LAS VEGAS — Featherweight contender Joseph Diaz Jr. earned a world title shot by outclassing Rafael “Big Bang” Rivera en route to a lopsided unanimous decision on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.
Fighting in the co-feature of the Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin card, Diaz was never in any danger as he cruised past late replacement Rivera, who was training for another fight next week when he accepted the bout with Diaz on Tuesday hours after Mexico’s Jorge Lara (29-0-2, 21 KOs) withdrew, claiming a back injury suffered that day at the gym.
Diaz won by scores of 120-108, 119-109 and 119-109. ESPN.com also had it 120-108 for Diaz.
With the victory, Diaz became the mandatory challenger for world titleholder Gary Russell Jr. (28-1, 17 KOs).
It was a slow-paced fight, though Diaz, a southpaw, consistently beat the slower Rivera, 23, of Mexico, to the punch. There was a short burst of action in the final seconds of the fourth round when Diaz (25-0, 13 KOs) connected with a flurry of punches that knocked Rivera into the ropes.
“I feel like I had a good performance overall. I was able to put pressure and dictate the pace of the fight and be able to enter into a lot of exchanges,” Diaz said. “Rivera is strong, has good body shots and had good speed.”
Diaz, 24, a 2012 U.S. Olympian from South El Monte, California, found success with his right hook to the head often, especially when Rivera would come straight at him. Rivera (25-1-2, 16 KOs) worked hard, but he was simply outclassed by Diaz, who also had a strong weapon in his uppercut that he put to good use late in the fight.
“I feel that trying to make weight in time for the fight really drained me and I wasn’t able to perform at my tip-top best. Other than that, I believe we did good despite the circumstances,” Rivera said.
According to CompuBox statistics, Diaz landed 240 of 597 punches (40 percent) and Rivera conned with 124 of 489 blows (25 percent).
De La Hoya dominates Caballero
Junior featherweight Diego De La Hoya (20-0, 9 KOs), the first cousin of Hall of Famer and Golden Boy Promotions CEO Oscar De La Hoya, turned in an impressive performance as he easily routed former bantamweight world titleholder Randy Caballero (24-1, 14 KOs), by far the best opponent of his career.
De La Hoya won with no issues, taking the fight 100-90, 98-92 and 98-92. ESPN.com also scored the fight 100-90 for De La Hoya.
“I trained for this fight knowing it was going to be a really great battle,” De La Hoya said. “All my sacrifice I fueled into this fight.”
De La Hoya, 23, of Mexico, strafed Caballero with left hooks throughout the fight, and Caballero never adjusted. By the third round, Caballero’s left eye sported black-and-blue swelling underneath it.
De La Hoya was relentless, landing the hook and also combinations over and over. He had Caballero, 26, of Coachella, California, in trouble late in the fifth round when he forced him to the ropes as he pounded him with combinations. In the seventh round, De La Hoya rocked the fading Caballero with a three-punch combination, and he continued to pound him for the rest of the fight.
“The winners tonight are the fans. When we did this fight, we knew it was going to be a great opportunity to put on a good show,” Caballero said. “Diego is a good kid and a great fighter, and I wish him the best.”
Lightweight Ryan “Blue Chip” Martin (20-0, 11 KOs), 24, of Chattanooga, Tennessee, kept his perfect record intact but struggled against the very aggressive Francisco Rojo (20-3, 13 KOs), 26, of Mexico, who came forward winging punches throughout the fight. In the end, however, Martin won by split decision. One judge scored the fight 98-91 for Rojo, while the other two had it for Martin 96-93 and 95-94.
“I didn’t feel 100 percent tonight, even though I got the split decision,” Martin said. “I know I fought a good fight despite the adversity in the ring. I know the judge that scored in favor of Rojo recognized good boxing in him.”
In the eighth round, referee Russell Mora warned Martin twice for shots well below the belt. When Rojo went low later in the round, he also got a warning. When Martin strayed low with another punch in the ninth round, Mora took away one point. The loss ended Rojo’s eight-fight winning streak.
According to CompuBox statistics, Martin landed 205 of 595 punches (35 percent) and Rojo connected with 138 of 539 (26 percent).
Junior middleweight Serhii Bohachuk (5-0, 5 KOs), 22, a native of Ukraine fighting out of Los Angeles, knocked out Jean Jose Valenzuela (5-9-1, 5 KOs), 21,of Chula Vista, California, in the second round. He dropped him with a body shot and finished him in the follow-up attack at 1 minute, 58 seconds.
Dallas junior welterweight prospect Vergil Ortiz (7-0, 7 KOs), a 19-year-old with tremendous power, scored a pair knockdowns in a second-round knockout of Cesar Valenzuela (7-2, 2 KOs), 31, of Phoenix. Ortiz attacked the body relentlessly. In the second round, he landed a brutal left to the body followed by a right to the head to score the first knockdown. Moments later, he landed the same combination to send Valenzuela to his knees, and referee Robert Byrd counted him out at 1 minute, 22 seconds.
“I just do what my coaches tell me to do. They knew how this fight was going to end and kept reminding me to go towards the body,” Ortiz said. “I’m super-happy to get the win.”
Marlen Esparza (3-0, 0 KOs), 28, a 2012 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist from Houston, cruised to a shutout, six-round decision against ineffective Aracely Palacios (8-8, 1 KO), 30, of Mexico, in a women’s flyweight bout. Esparza won 60-54 on all three scorecards. Palacios lost her second fight in a row, both by six-round decision.
“Even though my opponent, on paper, looked like she had more ring experience, I’ve been in the ring way more than she had,” Esparza said. “I couldn’t research much about my opponent, but we knew she was going to be throwing her right often. I’m satisfied with my performance because this was my first six-round fight.”
Junior bantamweight Nicola Adams (2-0, 1 KO), 34, the two-time Olympic gold medalist from England, had her four-round junior bantamweight fight canceled on Saturday afternoon because her opponent, Alexandra Vlajk (11-6, 2 KOs), 37, of Hungary, had an undisclosed problem with her pre-fight blood test. It was retested, but there was still an issue, and the Nevada State Athletic Commission declined to license her.