I asked Rodriguez what memory stuck out most in his travels as an amateur.
“I did the Nationals at Lake Placid, New York [in 1990],” recalled Rodriguez. “We were up there a whole week. It was like a vacation that I never did in my life. When I was back on the island, we lived back in the woods on a little farm. We never stepped out to the city or went on vacation. It was totally different, a way different world for me. That was back in 1990.”
Now some 13 years later, Rodriguez is upon the eve of his biggest fight yet. Cotto is a star fighter hoping to regain his form following back-to-back losses. Rodriguez is hoping to prove he is not a steppingstone for Cotto and springboard into another lucrative match with a surprise win.
Rodriguez is an action fighter. At 5’10½” with a 70½” reach, he was tall for his natural 147-pound weight class. At 154, where he now campaigns, his height is still an advantage. At his best, Rodriguez is an outside fighter using movement to set up his powerful right hand. His penchant for eschewing defense in favor of an all-out offense has made him a TV staple. He’s one of those fighters whose wins and losses don’t matter to the public.
“My favorite fighter growing up was Oscar De la Hoya. I was amazed by him the way he boxed around the ring. Oscar, [Julio Cesar] Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, I used to look up to those guys,” said Rodriguez, who said De la Hoya’s style influenced his early on. “Oh yeah, the combinations that he throws so fast, the way he made it look so easy to move around the ring. The way he threw fast combinations, to me, I took a lot of that,” said Rodriguez. “I started throwing a lot of combinations. I grew up around that. My amateur coach [Mike Salazar] told me that it was very important to learn and develop the combinations.”
If you’ve never seen Rodriguez fight, you’re missing out. He’s an action hero who can get rocked, knocked down and seemingly pushed toward the edge of defeat and come back to win. He’s been an ESPN2 must-see attraction for years. But with only regional titles to his name, he hasn’t broken through the top level, in part, because of those defensive lapses. However, in recent years, Rodriguez has boxed a little more and has set up some nice wins, most recently against Freddy Hernandez back in May.
“It all depends on what kind of style you will be facing,” said Rodriguez of his approach. “I was more effective when I was on the outside when I went towards my long punch range. These are tools we will have to incorporate. I can box. There is going to be a time and Cotto is going to get to the inside and we will have to deal with that. I can box a little but if I have to fight, I will fight.”
At 37-4 with 30 knockouts, Miguel Cotto is five months younger and over three inches shorter than Rodriguez. He is also potentially moving back to welterweight after this fight. So either he will be light, fast and explosive or outgunned by Rodriguez, who carries the weight well. Rodriguez feels it is a matter of styles and that Cotto’s plays into his well.
“I don’t think there is any right time to fight Cotto,” said Rodriguez, waving away the notion that Cotto may be shopworn. “Cotto is Cotto. He is a strong fighter. He’s been at the top level for a long time who fought the best. The only [mission] he has is to fight the best. He is somebody we had to train hard for. But yeah, his style is a style that I like to face because he is a guy that will come to me. His pressure is not going to beat my combinations. My best thing is the combinations and different sidesteps, little pivots and you come back with different combinations. Another thing that will be effective is also the jab [and] combinations and different angles.”
Rodriguez’s current trainer is Ferdinand Solis, who has known the fighter since he was an amateur. There is a comfort and consistency there. Cotto is being trained for the first time by veteran Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach. Rodriguez feels the two months Roach and Cotto have been together is not enough to make an impact on the fight.
“I don’t really see Freddie doing anything for Cotto,” assessed Rodriguez. “I think as soon as he starts to get hit, he is just going to go back. What can you learn in a couple months in one fight? The best thing a trainer knows is what his fighter is capable of. With such a short notice, Freddie is a coach with a lot of experience. It’s always good to have someone like in the corner but when it comes to tactics and things like that, I don’t really see anything different because Freddie is in the corner.”
With results like Ricky Burns-Ray Beltran (a highly disputed draw), C.J. Ross’ scorecard (a draw) for Floyd Mayweather-Saul Alvarez and the recent Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. debacle in L.A, it’s got to be tough heading into a match-up with a name fighter. But Rodriguez, with his belief in his footwork, power and combinations, isn’t sweating it.
“I can stop Cotto. I can stop Cotto. We worked very hard for that. There are things we can do with Cotto. And yeah, I can hurt him. I can really hurt him. And that’s what I intend to do to win this fight very convincingly. If I see it’s possible to go for the knockout, I am going to go for it because I definitely don’t want to leave it up to the judges,” said Rodriguez.
On Saturday night, Delvin Rodriguez gets the fight of his life. In front of him is a great puzzle named Miguel Cotto, a fighter who can change his style and approach from fight to fight but might be too many wars deep into this game. We’ll see if Rodriguez has the right combinations to unlock victory.
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