Former champion Joseph Diaz fought to a majority draw with Shavkatdzhov Rakhimov in an IBF junior lightweight fight Saturday in the California desert.
American Diaz was stripped of his title Friday because he weighed more than three pounds over the 130-pound limit at the weigh-in, leaving Rakhimov with the only chance to claim the title which now sits vacant.
The two southpaws put on an entertaining slugfest with Diaz giving up some rounds in the middle before turning it on in the final round to salvage some pride.
One judge scored it 115-113 for Diaz while the other two had it 114-114 in the 12-round showdown inside the quarantine bubble at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio.
“It wasn’t my best performance,” said Diaz. “I didn’t make weight and vacated my title. It was a mistake on my behalf.”
Diaz, 28, went on to say that the Covid-19 restrictions during the final week of preparations left him struggling to train in his hotel room instead of inside a gym.
“I couldn’t make weight like I used to. They don’t have no gym here and I had to work out in my room,” he said.
Diaz’s record moves to 31-1-1 with 15 knockouts, while Rakhimov remains undefeated at 15-0-1 with 12 KOs.
Even though it was a draw, Tajikistan’s Rakhimov came within a whisker of winning his first title in his American debut. The 26-year-old three-time national champion said he hopes this performance gets him more title fights on US soil.
“I did everything I was supposed to do. I think I won the fight,” he said. “I made a few mistakes. But I am going to work hard.”
Diaz landed the better punches in the early rounds but Rakhimov was the first to draw blood, hitting his opponent with a punch in the third round that resulted in blood trickling from the former champ’s nose.
The pace picked up at the end of the fourth round, when both fighters exchanged head shots at the bell.
Rakhimov started to look more comfortable after that as more power punches were landed by both men in the fifth round.
In the 11th Rakimov hit Diaz with two left uppercuts as counter to Diaz’s right hand. Trainer Freddie Roach told Rakhimov in the corner between the 11th and 12th rounds that if he let his hands go in the final round he would win the fight.
But the more experienced Diaz had other plans, timing his punches perfectly in a show of force that impressed the judges enough for one of the three to give him the win on points.
“It was a close fight,” said Diaz. “I had him fighting a whole different game plan. I thought I landed more punches and broke him down.”
The draw ended Diaz’s five fight winning streak and opened the door for a possible rematch between the two with the vacant title up for grabs.