By Jake Donovan/Undercard report by Luis Pabon and Ashton Valerio
Going in, the headlining act on Telemundo was regarded as a poor man's version of the Puerto Rico v. Mexico rivalry that will be on full display Saturday night in Las Vegas. If Miguel Cotto's welterweight title bout with Antonio Margarito offers the same spirited action that took place Friday night in Kissimmee, FL, then boxing fans will truly be in for a treat.
On this particular evening, it was comebacking former world title challenger Antonio Diaz who was able to savor the flavor. The 32-year old Mexican offered a throwback performance in outfighting fringe Puerto Rican contender Felix Flores over 12 hard fought rounds en route to a majority decision.
Diaz began the opening round like a fighter who hadn't punched for pay in three years, though the warm-up process didn't last long. The more Flores sought to engage, the more Diaz felt at home, getting the better of the exchanges while each fighter tested the other downstairs.
Flores attempted to change that dynamic in the second round, where he concentrated more on the body. Diaz quickly adjusted, and was most effective when able to create even a little bit of space between the two. A left hook, right hand combination punctuated what was a very good round for Diaz.
The Mexican continued to shine in the third, remaining one step ahead of Flores. Combinations began flowing for Diaz, landing 1-2's upstairs and left hooks to the body. Flores wasn't without his moments, particularly downstairs, but it was Diaz' superior workrate and pressure that dominated the round.
Flores enjoyed his best round of the fight in the fourth, another where the two combatants buried their heads in the other's chest and wailed away to the body. Much of the round was spent along the ropes, but it was when the fight made its way to center ring did Flores get the better of the action.
The same pattern continued in the fifth, one where Flores went for broke and nearly went bankrupt. Back and forth the two traded, until Diaz showed the first signs of being hurt, with a right hand sending backward into the ropes. Flores unloaded, but wound up on the canvas as Diaz desperately tried to fight back and get off the ropes. It was ruled a slip, though Flores seemed wobbly for the remainder of the round.
Action slowed considerably in the middle rounds, though there was still plenty of contact offered. With both fighters competing at career-heaviest weights, it looked as if they were preserving themselves for the later rounds.
The strategy worked well for Diaz, who literally sprinted off of his stool at the start of the tenth round, one of his best of the fight. Left hooks were landing downstairs, and Flores was on the retreat for the first time in the fight. A mid-round flurry by Diaz had Flores pinned along the ropes, allowing the Mexican to go on the attack. Flores managed to bring the fight to center, where they trade body shots before Diaz regained control by round's end.
It was with the same youthful spirit with which Diaz began the 11th round, one that ended with much of the capacity crowd on their feet. The meat between the bread saw Diaz offer glimpses of what made him a notable contender in the earlier part of the decade, with Flores under siege and forced to fight off of the ropes. Right hands were landing upstairs, and Diaz continued to target the body as well.
Sensing desperation, Flores stood his ground at the start of the 12th and final round. Diaz went on the attack, but was momentarily slowed down when a right hand forced him to stutter step backwards. The crowd erupted, trying to will the Puerto Rican to a late surge, but it wasn't before long that Diaz had Flores once again fighting in reverse. Diaz continued to stalk as the clocked counted down, as chants of "Me-Xi-Co" filled the arena. The fight ended with Diaz punishing Flores along the ropes before the two embraced at the final bell.
The ring announcer read the scorecards in the wrong order, removing some of the drama that normally comes at fight's end in announcing the winner. But that didn't quell Diaz' joy any, winning by scores of 116-112 and 115-113, which overruled the one even card of 114-114.
For Diaz, it is four straight wins, though his first in three years. He advances to 43-5-1 with the win, and renewed hope of finishing what he started nearly a decade ago – a run toward a world title.
Flores drops his third straight, falling to 22-7 (16KO). Though the same age as Diaz, it appears that his days as a legitmate contender are no longer.
VAZQUEZ JR CONTINUES TO IMPRESS
Following in the footsteps of a former three-division world champion is no easy feat, but Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. continues to live up to and exceed the lofty standards. His career further progressed tonight in Kissimmee, where's already a huge crowd favorite. Felipe Almanza wasn't quite as embraced by the crowd, as the Colombian did what he had to do to get himself disqualified, which came at the end of the fourth round.
Vazquez Jr began the first round like any of his previous 11 bouts, patiently measuring up his foe. The lack of action early on didn't deter the crowd from cheering on as if the bout was an extension of the Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez trilogy.
Chants of "Yo soy boricua, pa'que tu lo sepas" filled the arena at the slightest hint of Vazquez getting ready to throw a punch. He gave his fans plenty to cheer about in the second round, when his right hand began landing with regularity. What lacked for the moment was a fluid attack, as Almanza was constantly circling the ring with little interest in two-way exchanges.
Things picked up considerably during – and after – round three. Vazquez was able to slow down the mobile Almanza, trapping him in the corner and along the ropes on several occasions, most of which began with straight right hands upstairs. Almanza finally fought back, but waited until after the bell to do so. Vazquez responded in kind, though backed off the moment referee Brian Gerety intervened. Almanza wasn't as accommodating, continuing to go after the Puerto Rican before being restrained by Florida State Athletic Commission inspectors and summoned to his corner.
The dirty tactics offered by his opponent was all the motivation Vazquez needed. He turned up the heat in the fourth, landing a ton of right hands that had Almanza reeling. A straight right along the ropes sent the Colombian to the canvas. He was aware enough to beat the eight count and remain steady, but buzzed just enough to dispute the knockdown as if he didn't recall getting clocked.
Whatever his state of mind, it was clear that Almanza was no longer interested in fighting back. A clinch led to Vazquez receiving a knee to the head, and Almanza drawing a warning from referee Gerety. What would transpire at rounds end would trump that by more than a little bit; the two once again went at it after the bell, forcing the ringside inspectors onto the ring apron to separate the two. Almanza was determined to get in the last lick, which came in the form of a kick. Gerety saw enough and pointed the Colombian toward the exit.
The official verdict was a 4th round disqualification.
Vazquez Jr cruises to 12-0 (10KO) with the win, and is set to return to this very venue on September 12. The rising super bantamweight will fight for a regional title of sorts, marking the first scheduled 12-round bout of his young career.
Almanza heads in the opposite direction. The loss was his fifth straight as he dips to 12-14-2 (6KO) overall.
UNDERCARD (compiled by Luis Pabon and Ashton Valerio)
Debuting featherweight Jose Pagan (0-1) brought with him an entire marching band, but couldn't bring enough fire power to turn away the challenge of Rey Rivera (1-2-1, 0KO), who pitched a shutout in their four round bout. Rivera dominated the action, landing straight lefts throughout the fight, while Pagan had few answers. Scores were 40-36 across the board.
Quintin Willis (2-0-1, 1KO) provided an instant candidate for "best knockout you didn't see" with his one round blitzing of Eddie Escalara (0-1-1) in a scheduled four round junior middleweight tilt. Willis scored two knockdowns, the second a beauty of a right hook just before the bell that had Escalara collapsing to the canvas face first. He somehow managed to pull himself up, but was in no state to continue. Referee Dennis DeBon recognized this, stopping the fight at 2:59 of round one.
A major upset occurred on the non-televised portion of the show, with lightweight trialhorse Wilson Alcorro (26-10-3, 15KO) upending previously unbeaten Dominican prospect Juan Carlos Batista (18-1, 12KO) in their six round bout. Batista was flat throughout, allowing Alcorro to bully him around the ring for much of the night. The ultimate difference was the two points Batista lost for low blows, one in the fourth and the other in the sixth and final round. It provided the margin of victory for Alcorro, by scores of 57-55 (2x) and 58-54.
Devarise Crayton (5-4, 1KO) found the perfect ending to his three-fight losing streak – avenging his most recent defeat with a third round stoppage over Michael "Bling Bling" Mendez (5-11-2, 2KO). Though from nearby Orlando, Crayton was fighting in hostile territory, with Mendez representing Kissimmee by way of Rio Piedras, PR. It mattered little, as Crayton dominated every second of the fight before forcing Mendez to quit on his stool prior to the start of the fourth and final round. Official time was 0:01 of round four.
With the win, Crayton moves on to a dangerous fight with hard-hitting welterweight prospect Kenny Galarza on the non-televised portion of the final ESPN2 Wednesday Nights Fight telecast of 2008.
The first bout of the evening featured a pair of Garcia's making their pro debut. After four spirited rounds of super lightweight action, it was the Wilfredo Vazquez-trained Karl Garcia (1-0, 0KO) who emerged victorious over Jesus Garcia (0-1). Scores were 40-36 and 39-37 (2x) for the Bayamon, PR native, who was effective with his jab and right hand throughout, though taking several right hands in return, particularly in the final round.
The show was presented by All Star Boxing.
Jake Donovan is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Tennessee Boxing Advisory Board. Comments/questions can be submitted to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .