fight with Akhmadaliev was originally scheduled for Sept. 13 in New York, but Roman’s injury forced him to postpone the bout. Akhmadaliev stayed busy that night with a fourth-round knockout of Wilner Soto.

There were questions about whether Roman would go through with the fight, given how dangerous a challenge Akhmadaliev presented. Roman, who had only a six-week training camp because of the injury, could have vacated one of the belts and carried on with his other one, but Roman was determined to prove he was the better man and went through with the fight — even though there were members of his own team, including trainer Eddie Gonzalez, who thought he would have been better off going in another direction.

“I’m a fighter,” Roman said. “I will fight anybody they put in front of me. He was the mandatory. You have to learn how to accept the victory and learn how to accept the defeat as well. I would like a rematch. Why not?”

Akhmadaliev, a southpaw, was aggressive from the outset, marching forward and firing shots, but Roman stood his ground and landed some solid body punches.

Akhmadaliev was the bigger puncher, and landed a hard right hand that seemed to buzz Roman in the fifth round. There was good give-and-take throughout the fight, but Akhmadaliev, 25, seemed to have the better of the action through the first half of the fight. But then Roman, who was cut on his right eyelid, came on in the second half of the fight and had a strong eighth round in which he landed multiple left uppercuts.

There was good action in the 10th round, but Akhmadaliev, who was marked up under his left eye and into a 10th round for the first time in his career, was landing the fiercer power shots.

Roman went after Akhmadaliev in the 12th round after Gonzalez told him in the corner that he was unsure how the fight was going. He threw uppercuts and chased Akhmadaliev around the ring trying to land his best shot, but came up just short on the scorecards.

“It was a close fight. He’s a hell of a fighter, a strong fighter,” Roman said. “He’s a complicated fighter. He was the better man tonight.”

Espino stops Baccus in third round

Super middleweight prospect Alexis Espino (5-0, 4 KOs) had an easy time disposing of Vincent Baccus (4-2-1, 3 KOs), 35, of Okmulgee, Oklahoma, by knockout in the third round of their scheduled six-rounder.

Espino, 20, of Las Vegas, who is trained by top cornerman Robert Garcia, rocked Baccus with a left hook late in the second round and continued to pound him in the third.

Midway through the third round, he dropped Baccus with a clean left hook. Baccus made it to his feet, but as the fight resumed Espino immediately landed a left-right combination and referee Sam Burgos stepped in to stop it at 1 minute, 49 seconds as Espino flexed in Baccus’ face.

Angulo wins split decision over Sims

In an upset, super middleweight Roamer Alexis Angulo (26-1 22 KOs) edged touted up-and-comer Anthony Sims Jr. (20-1 18 KOs), 24, of Plainfield, Illinois, in a dreadful fight that featured virtually no action or clean punching.

Two judges scored it 96-93 for the more aggressive Angulo and one judge had it 95-94 for Sims, who spent most of the fight moving around the ring and not engaging with Angulo, 35, a Colombia native fighting out of Miami, whose only loss came in June 2018 in a one-sided unanimous decision challenging then-super middleweight world titlist Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez.

Referee Christopher Young docked one point from Angulo in the fifth round for holding. Neither fighter did much of anything, leaving the only drama to take place in Sims’ corner.

After the sixth round Sims’ trainer, James Doolin, told Sims he was down by two points.

“You gotta knock him out,” Doolin told Sims before sending him out for the seventh round.

After the eighth round Doolin told him, “You gotta put him down, baby! That’s all there is to it!”

But Sims continued to dance around and show extreme caution while Angulo plodded forward and could barely land anything as the crowd was virtually silent.

Williams destroys Sanchez

Houston middleweight prospect Austin Williams (5-0, 4 KOs) dominated Donald Sanchez (5-3, 3 KOs), 35, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, en route to a fourth-round knockout victory.

Williams, a 23-year-old southpaw, scored three knockdowns in a fight he dominated from start to finish. He landed numerous clean punches and combinations on a game Sanchez. He nearly dropped Sanchez with a straight left hand to the head in the first round. In the second round he floored him with an overhand left that sent him to his rear end. And in the fourth round Williams sent Sanchez to the mat twice more — first with a straight left hand, and then with a combination to the head and body — after which referee Telis Assimenios waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 51 seconds.

Serrano knocks out Da Silva

Amanda Serrano (38-1-1, 28 KOs), who has won world titles in a women’s record seven weight classes, knocked out Simone Aparecida Da Silva (17-15, 6 KOs), 36, of Brazil, in the third round of a lightweight bout.

Serrano, 31, of Brooklyn, New York, had been training for an MMA fight on Jan. 25 in her native Puerto Rico, but the card was canceled and promoter Lou DiBella was able to get her on this card on six days’ notice. The fight was a tune-up for a probable spring showdown with undisputed women’s lightweight world champion Katie Taylor.

Serrano landed a flurry of punches in the final moments of the second round for a knockdown. In the third round, Serrano unloaded numerous unanswered punches until referee Sam Burgos stopped it at 53 seconds.

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