By Jake Donovan
Robert Marroquin has spent the past 12 months attempting to rebuild and prove he deserves another look on the title stage.
That dream may very well have died Saturday evening.
Daniel Diaz stormed into the WinStar Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma, and left the venue with a well-earned split decision in their 10-round main event. Scores were 96-92 (twice) in favor of the visiting Nicaraguan, while Marroquin landed a 95-93 nod on the third card.
The scent of an upset was in the air early in the bout, specifically the moment Marroquin was dropped hard midway through the opening round. A sledgehammer of an overhand right saw the crowd favorite slammed to the canvas after a relatively dominant first two rounds of boxing.
Marroquin shook off the blow and knockdown but a similar shot put him down for the second time in the round, this one coming shortly before the bell. The sequence left Marroquin surprisingly wide-eyed but also favoring his right knee as he limped back to his corner at the end of the round.
Nobody would have blamed the former title challenger for choosing to box and move from that point forward. Instead, Marroquin chose to run towards the sound of gunfire, taking the fight to Diaz in the second round. The bravery exuded made for entertaining exchanges, but more importantly allowed Marroquin to regain control of the fight and act like the heavily favored fighter.
The tide continued to roll in favor of the house fighter as the bout inched towards the middle rounds. Diaz was still able to find a home for his right hand, but Marroquin was better prepared for the incoming, thus minimizing its impact. By the end of the fifth, it was Diaz who was put on the defensive, as power shots had the Nicaraguan on unsteady legs.
If anyone expected Diaz to turn over and accept his perceived role in the fight, they were dead wrong.
The second half of the fight didn’t provide the same explosive action as the preceding rounds, but its competitive nature provided just as much drama. Diaz made a fight of it every step of the way, earning Marroquin’s respect at every turn.
In the end, Diaz also earned the respect of two ringside judges who rightfully found six out of the ten rounds to score in his favor. The partisan crowd was stunned with disbelief in watching the house favorite land on the wrong end of the split decision, but it was the correct call.
Diaz improves to 20-5-1 (14KO), winning for just the second time in five road trips outside of Nicaragua. The featherweight trialhorse lost two straight heading into Saturday’s contest, but escapes the Midwestern casino with the biggest win of his career.
Marroquin is left with serious decisions to make about his future. The 23-year old falls to 23-3 (16KO), having now lost two of his last three bouts. A wide decision loss to 122 lb. titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux was forgivable, but Marroquin has now twice come up short in contests that fighters of his perceived caliber are supposed to dominate in stay-busy fashion.
Ivan Najera turned back a stiff challenge from Alexander Lopez to take a well-deserved six-round decision in the televised opener.
Scores were 58-56 (twice) and 59-55 in a high-octane lightweight battle. Najera won the majority of the exchanges but was made to work every second of the fight. Lopez dug deep throughout the fight and came out swinging in the final round, but was unable to put a dent in the San Antonio native.
Najera improves to 11-0 (8KO), while Lopez dips to 6-5 (1KO).
Super bantamweight prospect Tramaine Williams remains perfect in the pro ranks, topping Isaac Zarate over six rounds in a battle of unbeaten youngsters. The 20-year old New Haven (Conn.) boxer pitched a shutout, winning 60-54 on all three scorecards as he improves to 8-0 (2KO). Zarate falls to 5-1 (0KO).
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America.