By Marc Livitz in Las Vegas, Nevada
Joseph "JoJo" Diaz looked impressive this evening with a resounding unanimous decision win over Rafael "Big Bang" Rivera in a WBC featherweight title elimination contest.
Rivera was a late fill-in opponent for Jorge Lara, who was pulled from the bout earlier this week with a reported back injury. The opening round was much a feeling out period as southpaw Diaz (25-0, 13 KO’s) and his opponent from Tijuana pawed at each other with their outstretched jabs. A brief exchange did take place, though Rafael (25-1-2, 16 KO’s) appeared to get the better of it. He answered a left hook from Diaz with several counter shots to the head.
The second wasn’t much different because they continued to throw their punches from opposite ends. Rivera countered well in the third as he had his back against the ropes and he appeared to be quite the legitimate opponent for the 2012 USA Olympian. Rafael was on the back foot but he continued to move better than his southern California adversary at times in round number four.
The two boxers opened up to begin the fifth. Diaz looked to land his power left, while Rivera looked to duck and counter with right hooks. The respective cheekbones of each fighter were beginning to show signs of wear. Throughout the sixth, "Big Bang" tested Diaz to his outer limits. His rights were landing more frequently as well as with more accuracy. "JoJo" held his guard high throughout much of the seventh, though he did his best to engage Rafael as the eighth got rolling. Uppercuts were traded, as were straight jabs to the head. Diaz may have stolen the period with an uppercut/hook combo. Diaz had his finest round in the ninth. He backed Rivera up. He connected with a high percentage as the contest moved to double digit rounds.
As the tenth began, Diaz was the clear aggressor, while Rivera moved in reverse. Joseph’s right jab was becoming his most reliable weapon. He continued to pull away at times in the eleventh. The featherweight title eliminator would go to twelve rounds indeed. Rivera hadn’t necessarily slowed, yet he simply wasn’t throwing as many punches by this point. The two combatants embraced as the final bell sounded. Diaz appeared to have won much of the second half of the contest, although the final decision was in the hands of judges Burt Clements (120-108), Tim Cheatham (119-109) and Glen Feldman (119-109).The win puts Diaz in line as the mandatory challenger for the WBC featherweight championship.