By Brock Ellis
GOING into their IBF Lightweight Title Eliminator, both "Lightning" Lenny Zappavigna and Ameth "Cloroformo" Diaz had a lot at stake.
For Zappavigna (25-2, 17 KOs), it was a chance to show the boxing world that his decision loss to IBF title-holder Miguel Vazquez was nothing more than a minor bump in what has been a relatively smooth journey so-far as a professional. However, for Diaz (30-10, 21 KOs) it was an opportunity to prove that he could travel and win on foreign ground - something he had not done in previous career defining fights against Souleymane M'baye, Joan Guzman, Takehiro Shimada and more recently South Korean livelier Ji-Hoon Kim.
In five frantically-paced rounds in front of a sold-to-capacity Melbourne Pavilion, Diaz went a long way to erasing his reputation as a fringe-contender at best when he dropped Zappavigna twice en route to an impressive fifth round stoppage victory that was beamed live nationwide in Australia on Fox Sports.
With the victory, Diaz claimed the mandatory position in the IBF lightweight ratings meaning he will be the fighter next in line to face champion Miguel Vazquez.
In a sensational fight, Zappavigna came out guns blazing as he gave Diaz all he could handle in an exciting opening round. Despite Zappavigna's high work-rate, a glancing right-hand that landed only seconds into the fight which knocked the Sydney-based Australian down appeared to serve as a early warning of what was to come - an ending that nobody ever really expected.
Despite his somewhat padded record by international standards, Zappavigna, 23, has always been considered levels above a fighter like Diaz - who had been knocked out in all but three of his ten losses. Diaz's one-round stoppage loss to Zappavigna victim Ji-Hoon Kim did nothing but enhance the general consensus that Diaz was purely a stepping stone to what seemed like an almost certain rematch with Miguel Vazquez in Mexico.
This wasn't the case.
When Zappavigna rallied to win the second round, it appeared as if Diaz's only chance to win and Zappavigna’s only chance to lose had passed and it would be business as usual for the then once-beaten Australian. From that point on, the Panama born and raised Diaz, 28, held firm as he out-slugged and out-fought the clearly fading Zappavigna in the following two-rounds.
In the end, it was Diaz who would fight his way to victory as he landed a right-hand straight down the barrel which stopped plodding Zappavigna in his tracks and put the home-town favourite on unsteady legs. Diaz followed up the hard right-hand with an unanswered barrage which floored the visibly hurt Zappavigna, who fell soon after falling back onto the ropes.
As soon as referee Robert Byrd began to count issue a count, Zappavigna's animated trainer Tommy Mercuri immediately jumped into the ring and called off the fight in an admirable sign of care for his beaten charge.
In the aftermath of the fight, it became known around the arena that Zappavigna had been placed on a drip the night before after struggling to make weight due to dehydration.
It is unclear as to where the promising but now twice-beaten Australian prospect will go to from here. However, one thing seems certain - any plans of a highly anticipated clash with former two-time interim WBO lightweight champion with fellow Australian trail-blazer Michael Katsidis are definitely on the backburner.