Joseph Diaz Jr is set to make the first defense of his IBF junior lightweight title Saturday night on DAZN (Feb. 13, 8 pm ET), as he faces Russia’s Shavkat Rakhimov in a main event from Indio, Calif.
Diaz (31-1, 15 KO) took the belt from Tevin Farmer just over a year ago in Miami — a fight where I’ll note none of us picked the correct winner — and after a lot of talk about Farmer having an immediate rematch clause (he did) and COVID messing with that and Diaz maybe not really wanting to fight Farmer again for whatever reason, here we are with Diaz-Rakhimov.
Both fighters are southpaws so prepare for the commentary team to point out how incredibly rare that is even though we see it several times per year now. Anyway, WHO R U PICKING? Here’s who we R picking:
Scott Christ (3-0)
I wanted to go with Diaz over Farmer last year, and talked myself out of it last minute. I still believed Tevin would nick it in the end with his consistency. I even said, “I have a strong feeling this is a swing I’ll regret not taking on the mild underdog.” And then Farmer had an abysmal night totally unlike his normal self, and Diaz won the strap.
Diaz is a good fighter. I like JoJo. He’s got a mean streak, a real chip on his shoulder in general, but not in a way that he lets it get the better of him. He uses that. But I love this fight, as I’ve said. I think there’s fantastic action potential here, and that it should be really competitive.
I am waffling the other way this time. Originally I thought I might take a crack on Rakhimov, but I’m going with JoJo. The more I’ve watched of Rakhimov, I can definitely see how he can win this fight, but I think Diaz might have the quicker, more free-flowing hands if or when they get into some real exchanges, and he might be able to land the more telling blows. If Diaz doesn’t have an off-night, I think he wins this in competitive but not controversial fashion, and that we get a damn good fight out of it, too. Diaz UD-12
Wil Esco (2-1)
You know, I think JoJo Diaz is a really good fighter. In fact I’m still kicking myself for picking him to lose to Tevin Farmer in a late change of mind decision because I was actually pretty confident that he had what it took to win that fight. Anyway, looking forward I think Diaz has improved since his loss to Gary Russell Jr and now with a world title in tow, he’s feeling pretty good about himself.
Rakhimov is pretty strong and sturdy, but I think too much of his defense is solely predicated on upper body movement without enough foot movement to match. In a fight like this I think that’ll prove to be his undoing as Diaz should be able to get off combinations while Rakhimov tries to roll punches. Even if Diaz has a hard time landing one thudding shot to stop the fight short, I still think he scores more than enough to win it on the cards. Diaz UD-12
How to Watch Diaz vs Rakhimov
Patrick L. Stumberg (2-1)
After having to deal with slicksters to get here, I’m sure these two will appreciate having an opponent willing to collide head-on in the center of the ring. There’ll be no need for seeking here, just destroying.
At least on Diaz’s end.
Rakhimov’s struggles with Azinga Fuzile didn’t just come from the South African’s elusiveness; even when he did manage to close the gap, he struggled to actually get his close-quarters attack going against Fuzile’s smoother and faster attack. “JoJo” doesn’t fight anything like Fuzile, of course, but he’s got the craft to similarly overwhelm Rakhimov in the pocket. Diaz just seems slightly faster and slightly sharper with his combinations, and while Rakhimov might have more firepower, it’s not enough to bridge the gap. Smelling salts won’t save Rakhimov from Diaz from outboxing him in his own wheelhouse. Diaz UD-12
Lewis Watson (1-2)
Rakhimov is non-stop, aggressive and strong. If he can use all of his assets to his advantage I’ve got a suspicion he’s going to drag Diaz to the well and make him uncomfortable throughout his first defence. Diaz is probably the more technical fighter who is going to gain his success off the back foot, and if he can escape the first half of the fight unscathed then the championship distance will probably play into his experienced hands.
Still, I really like what I see of Rakhimov. If he can dig to the body early in this fight I think he could drown the champion by the mid-way point. Rakhimov KO-6