In 2022, Joe Cordina of Wales won the IBF featherweight title by knocking out Japan’s Kenichi Ogawa with a perfectly placed right hand.
Cordina had fulfilled his dream. The years of sacrifice had paid off.
A title defense against Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov a few months later was canceled. Cordina had broken his hand a few weeks before the fight.
The IBF stripped Cordina of his title.
“Absolutely gutted,” Cordina said on social media. “Worked my whole life to become a world champion and I haven’t even had the chance to defend the title. Feel like I’ve been robbed.”
Many agreed. Injuries happen. Cordina’s stablemate Zelfa Barrett stepped in and fought Rakhimov, who rallied to win the title by knockout.
As his hand heeled, Cordina bristled.
He’d have to beat Rakhimov to get his title back. His motivation was real. Cordina felt he was fighting the system.
“I never lost my belt in the ring,” Cordina said. “So, my mindset is that I’m going to be walking in as the champion and leaving as the champion.”
Rakhimov came into the bout undefeated. He had risen from a knockdown to stop Barrett.
“He’s a world champion, so he’s a good fighter,” Cordina told Anson Wainwright of ringtv.com last week. “Tough, strong, fit. Overall, a good fighter, but I just think I’ve got a little more than he has, and I’m going to be victorious.”
Cordina,31, used clever footwork and quick hands to win round one, but it wasn’t easy – as Rakhimov scored late in the stanza. Rakhimov turned up the heat in round two but ran into a crisp left that floored him. Cordina continued to box beautifully in round three. Both fighters clipped each other with inside blows. Rakhimov was busier until a heavy hook appeared to hurt him.
The Bull and Matador show continued in rounds four and five. Cordina (16-0, 9 KOs) was beating Rakhimov to the punch, but the tough Russian (17-1, 12 KOs) wasn’t going anywhere.
His best blow of the fight buzzed Cordina, who covered up to let his head clear. Rakhimov’s body work was paying off. Cordina scored with two lead right hands in round six. Rakhimov was bleeding from a cut over his left eye – which also sported some swelling.
Hometown hero Cordina exploited the issue by popping Rakhimov with more lead right hands. The end seemed near until Rakhimov fired back. Cordina coasted a bit in round nine and paid for it. Rakhimov strafed him with head and body shots.
Cordina moved and jabbed in round 10. His deadly right connected several more times. His left eye nearly shut, Rakhimov found the strength to rally in the last forty seconds of the heat.
The gutsy Rakhimov ripped to the body in round 11. Cordina had the edge in the 12th and final round until Rakhimov again found the intestinal fortitude to rally.
The decision was split.
Two judges scored it for Cordina, while the other saw Rakhimov as the winner.
Cordina was a champion for the second time.
“I just felt no one could beat me tonight,” Cordina said. “He caught me with good shots. No way he would beat me. No chance.”
It was, for anyone who loves boxing, a display of grit and determination, by both boxers.
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