By Thomas Gerbasi
With this being his fifth bout at the Mohegan Sun Casino in his adopted home state of Connecticut and 15th appearance on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, Delvin Rodriguez’ match with unbeaten George “Comanche Boy” Tahdooahnippah is as close as you’re going to get to a home game in the world of boxing. But after seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly of the sport over the course of his 14 year pro career, Rodriguez knows that nothing’s ever a given.
“For me, it comes down to what happens inside the ring,” said the 32-year-old junior middleweight contender. “And the most important things that happen outside the ring are your training and how mentally prepared you are.”
It’s a wise approach to take to this unpredictable game, but at the same time, knowing the lay of the land in the lead-up to the fight and being familiar with the ESPN crew and the way things play out before the bell rings can be an advantage for someone who has done it 14 times before, especially when facing a fighter who is in that main event national television spotlight for the first time.
“Of course it makes it more comfortable for me because I know the staff and I know most of the crew,” said Rodriguez. “But I don’t look past any fighter because this is boxing. This guy’s a strong guy that comes forward and I saw him taking guys out with one punch. But it does make me more comfortable because I feel like I’m back home, I’m with the ESPN crew, and I’ve known them for years.
“I’m very grateful that ESPN likes to put me on their show,” he continues. “Because of them, I’ve been noticed, and I believe that’s the first step for a boxer to get to the top. You’ve got to go through ESPN. Having me on the show and always considering me for it is a great thing. Right now I’m in a situation where I’ve gotta bounce back and show the people that I still have a lot to give to the sport, and ESPN is the best way to do it.”
There’s really no surprise as to why Rodriguez has been a network favorite. An action fighter who is never afraid to get into a war, the Dominican Republic native is as close to a sure thing that you can get when it comes to compelling fights. At the same time, that reputation made his last bout, a 12 round loss to current WBA champ Austin Trout such a shocker. Far from an action-packed bout, Rodriguez never seemed to get out of first gear against Trout, with a clear-cut unanimous decision defeat being the result.
“Styles make fights, and it was a very uncomfortable fight for me, as well as for him,” said Rodriguez. “He’s a very awkward lefty with good defense, and we just couldn’t find each other’s rhythm. It became a boring fight. I was trying to really get in, but he was on the lookout to catch me with something and I believe that’s the mistake that I made. I should have taken more risks, I should have pushed in more and took a punch or two to get in. I was looking and waiting for that precise moment that never came.”
The assessment of his second world title fight (he lost a 12 round split decision to Isaac Hlatshwayo in a welterweight title opportunity in 2009) is an honest one, and while there are no moral victories for Rodriguez, Trout’s subsequent victory over Miguel Cotto six months later did prove that the champ from New Mexico is the real deal.
“I thought a lot of people were going to be surprised,” said Rodriguez of Trout-Cotto. “Cotto’s much shorter than me, and I knew he was gonna get caught a lot coming in. Trout has quick feet, so he was leaving Cotto off-balance all the time and catching him. It showed how uncomfortable it is to fight this kid.”
Rodriguez should have such difficulties with Tahdooahnippah, who will most likely be right in his face from the opening bell. What difficulties “Comanche Boy” does present are mainly in the unknowns. Yes, he’s 31-0-1 with 23 knockouts, but is his record due to his talent or his level competition? And at 34, has his team waited too long to put him in with a fighter of Rodriguez’ caliber. Those are all questions to be answered on fight night, so in the meantime, Rodriguez is going by what video clips he’s been able to find on his opponent.
“I’ve seen some clips that they have on Youtube, and from what I can see he’s a guy who is very confident right now because the guys he’s been fighting, he hits them one time and that’s it, they quit,” said Rodriguez. “I believe he’s gonna come straightforward and he’s gonna be surprised when he runs into one of my punches. But I’ve still got to be alert in the ring because he is the bigger guy – he’s been fighting 160 his whole career pretty much, and I just came up to 154 three fights ago.”
In those three fights, Rodriguez has gotten plenty of attention, engaging in a Fight of the Year draw with Pawel Wolak in July of 2011, clearly outboxing Wolak in their December 2011 rematch, and then losing his title shot against Trout. Yet despite the 1-1-1 record at 154 pounds, Rodriguez has built up enough of a name that when it was suggested that he come back slowly after the Trout fight, he vetoed such a suggestion.
“I was ready to fight; I just wanted to get the right fight to get back,” he said. “They were talking about giving me a warm-up fight and I didn’t want that. I’ve been fighting good guys and tough guys, and I don’t need a warm-up fight. I’m to the point where I’ve got to do what I gotta do, otherwise I’ll stop fighting. I feel like I still have three to four solid years in the sport, and I need to take advantage of that. So it makes no sense for me to take warm-up fights. I don’t want to go backward, I want to go forward. This guy (Tahdooahnippah) came up, he’s undefeated, and there’s a lot of noise behind him, so we want to take fights that will take us to the next step.”
And he believes with a big win on Friday night in front of ESPN’s viewing audience, it will make his return to the title picture something that happens sooner rather than later.
“I’m looking to get right back into the mix with this fight, and by the beginning of next year, to be in line for a world title once again.”