By Ryan Songalia
If at first you don't succeed, try again, right? Delvin Rodriguez believes he got it right in his last bout, an IBF welterweight title eliminator against Isaac Hlatschwayo this past November.
Rodriguez, a native of the Dominican Republic but now residing in Danbury, Connecticut, made the sojourn to his opponent's backyard of South Africa in hopes of positioning himself for a title shot. After dropping Hlatschwayo in the ninth round, he believed he had done enough to earn the decision. Although Hlatschwayo was initially declared the winner, the result was later changed to a split-decision draw.
"I believe that I did much more than he did," said Rodriguez, 23-2-2 (14 KO). "Anyone else who saw the fight knows it should have been mine. I had the cleaner, harder punches. It was close but it was clear.
"It was very upsetting for me to go to Africa after working so hard and then something like that to happen. All I can do is worry about the next fight on Friday."
The fight he is referring to on Friday is his second consecutive IBF eliminator, this time against Shamone Alvarez. Rodriguez won't be booking any trans-Atlantic flights for this one; The fight takes place in his home state at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut. The bout will be televised as the main event on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights.
"I'm ready, I feel confident. I've been in camp for seven weeks. I'm going to give it everything I've got in the ring. Nobody is going to take this away from me."
Though Alvarez, a native of Atlantic City with a 20-1 (11 KO) record, is not noted for his punching ability, Rodriguez prepared for the unexpected by bringing in bigger fighters than himself for sparring. Nonetheless, he intends to cover all of his bases.
"All he has is a left, he can punch a little with that," Rodriguez said. "That's why I've been working with bigger guys who can punch harder than Alvarez could, which will make me be alert more and keep my eyes open. Alvarez is not as fast as me."
The pivotal setback in Rodriguez's career came in 2007 when big underdog Jesse Feliciano pulled off the stunning upset with an eighth-round TKO. Since then he has been unbeaten in his last four fights.
Most expect Rodriguez to come out on top against Alvarez, who at 32 is four years older than the hometown fighter. Still, history has shown that the potential for calamity is always present.
"I don't underestimate anybody. He's only been beaten once and that was by the champion Joshua Clottey. I gotta keep my eyes open and be aware at all times. I'm very confident that I'll do what it takes to win. No matter who gets in my way, I'm going to get them out of there."
Rodriguez's next fight approaches as the situation from two matches ago continues to unfold. On February 23, it was reported by the San Antonio Express-News that Oscar Diaz, who slipped into a coma after his fight with Rodriguez in July, was discharged from a local hospital. Initially the prognosis was grim but with continued treatment, the boxer is now on the steady road to recovery.
"It's great news," said Rodriguez. "In the beginning of this situation, everybody was telling that he was fine, it was OK. Then I spoke to the doctor and he told me he wasn't even responding. He said he open his eyes for a little bit but then go back to sleep. This time I confirmed that he's responding to people, he's talking.
"It's a small step but he's a warrior."
Rodriguez, who boxes as his primary source of income, could not simply drop his gloves and walk away from the sport, however. He had to deal with many steps on his road to accepting what happened, and ultimately, resolving it within himself.
"People kept telling me it wasn't my fault," said Rodriguez. "But in the beginning you don't want to hear that, it was hard to understand that. It came to my mind that what if it happened to me? I wish him the best but this is the sport that we're in. It helps me deal with it a little better."
His next step will have to wait until after his business with Alvarez is settled. Rodriguez says he has not visited with the beleaguered fan favorite yet but is going to "push to see" Diaz after this fight. "I want to hug him so I can wish him the best."
The winner of this bout will likely be named the mandatory to Joshua Clottey, who is in talks for a unification bout with WBO champ Miguel Cotto in June. If the IBF approves the unification, Rodriguez could fight the winner. If not, we might see a Rodriguez-Hlatschwayo rematch for a vacant belt.
"At this point, I'm ready for anybody. I'm so frustrated with this crap, the politics where they do whatever they want to do. I don't really care who I fight. I'd fight [WBC titlist] Andre Berto, Clottey, the winner of Clottey versus Cotto. I just want to be next. I've put in a lot of work in my career and it's my time to get an opportunity to fight for a world title."
First things first, however.
"I've got 12 rounds to hurt Alvarez, let's see how many he wants to use."
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .