Jesse Rodriguez remains unbeaten and a work in progress, writes Elliot Worsell from Las Vegas
IT will take much more than a super-flyweight champion defending a WBC belt to make me believe in reincarnation, yet the sight of Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez going through his vast arsenal of punches against Israel Gonzalez is surely evidence of a 22-year-old who has been here before.
With a maturity, composure and punch repertoire belying his years, Rodriguez already moves and throws like a seasoned pro and seems utterly unflappable, his confidence that of a fighter who knows exactly what is coming: both in terms of his opponent’s next action, and the outcome of the fight.
Tonight (September 17) at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Rodriguez again demonstrated this eerie calm and cruelty to the tune of a 12-round unanimous decision victory, one that will have likely disappointed some, yet had others, like me, no less enthused about his future.
He will, it’s true, have flashier victories, and indeed has had flashier victories this year, but this was nevertheless an important lesson for Rodriguez; a chance for him to again show the world all he is capable of, while also taking away something from the experience himself.
Keener to thrill than to learn, round after round he revealed more and more of himself as the fight progressed and chose to take risks as and when he believed they were necessary. This meant he was tight and compact early, measuring Gonzalez and setting traps on the front foot, before later exploring all the roads he had cleared for himself as the middle rounds opened up.
On the front foot, always, he had Gonzalez in survival mode from the outset and took him apart systematically, starting first with the jabs, then left crosses from the southpaw stance, then finally body shots (a few of which, admittedly, were borderline). It was, for the most part, one-way traffic and Gonzalez, the taller man, had no way of keeping Rodriguez off, nor stopping him doing whatever he wanted to do. His right hand, thrown straight on the retreat, was the best Gonzalez could offer, but Rodriguez, calm under fire, didn’t mind taking the odd one or two to plot his own next move.
Indeed, like the finest of boxing’s little men – think someone like Ricardo “El Finito” Lopez – there is a sense with Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez that he knows how a fight will end long before it actually ends. Everything he does, whether that’s punching or simply moving, is designed to make his opponent react and eventually slip up. It’s an overused adage, sure, but with Jesse Rodriguez it’s also true: everything is for a reason.
At this point, though still very much in the formative period of his professional career, he is a fighter whose style seems oddly refined. It is one to not only be admired but one that should probably be taught in boxing gyms.
Or maybe that’s premature, thus doing him no favours. Regardless, his style was too much tonight for Gonzalez, someone who previously went 12 rounds with Roman Gonzalez and Khalid Yafai, and it will probably be too much for most others in and around his weight, too.
If looking for signs – signs of distress, that is – they were apparent against Gonzalez in round eight, when Rodriguez landed low with a right uppercut and the Mexican, having already complained about low blows, dropped to the canvas on impact. The transgression would cost Rodriguez a point, although the suspicion once it landed was that Gonzalez was running out of ideas and perhaps growing frustrated.
That’s not to say he was without success, mind. In fact, often Gonzalez would go back and forth with Rodriguez, giving as good as he got, and would remain active even when nailed cleanly by left hands, as was the case in the ninth.
All in all, the man from Cabo San Lucas gave a good account of himself, just as he did previously against Gonzalez and Yafai. He was gradually being softened up by Rodriguez, without question, but appeared close to wilting only in the 10th, a round in which Rodriguez staggered him with an uppercut and numbed him time and time again with right jabs.
It was in that round the referee Kenny Bayless took a closer look at Gonzalez, perhaps seeing what all at ringside could see. Yet the gutsy Mexican, despite this concern, ventured boldly into the 11th, showing ambition in the face of the inevitability of defeat.
By then, so great was Rodriguez’s desire to both finish the fight and make the statement others had promised on his behalf, a few more of his punches started to stray low, with one in particular causing Gonzalez, 28-5-1 (11), to drop to the canvas for a second time (again, no knockdown). There was on this occasion no point deduction, even if Gonzalez, competitive but well behind on the cards, was presumably both hoping for and could have done with one.
In the end, scores of 118-109, 117-110 and a too-close 114-113 secured Rodriguez the victory, his 17th as a pro. “He was very awkward and very tough and he hit me with body shots I felt,” admitted Jesse, 17-0 (11), in the aftermath. “I didn’t get the performance I wanted, but it’s just part of the sport.”
While, by his own admission, not the performance he wanted, and maybe not a performance he will eagerly add to his Fighter-of-the-Year showreel (which includes a decision over Carlos Cuadras and an eighth-round stoppage of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai), tonight’s win against Israel Gonzalez will be looked upon in years to come as a learning experience – and a vital one at that – for Jesse Rodriguez. It will be remembered as the night when the hype settled down a little but the education, for a 22-year-old who seemingly already knows so much, continued unabated.