By Thomas Gerbasi
At 33 years old, Delvin Rodriguez doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to his place in the boxing world and how long he’ll be a part of it as an active participant. The way he looks at it, he needs to fight and he needs to be seen if he’s going to get another shot at a world title that has eluded him twice before.
He’ll do both this Friday, fighting Freddy Hernandez on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights at the Mohegan Sun Casino in his home state of Connecticut. It’s a fight, he’ll be seen by viewers across the nation, and he’ll stay busy until his opportunity arrives once again.
“I want to be able to fight the guys on top, but the guys on top don’t want to step forward, so we can’t just sit down and wait for them,” said Rodriguez, who is back in action following a February win over George Tahdooahnippah. “I’ve got to keep myself busy, and the busier I keep myself, the better it is. That’s one of the reasons why we’re stepping right back into the ring. We’re not gonna wait. I always want to fight the guys that are higher ranked than I am, and they’ve always got some kind of excuse or they try to fight somebody else. So we’ll keep busy for this year and hopefully by the middle of next year, we’ll be ready for a big fight.”
It makes sense from all angles. Rodriguez picks up a paycheck, he stays sharp, he gets on television, and he keeps his name out there. Unfortunately in boxing these days, there is too little in the way of common sense, so the idea of a fighter staying busy has become a foreign one. Not to Rodriguez, who is more than willing to step on the gas in what he believes are the closing stages of a pro career that began in 1999.
“This comes from so many years of following the dream of trying to get the title,” he explains. “Every guy that I fought was a stepping stone, every guy I fought was a prospect or a tough fight. I never really had an easy fight, and this is the time when I have to push the most because I don’t want to be doing this sport for too long anymore. I want to get in the four solid years that I believe I have. My body feels stronger than ever, I’m mentally stronger, so I’ve got to take advantage of the time and push for it. And the only way I can do that is by fighting the guys on top of me. So I’m pushing to fight the guys that are saying they’re better than me and the guys that have higher ratings than I have, and the way to do that is to push for it and fight. I can’t sit down for too long anymore.”
In June of last year, Rodriguez parlayed two fights with Pawel Wolak into a title fight against then-WBA junior middleweight champion Austin Trout. He lost a lopsided decision, never getting out of first gear against the crafty titleholder from New Mexico. Frustrated by the defeat, Rodriguez took a few months off, and when he returned against the 31-0-1 Tahdooahnippah, he took his frustration out against his game foe, handing out a steady beating before the fight was finally stopped in the sixth round. When asked if he worried about hurting Tahdooahnippah, his answer was one that a fighter needs to say.
“You’ve got to put that out of your mind,” said Rodriguez, 27-6-3 with 15 KOs. “If I don’t hurt him, he’s gonna try to hurt me. It’s part of the sport. It’s a really violent and very dangerous sport, and that’s why you’ve got to be a hundred percent when you step into that ring. But the mentality I have now is that whoever they put in front of me, I’m gonna try to hurt. If I see the slightest little opportunity to knock them out, I’m gonna go for it. The guy that I fought last time, I was really expecting the referee to step in there sooner and stop the fight, but if he didn’t do it, I had to continue banging and putting the combinations together to a point where his head was snapping back all the time and the referee finally stepped in.”
It’s harsh, no question about it. But this is the hurt business after all, and everyone who steps between the ropes knows it. Rodriguez hasn’t always been on the right side of the win-loss equation, and there were even times when he’s won, as in his 2008 bout with Oscar Diaz, that it didn’t feel like a win after Diaz was forced to undergo surgery for a subdural hematoma. But Rodriguez, like 99% of the fighters in the sport, isn’t a cruel man. He doesn’t embrace the violence of the game, even if he knows that’s part of the deal. Instead, he’s a class act, a family man, and one who respects the sport and everyone brave enough to enter the ring.
“I respect every fighter,” he said. “I’ve been doing this almost all my life, since I was nine years old, and I know the heart it takes to step into that ring and the hard work it takes. So you’ve got to give a boxer respect, and it doesn’t matter if he’s great or not or who loses or wins in that ring. I respect him because I know what it takes to get in there. But when I step into the ring it’s a whole different story. This is a sport, but it’s a mental game as well, and you can’t show the other fighter that you’re afraid or that you’re not there to win. You’ve got to show the fighter that you’re there to win and that he’s gonna have to kill me to beat me in that ring. So in the ring, he’s my enemy. I know he’s gonna try to hurt me if I don’t hurt him first, and that’s the way I gotta think.”
Against Mexico City’s Hernandez, he’s facing a fighter who was 29-1 until a first round knockout loss to Andre Berto in 2010 started him on a 1-3 skid. He’s lost back to back bouts against Erislandy Lara and Demetrius Andrade, and Rodriguez should emerge victorious as well. Just don’t tell Rodriguez that.
“I don’t take anybody lightly,” he said. “He (Hernandez) has been in the ring with many good prospects and contenders, and I can’t take anybody lightly, especially at this point in my career. I want to go in there and destroy whoever they put in front of me, and that’s the mentality I have right now. So I don’t even think about where it’s gonna take me if I lose because for me, losing is not an option. I have to look at every fight like I’m fighting for the championship.”
And if he keeps winning, one of these days he’ll be doing it for real.