Boxing’s back: Joseph Diaz Jr. returns, Top Rank rolls without Joe Smith Jr. Saturday
SAN DIEGO, Calif., February 12, 2021 – When you have good news and bad news, you get the bad news out of the way first.
The first bit of bad news is a real bummer. Light heavyweight Joe Smith Jr.’s bout for the vacant WBO title against Maxim Vlasov scheduled for Saturday was postponed when the Russian (45-3, 26 KOs) popped a positive COVID-19 test.
Smith Jr. (26-3, 21 KOs) was devastated by the cancellation after training away from his family in a bubble. He was riding an impressive streak after wins over Jesse Hart and Eleider Alvarez and is poised for a major unification fight in the competition division. He had also planned his wedding following the fight.
— Star Boxing (@StarBoxing) February 11, 2021
Would it kill the WBO to make Smith Jr. an interim titleholder as a result? Sanctioning bodies hand out belts like Halloween candy. In this case, it seems fitting.
On to the good news, which is a full slate of fights on Saturday.
The co-main between lightweights Richard Commey of Ghana (29-3, 26 KOs) and Jackson Marinez of the Dominican Republic (19-1, 7 KOs) is elevated to the main event starting at 10 pm ET/7 pm PT.
Adam Lopez of Glendale (14-2, 6 KOs) will defend his NABF featherweight title against former world title challenger Jason Sanchez of Albuquerque (15-2, 8 KOs). The card broadcast opens with heavyweight Jared Anderson of Toledo (7-0, 7 KOs) against Kingsley Ibeh of Phoenix (5-1-1, 4 KOs) in a six-round bout.
The undercard streaming on ESPN+ is notable for the pro debut of U.S. amateur star Troy Isley, a 22-year-old middleweight from Washington DC. It begins at 8:15 p.m. ET/5:15 p.m. PT.
Joseph Diaz Jr. returns, but loses his belt on the scale
Back to the bad news: IBF junior lightweight champion Joseph Diaz Jr. (31-1, 15 KOs) of South El Monte, California won’t get the chance to defend his title against Shavkat Rakhimov of Russia via Tajikistan (15-0, 12 KOs) at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino fight bubble on DAZN. It’s not boxing without a few speedbumps.
Diaz Jr. hit the scale at 133.6 pounds, with the limit being 130 pounds. California State Athletic Commission rules prohibit a fighter trying to make weight more than two pounds over the limit, so Diaz Jr. relinquishes the belt. Rakhimov can take it home with a win. Otherwise, the IBF will have to choose a fight to put it up as a vacant title.
Diaz Jr., age 28, rallied from his sole narrow loss to Gary Russell Jr. to defeat Tevin Farmer in a bloody battle to win his title one year ago. Diaz Jr. has spoken candidly about his bigger fight outside the ring with depression and seeking help. He is now a father to a baby boy. Prior to the weigh-in Diaz Jr. said time away due to the pandemic benefitted him.
“We’re all about business and we want to give the fans they want to see,” said Diaz Jr. “I want to be that type of attraction, the type of fighter that will accept any fight, any name. I’m going to be calling out all the champions after this fight,” naming Gervonta “Tank” Davis as his top target. But this was before the issue on the scale, which is ironic as Tank has struggled to make weight himself. Former titleholder Tevin Farmer also jumped on Diaz Jr. after missing weight; Farmer and promoter Lou DiBella believe Diaz Jr. owed them a rematch before taking Saturday’s bout. Let the trolling commence.
Rakhimov fights for the first time in the US, but he’s not an unknown due to an unusual controversy. In a 2019 bout in South Africa, Rakhimov was accused of using smelling salts between rounds to rally in a fight he was losing to score two knockdowns on the way to a stoppage win. Drugs and paraphernalia were also found in his hotel room, one labeled in Russian as an illegal PED.
Rakhimov said at this week’s news conference, “Our game plan this Saturday is to do anything possible to win the fight. The key is to do anything that needs to be done to win. Diaz is going to be in for a big surprise on Saturday.” Let’s hope he doesn’t really mean “anything possible.”
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Diaz Jr. says he’s aware of the situation but isn’t letting it affect him.
“I’m ready for anything this Saturday. I’m ready for anything that he will bring to the table. If he thinks he will come in here and overwhelm me with his power, that is not going to happen. I’m strong and I’m big just like him. I will be able to take his shots and give them back.” Diaz Jr. said he wouldn’t let go of the belt because he “worked my ass off to get (it),” but sadly he can’t see this through on Saturday.
Title bout tees up opportunity for Teixeira and Castano
While the main event should deliver plenty of action with or without the title, the co-main event between super welterweights Patrick Teixeira of Brazil (31-1, 22 KOs) and Brian Castano (16-0-1, 12 KOs) of Argentina for the vacant WBO title should be all out war. Since a difficult loss to Curtis Stevens, Teixeira has been impressive and improving fight after fight. Castano has shut down several decent opponents including a draw with tricky Erislandy Lara. A win Saturday positions the victor as a fresh face in the active division with the likes of Jermell Charlo, Jarrett Hurd, Jeison Rosario, Julian Williams, and the rising stars Charles Conwell, Sebastian Fundora, and Tim Tszyu.
Undercard roster: Rios vs Negrete, Hovhannisyan, and “Bek the Bully”
Golden Boy is letting stablemates Ronny Rios and Oscar Negrete rumble on the undercard, along with Azat Hovhannisyan vs. Enrique Bernache, Shane Mosley Jr. vs. Cristian Olivas, and a makeup fight for Bektemir “Bek the Bully” Melikuziev of Uzbekistan (6-0, 5 KOs) against veteran Morgan Fitch of Pittsburgh (19-4-1, 8 KOs). Melikuziev was scheduled to face former world champion Sergey Kovalev until the Russian tested positive for testosterone twice. Credit to the 24-year-old Uzbek who didn’t hesitate to say he’d still take the fight against The Krusher. Cooler heads prevailed, and Bek will go on to bully plenty of opponents.
For the true fight freaks reading down this far, the boxing broadcast day starts early with a UK card aired on DAZN headlined by the undefeated featherweight Josh Warrington (30-0, 8 KOs) against Mauricio Lara of Mexico City (21-2, 14 KOs), a 22-year-old daring to be great by taking on Warrington in his first bout outside Central America. He’s an underdog to be sure but never dismiss a tough Mexican kid. The card starts at 2 pm ET/11 am PT.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on social media at@PRProSanDiego.
Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.
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