Los Angeles (AFP) – American Joseph Diaz ends a year-long layoff by defending his International Boxing Federation junior-lightweight crown on Saturday against undefeated Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov of Tajikistan.
Diaz, a 28-year-old southpaw, makes his first bid to retain the title he took from compatriot Tevin Farmer in January 2020 by unanimous decision.
“It has been a great year-long layoff,” Diaz said. “I was able to witness the birth of my son and spend some time away from boxing. I was able to enjoy life as a normal person.
“But now I have this tough challenger ahead of me. We’ve taken this fight very seriously. We know what he’s capable of doing and we know he is a serious threat, but we know we’ll be able to adapt to anything.”
Rakhimov, 15-0 with 12 knockouts, makes his US debut at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California.
The 26-year-old southpaw has stopped rivals inside the distance in 10 of his past 11 fights since April 2016.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. My dream has finally come true so I’m very glad,” Rakhimov said of his first major world title bout.
“The key is to do anything that needs to be done to win. Diaz is going to be in for a big surprise on Saturday. JoJo is a good boxer but he will not be able to handle my power.”
That’s just the sort of attitude Diaz, 31-1 with 15 knockouts, said he has faced his entire career.
“I don’t feel like I get the respect that I deserve,” he said. “But it’s all good. I’ve already dealt with so much adversity in my life, I’m immune to it. I just focus on training as hard as I can.”
Diaz has won five consecutive fights since suffering his only loss in a May 2018 matchup against American Gary Russell Jr. for the World Boxing Council featherweight title.
He wants to solidify his place alongside rival 130-pound (59kg) division champions Gervonta Davis of the United States and Miguel Berchelt of Mexico.
“I want to show I’m the best at 130 pounds,” Diaz said. “If he thinks he will come in here and overwhelm me with his power — that’s not going to happen. I’ll be able to take his shots and give them back. I worked my ass off to get this belt and I’m not letting go.”
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