By Jake Donovan
Delvin Rodriguez’ insistence of big changes to come in his career may not sound any different than any other New Year’s Resolution made by millions every year, but don’t confuse the message with its timing.
The super welterweight contender is well aware that chances at redemption aren’t always going to be made available. With that, Rodriguez promises that his February 15 showdown with unbeaten George Tahdooahnippah is the first step towards permanently correct past mistakes made in his career.
“I was disappointed in myself against Austin Trout,” Rodriguez readily admits of his failed title challenge last June. “The fight was boring because Trout is a defensive fighter and I didn’t take more risks. I should have pushed harder. I was cautious and didn’t take risks because I didn’t want to get caught with anything stupid.”
The fight with Trout took place on Showtime, Rodriguez’ first appearance on the network. For his upcoming fight in February, Rodriguez (26-6-3, 14KO) returns to the ESPN2 Friday Night Fights circuit that have produced some of the best – and worst – memories of his 14-year career.
He also returns to familiar grounds with the fight venue. The bout takes place at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., less than two hours from Rodriguez’ adopted hometown of Danbury (CT).
“I’m very excited to be fighting at Mohegan,” admits Rodriguez, who is 3-1 lifetime at the venue. “It’s been three years (his last fight was a points win over Mike Arnaoutis in April 2012). I’m getting ready to get back to work.”
The announcement of Tahdooahnippah (31-0-1, 23KO) as the opponent came in late December, though Rodriguez was already hard at work.
“We already had the date, but didn’t know who were going to fight. Now we’re certain and I’m very excited. I’m hoping for a very good 2013. I’m motivated and looking forward to a good year for me.”
His 2012 campaign was largely forgettable, with the Trout fight representing his lone in-ring action on the year. Even more disappointing was that it came on the heels of his being honored for his role in a fight hailed by the Boxing Writers Association of America as 2011 Fight of the Year, his 10-round draw with Pawel Wolak last summer, which also took place on ESPN2.
Rodriguez left Wolak disfigured at the end of the fight, but with most of his best work coming late in the fight, which only proved to even things up on the scorecards. A conclusive outcome came in their rematch later in the year, when Rodriguez scored a wide points win at Madison Square Garden.
The plan from there was to pursue a showdown with Cotto – who knocked out Antonio Margarito in their rematch, which served as the evening’s main event – or Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. Both were 154 lb. titlists, and wound up fighting in separate bouts on a May 5 show that proved to be the best-selling pay-per-view event of 2012.
Rodriguez was rumored – however briefly – to be in the running for a showdown with Alvarez. So too was Trout, though the selection of faded Shane Mosley as the opponent suggested both names offered as little more than negotiation leverage. Rodriguez and Trout went on to face each other, though Trout would eventually land a fight with Cotto, beating him at Madison Square Garden last December.
The road to redemption for Rodriguez isn’t quite as celebrated, but you have to start somewhere. While Tahdooahnippah isn’t on anyone’s radar at the moment, Rodriguez treats the fight as the biggest threat of his career.
“As far as I’m concerned, this guy is the best fighter in the world,” Rodriguez insists. “I don’t need to know anything else about him – I don’t even know if I can pronounce his last name right. All I know about him is that his first name is George and he’s strong and undefeated. He’s a middleweight coming down to (a catchweight of) 157 lb. and I’ve never fought as heavy as 157.”
Most of Rodriguez’ career has been spent at welterweight or below. He only recently moved up to the 154 lb. division, where he plans to remain and eventually make another title run. He has come up short in two previous attempts. Failed past bids – Trout last year and Isaac Hlatshwayo at welterweight in Aug. ‘09, which represents his lone loss at Mohegan Sun – are in the rearview mirror, as his focus remains on what’s in front of him.
“It’s one of the best divisions right now, here and 147,” Rodriguez believes. “I think 154 is going to stay hot and I also believe I will have a big year. I have a feeling I will fight Canelo or James Kirkland this year. This guy (Tahdooahnippah) is big like Canelo, which is why I took this fight.”
There was a theory that Cotto’s people agreed to face Trout only after watching him struggle against Rodriguez. Whether or not it’s true, Rodriguez hopes for February 15 to serve as a similar audition for a big fight in the immediate future.
“Hopefully Canelo watches this fight. This fight is another step for big things in my career,” says Rodriguez. “I know ESPN2 is the biggest platforms to give fighters what they need. It can make or break you. ESPN is doing business with HBO. I’m excited for them to have me on their show.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox