Before “Superman” confronts “The Ripper,” fight night on SHOWTIME begins in Baltimore, as the MGM National Harbor hosts WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr (29-1, 17KOs) in an intriguing match-up with Oscar De La Hoya’s jovial upstart Joseph “JoJo” Diaz (26-1, 14KOs).
First, lead man Brian Custer provided a recap of Josh Warrington’s scintillating battle with a vanquished Lee Selby to snatch the IBF featherweight belt via Split Decision. The fight was a bloody war, as referee Mike Alexander’s shocking “combat” shirt showed after the bout.
After that warm-up across the pond with its obvious implications for the division, I’m ready for GRJ V Jo-Jo.
This event is an entertaining enigma before the bell even begins, as GRJ rocks an Egyptian ensemble complete with a ringwalk suggesting he actually knew King Tut. Referee Kenny Chevalier is an interesting man of stature and appearance; he looks like a villain from “Lord of the Rings” and sounds like a former member of the Beastie Boys. I just cannot imagine him refereeing this fight, even after we’re told of his credentials. Then, there’s this somber commissioner with black leather gloves on as if he’s one of Sonny Corleone’s henchmen from “The Godfather.” The whole vibe is bananas. We’re later told the small, energetic crowd is a sell-out, although official numbers are never released.
The aforementioned Golden Boy CEO is seated next to Showtime Exec. VP of Sports Stephen Espinoza, who, in between phone calls, texting and intermittent dialogue with Oscar between rounds, is scoring the fight on scrap paper as a fan. I’m digging that. This time, he’s not wearing a “Free Meek Mill” hoodie (which, apparently worked) and I’m wondering what his notes look like. GRJ came out very aggressive at the sound of the bell, as Diaz weathers some real storms in the early going before mounting his own assault. New WBA/IBF super welterweight champion “Swift” Jarrett Hurd and his sun-kissed quazi-fro is in the building in support of Russell and on the edge of his seat, as is WBA super featherweight champion and Baltimore native Gervonta “Tank” Davis, looking like an army soldier of bling from Jared.
The champ progressively turned back the spirited challenge of Diaz via UD, who spent too much time plodding—in between being harassed by the wild Chevalier.
I scored this fight 116-112 for GRJ, and would personally love to see a GRJ V Tank showdown materialize. If ever there’s to be a rematch with Vasyl Lomachenko – or a superfight between Loma and Tank, GRJ and what [he does or doesn’t do] will probably be the catalyst behind it all.