In the main event from MGM National Harbor in Maryland, it was a tactical and hard fought battle of two former U.S. Olympians as Russell Jr. (29-1, 17 KOs) defeated Diaz Jr. (26-1, 14 KOs).
Russell won the contest via unanimous decision, 115-113 and 117-111 twice, to retain his WBC featherweight world title.
The 29-year-old hometown favorite used his hand speed, quickness and relentless attack to overwhelm Diaz Jr., the previously undefeated top-ranked contender.
Russell Jr.’s game plan to dictate the pace and establish the jab was clear, throwing a career-high 587 jabs throughout the 12-round battle.
While the number of punches landed were close (199-192 in favor of Russell Jr.), Russell Jr.’s output trumped Diaz Jr.’s accuracy as the champion’s career-high 992 punches thrown were the most ever for him in a CompuBox tracked fight.
Diaz Jr. was committed to attacking the body of Russell Jr., but he was unable to break the champion down, who injured his right hand in the third round.
Joseph Diaz Jr. Quotes:
“The game plan was to break him down with the body shots and start attacking him more in the later rounds. But I started attacking him too late. I didn’t pick it up until the 8th or 9th round. Gary Russell Jr. is a tremendous fighter and he did a great job keeping me at bay. I needed to start in sixth round.
“He was throwing a lot of pitter patter jabs to keep me at bay. He was trying to keep me guessing and make sure I had to think about coming in. Overall it was a good learning experienced and I’ll definitely be back.
“I had a feeling he would try to stand with him and give the fans a knockout. I didn’t think he would move quite as much as he did.
“He wasn’t hurting me with any shots. He was just very fast. It was keeping me guessing. When he threw combinations, I wasn’t able to set my shots. I was a little bit hesitant.
“This will just make me a hungrier fighter. I hope I got the respect of a lot of fight fans. I wanted to become champion against the best featherweight fighter in the world. Tonight wasn’t my night but I’m going to bounce back harder and I’ll be champion soon.”