By Jake Donovan
At the very moment the bell rang at the end of the 10th and final round of their instant classic, Delvin Rodriguez firmly believed he did enough to earn a victory over streaking contender Pawel Wolak. Two of the three judges felt otherwise, and he was forced to live with a draw.
For the next two months, Rodriguez actively pursued a rematch, for the sake of closure and also of the belief that such a fight could sell itself. Team Wolak felt otherwise, and he was forced to sit back and watch his in-ring rival pursue a rumored opportunity to fight for a title.
For once, the boxing gods smiled back on Rodriguez.
The one-time highly touted prospect caught a rare break in his hard-luck career when terms were provisionally agreed to on late Wednesday for a rematch to take place at Madison Square Garden on December 3. The bout will take place on the undercard of another highly anticipated rematch between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, which airs live on HBO pay-per-view.
“Everything looks like it’s going to happen,” Rodriguez told Boxingscene.com late Wednesday evening upon hearing the news. “There are still a couple of things to work out but I’m positive it will get done (Editor’s note: Fight was finalized by all parties on Thursday morning). It’s going to be a great night of boxing on December 3, fighting alongside some great fighters at Madison Square Garden.”
There was concern on the Rodriguez side over whether the rematch would happen at all and what the contingency plan would be in the event such a fight didn’t materialize. Wolak wasn’t necessarily averse to the idea of a return go, but would rather the stakes be higher – liking fighting for a title.
The promise of a title shot was the reason Wolak hesitated to respond to Rodriguez’ challenge, a reason that the Dominican-born fringe contender found perfectly acceptable.
“Ever since July, I wanted to fight again but understood where he was coming from,” Rodriguez admits. “If I was offered a title fight, there was no way I’d fight a rematch either. I just didn’t want to take a stay busy fight while waiting to fight him again. I didn’t need a warm-up fight; I just want to go to the rematch.”
In a roundabout way, a compromise is offered with the immediate rematch taking place when it does. While Wolak doesn’t get the title shot he was promised, he and Rodriguez get to audition for the winner of the evening’s main event.
Both fights take place at the junior middleweight limit, with an alphabet title – among many other things – at stake in the Cotto-Margarito rematch. Title or not, both Rodriguez and Wolak would love for a crack at the winner, an added incentive to their own rematch with already enough at stake.
“It’s a great feeling,” Rodriguez states. “Now I don’t just have to demonstrate that I beat him the first time. Now, there is something else on the line. It’s a dream come true. That motivates me to perform even better (than in the first fight).”
Their memorable war in July was Rodriguez’ first fight in nearly a year, and also the first time he fought above the welterweight limit. The junior middleweight limit proved to be a good fit for the 31-year old, who closed strong to pull ahead on one scorecard and even on the other two to avoid what would’ve been a fourth loss in his past five fights.
Needless to say, it’s a weight class at which Rodriguez plans to remain for the immediate future.
“I think I’m done with welterweight. The (Wolak) fight was my first in a year and at that weigh. I was having a hard time making 147. People don’t realize how much of a difference it makes. I was just getting stronger as the fight went along. I’m 31 years old and feel stronger than ever. I really like the weight and feel comfortable at 154.”
Even more than the physical improvement was his mental state going into the fight – beginning with the days leading up to the weigh-in.
“I used to go three days eating very little, drying out. I had breakfast the morning of the weigh-in and was very strong going in. Not just physically but mentally stronger. I feel stronger and also smarter. I’m fully developed as a fighter and feel unstoppable. When I step in the ring, I feel confident on what I can do. My body is now reacting to what my mind wants to do.”
Perhaps such an adjustment would’ve made a difference earlier in his career, one that was full of promise but began to slowly deteriorate beginning with his shocking upset loss to Jesse Feliciano in 2007.
The loss came on ESPN2, as did three wins prior to that point as well as the four victories in his five following fights. The streak put him in line for alphabet title contention, but went a combined 0-2-1 in sanctioned title fights and eliminators with Isaac Hlatshwayo and Rafael Jackiewicz in the span of just over a year.
Falling at the title level is normally forgiven, but a televised points loss to Ashley Theophane last summer set off alarms. The whispers around the industry were that he was done as a contender, while Rodriguez knew it was matter of adjusting the training process and forgetting about the past.
“I can’t say that I don’t regret the stuff that happened,” Rodriguez notes, refusing to lend credence to the belief that everything happens for a reason. “I’ve been down tough roads and have been screwed over. But it’s behind me. I’m just trying to go forward.”
In regards to where he’s perceived to be at in his career, Rodriguez couldn’t have went any further than securing a high demand rematch on what has become the most eagerly anticipated card of the year.
That said, the rematch was placed on this card for a reason. Their first go-round was a thriller, which means expectations will be high for the sequel to be just as good, if not even better.
At this stage in his career, a win is the most important thing in Rodriguez’ career, though he understands the value that comes with pleasing the crowd. He’s confident that on December 3, he’ll be able to have his cake and eat it too without having to force either issue.
“When I hear the crowd cheer me on, it hypes me up. I don’t have to worry about living up to those standards because it comes naturally. I hear the cheers and it gives me an adrenaline rush. The atmosphere that will be there (on December 3) will give me that same motivation to perform at that level and please the crowd.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected].