Emmanuel Rodriguez will attempt to reclaim the IBF bantamweight title he held in 2018. (Photo by Lawrence Lustig)
Yesterday we got official confirmation that Naoya Inoue would be facing WBC/WBO junior featherweight titlist Stephen Fulton on May 7 in Japan.
Now that the Japanese superstar has moved up in weight, his bantamweight titles are up for grabs. One of those belts, the IBF, will be contested by former titleholder Emmanuel Rodriguez and Melvin Lopez. No date and venue have yet been officially announced, though it looks like the fight will take place in either May or June, most likely in the U.S.
The IBF ranks Rodriguez at No. 2 and Lopez at No. 4. It appears that No. 1 Vincent Astrolabio and No. 3 Jason Moloney will instead face each other for the vacant WBO title.
Rodriguez (21-2, 13 knockouts), the Ring-rated No. 1 bantamweight, was a standout amateur, notably winning the Youth World Championships. He turned professional in the summer of 2012 and won his first 17 fights.
The now-30-year-old Puerto Rican’s big break came in 2018 when he traveled to England and claimed the vacant IBF title with a masterclass performance to shut out Paul Butler (UD 12). In his lone defense, he edged Jason Moloney (SD 12) in the World Boxing Super Series before losing in startling fashion to Inoue (KO 2) in the semifinal. Rodriguez has since been plagued by bad luck. After spending 18 months on the sidelines due to the Covid-19 pandemic, he was robbed versus Reymart Gaballo (SD 12). In his very next start, he met Gary Antonio Russell, but a head clash inside 20 seconds curtailed that fight before it had begun. He knocked off some ring rust with a win in Mexico before besting Russell (TD 10) in a rematch last October.
Lopez (29-1, 19 KOs) was also a successful amateur, winning eight Nicaraguan national titles, and was a Pan-Am student champion. He turned pro at 17 and won his first 14 fights before moving operations to Florida.
After several wins, he came unstuck while leading on the scorecards against future junior featherweight world title challenger Jose Velasquez (TKO 9). The 25-year-old doesn’t have a signature victory but holds wins over solid professionals Jesus Martinez (UD 10/TKO 1), David Cota (TKO 7) and, most recently, Joebert Alvarez (SD 10).
Rodriguez will start as the favorite and has a more proven pedigree than Lopez. However, the younger man has been more active and will enter the fight in a confident mood after winning his last eight fights.
MORE ON RINGTV:
New Faces: Emmanuel Rodriguez – The Ring (ringtv.com)
New Faces: Melvin Lopez – The Ring (ringtv.com)
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].