By Thomas Gerbasi
Before his last bout against Freddy Hernandez in May, Delvin Rodriguez talked of staying busy, of fighting anyone put in front of him until he got the big fight he wanted. It was the talk of a professional, of someone who had his shots at the brass ring previously but fell short, leaving him in a position where his only option was to fight until he couldn’t be ignored.
That could have been the recipe for a long bruising trip through the 154-pound weight class as he looked to erase the memory of a dismal Showtime-televised loss to Austin Trout in June of 2012. But after a sixth round TKO of George Tahdooahnippah in February, he picked up another TKO win over Hernandez, and that’s when things got interesting, as whispers about a possible fight with comebacking Puerto Rican superstar Miguel Cotto began.
Rodriguez heard those whispers.
“There was a little talk, and when the talk started I felt it was a big possibility because I thought, ‘who else does he have?’” said Rodriguez. “They tried two different opponents and I believe TV did not want those fights, so after I heard that, I said okay, it’s a big possibility now.”
Nothing is that cut and dried in this business though. All the Twitter campaigns and media pleas in the world won’t make a fighter or a network move if they don’t want to. So while ESPN fights are nice, especially for someone like Rodriguez, who has become a staple on the network, a return to premium cable against Miguel Cotto was the dream fight. So he waited, and waited.
“It really sucks,” he said of the time between a fight being discussed and a fight being signed. “It’s gonna happen, it’s not gonna happen. But I said I’m just going to start training like it was going to happen, and it happened. Here we are.”
Rodriguez got the fight. Against Cotto. On Saturday. On HBO. And no one wanted it more.
“I fought for the world title twice, and for me, this is much bigger than the world title,” said the Connecticut resident. “I’ve been fighting a guy who has been at the top for a long time, a guy that is known by the whole boxing world. You say Cotto and everybody knows him. So for me, this is my biggest fight and this is how I trained for the fight, how I’m looking at the fight, and how I’m stepping into the ring on the fifth.”
At 33, Rodriguez is actually a year older than Cotto, a former three division world champion looking to recapture past glories after losing his last two fights. But Rodriguez had his own boxing demons to put the rest, whether it’s the listless Trout fight or his other title fight loss, a controversial split decision nod to Isaac Hlatshwayo in 2009. It always seemed like whenever he would get close to the big time, the Rodriguez who beat Pawel Wolak, Oscar Diaz, and Mike Arnaoutis didn’t show up. So in his biggest fight, he knows what needs to be done.
“I think it’s all experience,” he said. “You learn from your mistakes. The Trout fight was a totally different fight. I made a big mistake, which was waiting for that precise moment to catch him, instead of making it happen by throwing my combinations and pressuring him. I learned from that, and that’s what a good fighter does. In each fight I pick up a little something, and if I make a mistake I try to correct it in training. And to make it to the top, you’ve got to do that. You have to correct your mistakes as you go along.”
And now his time his here, and while 99.9% of fighters talk a good pre-fight game, a lot smaller percentage of those fighters actually sound like they mean it. Rodriguez is not disrespectful, not brash, not dismissive of Cotto, but he does sound like a man ready to win at the Amway Center in Orlando this weekend.
“I’m so calm, I feel like I belong here,” he said. “I feel like it was only a matter of time until I was here, and I’m just so happy. I actually feel like I should have been here already. But I had so many setbacks and I don’t want to think about that. I’m here now, and I want to take advantage. I’m gonna take all my experience and everything that has happened along the way and put it to use.”
He’ll be putting it to use against a Cotto who looked good in his May 2012 loss to Floyd Mayweather, but then seemed to be two steps behind in last December’s defeat against Trout. Rodriguez is under no illusions about what Cotto has been through, but he still expects a fighter with plenty left in the tank.
“I see a guy who has been a champion and on the top level for so many years, and he’s a guy that is very hungry right now because he’s trying to make that comeback,” he said. “So it’s gonna be a good fight. I’m very hungry to demonstrate that I belong on that level, and he’s hungry to get back and show the fans that he still has it. So it’s a very interesting fight and a very good fight for the fans.”
In a year of great bouts, it does have the potential to join the ever growing list of Fight of the Year candidates, and that’s because Cotto is expected to go on the offensive immediately to prove that he’s back. For most opponents, that would be bad news, but Rodriguez is at his best when he plays matador, and not bull. So if Cotto comes out aggressively and possibly desperate, that plays into Rodriguez’ hands.
“I think so, and I think at the beginning that’s what he (Cotto) is going to do,” he said. “He’s really gonna try to go for it and I like that. I’m very focused, we trained very hard for this fight and we’ll take advantage of something like that when he gets wild and forgets about technique. He might be a little desperate, and I’m hoping for that. In fact, I expect that.”
Rodriguez expects that and he wants that, but you know what they say: be careful what you wish for.
“I have to be the most focused I’ve ever been,” he said. “I can’t lose focus for one second in that ring. I have to be one hundred percent the whole fight because Cotto is a dangerous fighter. He can catch you and hurt you with one punch, and he’s coming to fight. So I’ve got to stay alert. Conditioning we have, now we just have to stay alert and stay focused.”
If he does that, the biggest fight of his career might just turn into the biggest win of his career.