By Jake Donovan
BIRMINGHAM--This time, Felix Diaz was able to overcome the judges - though even that proved to be a fight in and of itself.
What appeared to be a one-sided drubbing from ringside instead resulted in a more challenging battle in adding up the scorecards before Diaz was awarded a unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Sammy Vasquez Jr. in their Fox-televised co-feature Saturday evening at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.
Recalculated scores were 96-93 and 95-94 in favor of Diaz, although it never should have come to that.
The bout was Diaz' first since suffering the lone loss of his career, a highly questionable split decision to Lamont Peterson last October. The night threatened to be deja vu all over again for the 2008 Olympic Gold medalist.
"When I first heard it was a split draw, I felt like I was the winner and I got robbed like in my fight against Lamont Peterson,” Diaz (18-1, 8KOs) said of the initial announcement that he was a winner on just one of the three cards in this fight.
Vasquez Jr. enjoyed a solid opening round, but the majority of the cleaner punches were landed by Diaz from that point forward. By the midway point, Vasquez Jr/ was bleeding from the nose and less able with each passing round to defend against the incoming.
Diaz went to work in rounds seven and eight to the point where it was a question of whether Vasquez Jr.'s corner would eventually step in to stop the fight. The two-tour war hero from Pittsburgh, Penn. also caught the ire of referee Keith Hughes for repeatedly losing his mouthpiece.
It took for one more instance in round ten to ultimately decide the fight, A left hand shot from Diaz dislodged the gumshield, prompting the third man to take a point from the card of Vasquez Jr., who was also cut inside his lip as well as over his right eye, the latter caused by a fresh headbutt.
Ironically it came in perhaps Vasquez' best round of the fight, having hurt Diaz while the two were exchanging punches in a corner.
“I know I had him hurt as soon as I hit him in the head twice," Vasquez (21-1, 15KOs) said of the final three minutes. “I saw him wobble and grab hold of me. He was very slippery. As soon as I tried to push him away my hands would slip away.
“Hey it was a hell of a fight. I take nothing away from the man.’’
The deduction initially wasn't taken from the final scores, which were initially ready as 96-94 Diaz and 95-95 even. A chorus of boos rained down in the arena, with Diaz' team as well event promoter Lou DiBella, along with many in press row (including this hack) outraged over the final verdict.
The error was caught before either boxer left the ring, allowing for both to leave the ring knowing who truly won and lost the contest. Even at that, it was much closer than most felt was the case, including the winner.
“I definitely feel like the scores should have been wider on the cards, but I understand," Diaz admitted afterward. "The first couple of rounds I was feeling him out, but after those first couple I feel like I won every round."
To his credit. Vasquez Jr. didn't dispute the manner in which a draw became his first loss.
“I knew in my heart I lost that fight," a brutally honest Vasquez Jr. confessed afterward. "I tried my hardest but there were things I should have done that I didn’t do. We can’t look in the past. He’s a hell of fighter. He’s an Olympic gold medalist for a reason. He had a tough decision loss to Lamont Peterson. To me he was an undefeated Olympic gold medalist.
“I take nothing away from the man. He’s a hell of a fighter. I’m a hell of a fighter. At the end of the day we put on a great show.”
One that was nearly ruined by incompetent scoring.