Felix Diaz entered the ring Saturday desperate to rebound from the first loss of his career and end Sammy Vasquez Jr.’s unbeaten run. Diaz accomplished his goal, although it took a little longer than the 10 scheduled rounds.
After seizing momentum midway through the bout, Felix Diaz (18-1, 8 KOs) battered and bloodied Sammy Vasquez (21-1, 15 KOs) down the stretch, then survived his fellow southpaw’s late charge to win a narrow unanimous decision in a battle of 147-pound contenders at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.
Diaz’s victory came only after the entertaining contest was initially ruled a split draw. However, the scorecards failed to include a one-point deduction for Vasquez, who was penalized with less than 20 seconds remaining in the bout for letting his mouthpiece fall out for a third time.
Once the scores were recalculated, Diaz prevailed 95-94 twice and 96-93. With that, Diaz—a 2008 Olympic gold medalist for his native Dominican Republic—bounced back from his tough majority-decision loss to Lamont Peterson in October.
“When I first heard it was a split draw, I was disappointed. I felt like I was the winner and I got robbed, like in my fight against Lamont Peterson,” said Diaz, 32. “I definitely feel like the scores should have been wider on the cards, but I understand.
“The first couple of rounds I was feeling him out, but after [that], I feel like I won every round.”
Indeed, while the scorecards and punch stats indicated a close fight—Diaz had a slim 161-149 edge in total punches, including 120-90 in power shots—Vasquez’s face told a different story.
From the middle rounds on, Vasquez bled constantly from a deep cut to the corner of his mouth, an injury that clearly impacted his ability to bite down to keep his mouthpiece intact. Vasquez also bled from his nose in Round 8, then the Monessen, Pennsylvania, native spewed blood from the corner of his right eye after an accidental final-round head-butt.
After the result was announced for a second time and he was officially saddled with his first loss, the 30-year-old Vasquez admitted he was a beaten man.
“I’ve never been in a situation where I had to wait for them to add up the scores again, because obviously I was undefeated,” Vasquez said. “[But] I knew in my heart I lost that fight. I tried my hardest, but there were things I should have done that I didn’t do.
“[Diaz] 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.”
Vasquez was originally slated to face southpaw Luis Collazo, but the former 147-pound champion had to pull out of the fight after suffering a calf injury in training camp. At that point, Diaz bowed out of his July 12 bout with Levan Ghvamichava to take on Vasquez.
Initially, the 5-foot-10 Vasquez made the most of his five-inch height advantage, winning the first two rounds by pressing forward behind his jab and straight left as his smaller opponent looked to counter, mostly from the ropes.
Diaz finally found his timing and rhythm in the middle rounds, taking control of the fight in Round 5, when he began closing the distance behind a jab and straight left of his own. The shots frequently trapped Vasquez on the ropes, where Diaz ripped powerful uppercuts up the middle, as well as left crosses and right hooks around his opponent’s guard.
“Since Vasquez is taller than me and has longer reach, my plan of attack was to stay inside and fight him at a close distance,” Diaz said. “I took this fight on only 15 days’ notice, and before this I was preparing for a right handed fighter, so it was a bit of an adjustment.
“I’m thankful to my team for getting me ready for this fight.”
A U.S. Army National Guard veteran who did two tours of duty in Iraq Vasquez tried to make a final surge in the action-packed final two rounds, even fighting out of one corner and twice cornering Diaz during a ninth-round toe-to-toe exchange. However, the rally fell short, with the ultimate difference being referee Keith Hughes’ one-point deduction for the mouthpiece violation late in Round 10.
Now Vasquez, who entered Saturday having stopped 10 of his previous 12 opponents, finds himself in the exact same position that Diaz faced entering Saturday’s bout: looking to overcame the first defeat of his career.
“Losses just mean you have room to grow,” he said. “We’ll take this and come back strong the next time.”
In other action televised on FOX and FOX Sports 1, 20-year-old Erickson Lubin (16-0, 11 KOs) of Orlando, Florida, remained unbeaten with an eight-round unanimous decision over Mexico’s Ivan Montero (20-2, 8 KOs) in a 154-pound clash.
Also, undefeated 147-pound prospect Jamal James (20-0, 9 KOs) of Minneapolis scored a 10-round split decision over Nigerian Wale Omotoso, and Mexico’s Sergio Frias (18-6-2, 9 KOs) earned a devastating second-round knockout of Vic Darchinyan (42-9-1, 31 KOs) of Australia in a 123-pound clash.
For complete pre- and post-fight coverage of Vasquez vs Diaz, hit up our fight page.