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Edwin Rodriguez: Confidence Bomb

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For boxers, the sport is all about peaks and valleys. Hopefully, the trajectory is always of the upward variety. Plateaus are fine. The occasional dip to the canvas is fine as long as you get up and finish on the turnbuckle, arms raised in victory. The game is about reaching a new level and in doing so, discovering you can climb even further. On Saturday, Edwin “La Bomba” Rodriguez, 24-0 (16), will attempt his highest climb yet when he challenges super middleweight champion Andre “S.O.G.” Ward, 26-0 (14), live on HBO from the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario, CA.
 
Ward is the most elite level competition of Rodriguez’s career. The winner of the super middleweight tourney known as the “Super Six World Classic,” Ward is also the United States’ last Olympic gold medal winner, possessing a style that is the antithesis of Rodriguez’s. A slugger who can box enough to get his power shots where he wants them, Rodriguez, a 28-year-old Dominican Republic native who fights out of Worcester, Mass, will have to be at his best to beat Ward.

To do that, Rodriguez recognized he would need some help preparing. For parts of this camp and his previous camp, Rodriguez spent time in the Bay Area training with sprint coach Remi Korchemny, nutrition expert Victor Conte and Mike Bazzel of Brian Schwartz’s Undisputed Boxing Gym in San Carlos, CA.
 
The workouts with Korchemny speak for themselves. A legendary sprint coach with a track meet named after him in his home of Ukraine, Korchemny has forgotten more about sprinting than most will ever learn or know. The work with Conte, whose SNAC System supplement company sponsors Rodriguez, is more cutting edge.
 
“We’re just putting the hard work and science together so that we can get that much better and who better to do that with than Victor Conte?” Rodriguez asked Maxboxing.com, rhetorically.
 
Utilizing a hypoxicator machine, which simulates high altitude training, Conte has designed a series of high exertion workouts to hone Rodriguez into a fighting machine who can recover quicker within the one-minute rest period between rounds.
 
“The hypoxicator helped me catch my breath that much faster,” Rodriguez said following his first hyperbaric session at the SNAC offices. We were discussed his previous victory, a first round knockout of Denis Grachev to win the “Monte Carlo Million Dollar Four” tournament. “It showed in the fight. I was explosive. I was fast. I was smart. And I got him out of there in the first round when everyone expected me to go the distance and get stopped or lose a close decision.”
 
Conte’s newest toy is a hyperbaric chamber which Rodriguez has used to recover from intense workouts. Following what was essentially an intense mini-camp in San Carlos, Rodriguez returned to Texas to finish training with his veteran second, Ronnie Shields back at his Houston gym. But while there, Rodriguez used the hypoxicator and hyperbaric chamber to simulate the workouts in San Carlos as well as the recovery process.
 
 
A byproduct of his working relationship with Conte is that Rodriguez has enrolled in the Voluntary Anti-doping Association (VADA) 365/24/7 random anti-doping testing program. His enrollment has been sponsored by SNAC, which offered to sponsor testing for the Ward-Rodriguez fight. Ward declined, citing a variety of reasons. More on that later this week.
 
“When I beat Andre Ward November 16, everyone is going to know that a clean fighter beat him. It should be a clean sport. I want to show I am a person who is doing it the right way and proving that by doing VADA testing,” Rodriguez told Maxboxing when he announced the news of his testing program enrollment. “I’m doing this for me and for my fans. I’m doing this to show that come November 16, I beat the best athlete - pound-for-pound, number two in the world - clean.”
 
The result of all this is a Rodriguez who is as confident and well-conditioned as anyone has ever seen. But will confidence and next-level conditioning be enough?
 
“This is the base, working with Victor, working with Ronnie Shields, who has been helping me create that base and continue to improve,” said Rodriguez. “It’s all about confidence. I know I can win and I know I will get it done. But having the right people around me, the right base, the right training, the right recovery, I got everything that I need to get the job done.”
 
The last impression Rodriguez gave HBO viewers against Donovan George was not a very good one. While he won the fight by unanimous decision in March of 2012, Rodriguez looked like a confused fighter, unsure if he should go to war or wisely box. The result was an iffy performance that sent him back to the drawing board.
 
“The Donovan George fight, I didn’t really find myself as a fighter. I didn’t really know myself yet. I wasn’t happy with how I did in that fight,” said Rodriguez. “Even though I beat him easily, that is not what I wanted to be as a fighter. So I just have to put it together and I think I have done that.”
 
Rodriguez went off the U.S. cable radar for a minute, winning three fights including the Monaco tourney and finding himself in the process. Rodriguez was not supposed to win the Grachev fight, according to most boxing pundits. Grachev was thought to be too strong, too experienced and simply too much for Rodriguez, who one boxing writer deemed “a sham” heading into the bout. Two minutes and 50 seconds of sheer brutality later, Grachev was stopped and the boxing world was looking at Rodriguez (who wore an SNAC shirt into the ring) much differently.
 
“A lot of people were picking Grachev to win. It was that much more motivating to go online and read how he was going to beat me. It was a much better feeling fighting someone that had a real good chance of beating and then coming out with the outcome that we did,” said Rodriguez.
 
To be perfectly honest with himself (and us), Rodriguez acknowledges that Grachev is not Andre Ward. The leap from the Grachev peak to Ward is a big one.
 
“This is not the same type of feeling with the Andre Ward fight because he is elite and on a whole different level,” said Rodriguez, referring to how he felt about the doubters heading into the Grachev fight. “But it is the same type of feeling where I am not given a chance to beat [Ward]. But I am confident. I have been working extremely hard and I am confident I am going to be the man to give him the first defeat.”
 
Rodriguez, who is promoted by Lou DiBella but recently signed with uber-adviser Al Haymon, is in a great position Saturday night. While Ward is one of the faces of HBO Boxing (in part because he was a major investment of current HBO Boxing honcho Ken Hershman back in his Showtime days), Rodriguez is with Haymon, which, politically speaking (yes, I am speaking of the judges), can go a long way toward victory should the fight be a close affair.
 
“Andre Ward is a good fighter. He is a guy who knows how to do a lot of things good. But I feel I am not just a guy who is going to be looking for that one punch to knock him out. That’s what everyone has been doing and that has not helped them, so that’s not what I am trying to do,” said Rodriguez. “I am looking to match Andre Ward with speed, power, body work, everything. I think I can beat him in a decision. I would love a knockout. I will be looking for the knockout. I think that I’m good enough and well-rounded enough that I can compete with Andre Ward on every level.”
 
Rodriguez feels his doubters are simply repeating the same tune they sung about Ward pre-“Super Six.” Saturday night, it’s his chance to silence them all. Again.
 
“Ward was in the same position in that I am in when he fought Mikkel Kessler. ‘Who has he beaten that he thinks he can beat Kessler?’” Rodriguez pointed out, echoing the sentiment that Ward would fall to “Super Six” favorite Kessler in the first round.
 
“It’s all about confidence. I’m not saying everyone should believe. I am saying that I can and I will get it done.”
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim, now at its new home, www.blogtalkradio.com/thenextround. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PST.
 
 
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