“And NEW!” The two words each and every professional fighter dreams of hearing at some point in their career. For Joseph “Jo Jo” Diaz Jr., it took until his third attempt at a world title to finally hear them and breathe that sigh of relief, as after twelve hard-fought rounds against one of the most respected champions in the game, Diaz was crowned the IBF junior-lightweight champion of the world.
Tevin Farmer, the 2-to-1 favorite, was one of the most active titleholders in a sport where title defenses are becoming increasingly infrequent. The Philly champion was making the fifth consecutive title defense in the 16 months he’s held the title, but he had never really faced as complete a fighter as Jo Jo Diaz before, who goaded Farmer into giving him a title shot over a bitter social media exchange only months after Diaz moved up to 130.
Despite fighting the better part of his career at 126, Diaz did not come in with the mentality of the smaller man as he took the fight to the champion from the very beginning. However, almost as quickly as Diaz began to gain the upper hand, an accidental headbutt opened a nasty gash above Diaz’s left eye in round two, leaving the outcome of the fight in serious jeopardy.
But instead of acting out in desperation and allowing the cut to take him out of his mental game, Diaz appeared unfazed by the injury, even with blood pouring down his face. The challenger just kept on plugging away, taking the fight to Farmer and landing at a high connect rate in close quarters. The difference appeared to be the handspeed and combination punching of Diaz, as he built up an early lead against the champion.
While Farmer has been known to be a slow starter in the past, Diaz had the advantage throughout the middle and latter rounds, controlling the distance and landing the more eye-catching punches in the exchanges. Seemingly behind on the scorecards, Tevin never really showed that second gear you would expect from a proud champion on the precipice of losing his title. Instead, it was Diaz who appeared to turn it up in the late rounds, landing a huge right hook in the eleventh that stunned Farmer.
The champion couldn’t muster up any magic in the final round, and when the scores were announced, there were no surprises that the IBF 130 pound title changed hands via a unanimous decision. Following the fight, Farmer’s promoter Lou DiBella took the former champion to Jackson Memorial Hospital for a precautionary CAT scan, reacting particularly to Farmer’s frequent blinking throughout the contest. DiBella has since released a statement on social media informing the public that the results were normal.
Surprisingly, the new champion’s horrific gash required less urgent medical attention following the affair, as Diaz even found humor in his injury.
“That shit’s ugly as hell,” said Diaz, reacting to the cut. On how the cut impacted him, Jo Jo stated that “I didn’t want to change the game plan. I kept my composure and my trust in my corner.” And sure enough, that mentality paid dividends as the bleeding was quickly controlled by the next few rounds.
Farmer does have a contractual right to a rematch with Diaz, and has hinted at exercising his rematch clause in the near future. “We definitely gonna [exercise] that immediate rematch clause,” said Farmer. “We gotta run it back but he put up a hell of a fight.”
But it was only days ago that Farmer remarked in an interview that it was time to move up to lightweight, stating that he believes he only has “one or two fights left at 130.” Farmer had his sights set on a move up to 135, remarking that he had lost interest in waiting for the fellow champions at 130 to unify with him. However, whether or not the process of making 130 impacted Farmer’s performance was not clear. Tevin did remark afterwards that he injured his right hand in the early rounds, but he nevertheless gave Diaz full credit for the victory.
As for a rematch, there is little to suggest the result would be greatly different than their first meeting. Farmer’s hand injury did not appear to be a major factor as the ex-champion, by and large, fought his typical fight. Diaz, on the other hand, no doubt would welcome a rematch as it would be an opportunity to show the world that his first victory was no fluke, and thus increase his notoriety as one of hottest new faces in the lighter divisions.
“Jo Jo” has a lively division in front of him that includes Miguel Berchelt, Leo Santa Cruz, Jamel Herring, and Oscar Valdez. Of course, you can almost count out the possibility of a Leo Santa Cruz fight materializing in the near future due to Santa Cruz’s association with PBC, but there are no glaring political obstacles to unifications with Berchelt or Herring, both of which could be very intriguing matchups. And unlike Farmer, Diaz is new to 130 and appears to have plenty of tread left on his junior-lightweight tires, which makes the possibility for unifications that much greater.
While Tevin Farmer’s eight year winning streak was snapped, his defeat does have its ironic upside in that it made the Philadelphian appear more vulnerable. Commonly accusing top level fighters of avoiding him, Farmer may now find himself overlooked and underestimated on the basis of his flat performance against Diaz.
But as a fighter that lost four of his first twelve fights, Farmer has shown the ability to persevere. Based on his activity inside and outside ring, it’s clear he isn’t doing this only for the money; he’s trying to build a legacy. And what better way to do that than to rebound from adversity. — Alden Chodash