By Jake Donovan
Either Gamalier Rodriguez is finally enjoying a long overdue career revival, or Orlando Cruz is at the end of the road.
Or perhaps both statements ring true.
Whatever the case, the battle of Puerto Rican featherweights ended with Rodriguez taking a well-deserved unanimous decision in their 10-round affair Saturday evening at the Bahia Shrine Temple in Orlando, Florida.
Scores were 97-92 (twice) and 96-93 in their main event battle, which aired via same day tape delay on UniMas.
The fighters didn't allow their Boricua brotherhood to get in the way of good old-fashioned trash talk. There was plenty of extracurricular activity throughout the course of the bout, both during an in between rounds as the action was heated and the pleasantries few and far between.
Rodriguez had every right to come into the ring confident - a 15-fight win streak had preceded Saturday's contest for the 27-year old, fighting in Florida for the first time in his still-promising career. The Bayamon (P.R.) native made the most of his time in the Sunshine State, serving as the aggressor and proving an elusive target for Cruz, who was coming off of a knockout loss to Orlando Salido in their vacant featherweight title fight last October.
Cruz made plenty of headlines some 18 months ago, announcing his alternative lifestyle to the world to make him the first known openly gay boxer. His rise to contention in the featherweight division put him one win away from a major title, but fell way short against Salido on the undercard of Tim Bradley's win over Juan Manuel Marquez late last year.
The hope to was to return to his roots, having never before lost in Florida (5-0-1, 3KO prior to Saturday) where he has appeared numerous times on the Telemundo boxing circuit. Instead, he is forced to strongly consider retirement as he was humbled by his fellow islander.
Everything went right for Rodriguez, who was first to the punch, successful with his right hand and a step ahead in nearly every round. If there was a noted flaw in his fight plan, it was a penchant for throwing south of the border. Rodriguez was warned several times for low blows before suffering a point deduction in round six.
The infraction merely made the scores closer than was the actual fight. Cruz struggled to keep pace in the majority of the rounds as the night ended with his second straight loss. The 32-year old falls to 20-4-1 (10KO), suffering back-to-back losses for the second time in his career. His three previous defeats came by way of stoppage, including consecutive knockout defeats to Daniel Ponce de Leon and Cornelius Lock five months apart before peeling off four straight wins.
Rodriguez picks up the biggest win of his career, advancing to 24-2-3 (16KO). The streaking featherweight has now won 16 straight and is unbeaten in his last 17 ring appearances.
On the undercard, rising lightweight prospect Felix Verdejo scored a one-punch knockout of Ivan Zavala. The Boxingscene.com 2013 Prospect of the Year needed just 74 seconds to get the job done, connecting with a right hand that sent Zavala to the ropes before collapsing in a heap.
A full recap, including what's next for Verdejo can be found HERE
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
Tags: Top Rank , Orlando Cruz , Felix Verdejo , Gamalier Rodriguez