By Thomas Gerbasi
Delvin Rodriguez has had his share of wars in the ring over the years, but the hardest shots he’s taken haven’t come from his opponents, but from those sitting at ringside with pens in their hands.
They were also the ones that hurt the most.
So when there was outrage over Rodriguez getting the short end in questionable to sometimes near larcenous decisions against Andre Eason, Isaac Hlatshwayo (twice), Rafal Jackiewicz, and Ashley Theophane, the fighter was able to get a small measure of satisfaction from knowing that he wasn’t crazy; that the rest of the world, save two or three judges, saw exactly what he felt on fight night.
But after a couple weeks or so, sometimes even less, the furor dies down and the boxing world continues to spin on its axis in search of its next victim. Meanwhile, Rodriguez and his family have to deal with the aftermath. Losing, whether justified or not, costs a fighter money and causes his reputation to take a hit, which means more money lost down the line. No one knows that better than Danbury, Connecticut’s Rodriguez.
“After a week or a month, it goes to the back and everybody forgets about it, but you have to live with it,” he said. “And it’s not only the fighter, but also the family because this is my full-time job. It’s tough on them and you have to have a family that’s behind you no matter what. When you’re shining and you’re doing good, everybody’s good with you. The minute you go down, that’s when you find out who’s really behind you or not.”
Yet if Rodriguez has shown anything throughout his over 13 years as a professional prizefighter, it’s that when you push him down, he fights back even harder. It’s why he’s survived setbacks that would have crippled most boxers, taking pride in the fact that his resilience is his greatest weapon in the ring. But outside of it, the politics of the game were wearing him down. Practically everybody who boxes gets a bad call every now and then. Few took it on the chin as much and as consistently as Rodriguez did, even causing him to ponder retirement.
“It was really tough,” he said. “There were times when I said you know what, this is it. I can’t continue doing this. But it’s just what I love. I hate the business but I love the sport. When you know that you won a fight, it takes a lot out of you because you put in all that work. I’m gonna be in camp for two months, then I fight somebody and I don’t get a decision, and it’s really tough. But then you think wow, I’ve been doing this all my life, it’s what I love doing and I know I have what it takes to become a champion, and that’s what keeps me going, saying I’ve just got to do better next time and really make it clear so that the judges don’t have any doubts in their mind. More than half of my life I’ve been working for this, and to give it up because of a bad decision sometimes seems to be the right thing to do at that moment, but then you go back home and you think about it and you say I can’t give it up now. I’m very close for this shot.”
Rodriguez (26-5-3 with 14 KOs) has been close before, only to see his opportunities slip away. But as he continued to march forward, literally and figuratively, the most significant hurt of his career occurred on July 16, 2008, when an 11th round knockout of Oscar Diaz turned tragic as Diaz collapsed in the ring and later fell into a coma. The Texan would emerge from the coma and survive, but his life was irrevocably altered. So was Rodriguez’.
“It was a very tough situation,” he admits. “As a boxer, you have the heart of a fighter and you don’t really think about those things until you see them happen in your face. I saw Oscar Diaz collapse in the ring like that and seeing how bad he was, he was in a coma and he’s never gonna be the same guy ever again. You really sit back and say, wait a minute, this is really dangerous. You can get killed in this game. It really shook me at that time. I’ve been through so many things since my childhood, and I believe it was the way I was brought up and all those things that I had to go through that really made me the person I am, where I try to make a negative thing into a positive thing. So the way I thought was, it happened to him and it could definitely happen to me. It gave me even more motivation to prepare myself much better for every fight. I said I gotta train hard and prepare myself all the time because I can’t let that happen to me.”
Eventually, all these hard luck lessons Rodriguez picked up along the way paid off on the night of July 15, 2011, when he engaged in a 10 round instant classic with Pawel Wolak that ended in perhaps the only draw nobody complained about. The bout earned Fight of the Year honors from the Boxing Writers Association of America, and for Rodriguez, his star had risen higher than it ever had.
“I believe that fight opened a lot of doors,” said Rodriguez in perhaps the understatement of the year. Needless to say, a rematch between the two was a no brainer, and in addition to nice paydays, both fighters were going to slug it out on the Pay-Per-View portion of December 3, 2011’s Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito II card at Madison Square Garden in New York.
The second time around though, it wasn’t even close. Rodriguez put on a clinic against Wolak, scoring a lopsided 10 round unanimous decision that prompted the “Raging Bull” to call it quits. It may have been the most impressive win of Rodriguez’ career, as he showed off his boxing skills and discipline from start to finish.
“I think I confused him to the point where he didn’t know what to do,” said Rodriguez. “I think I kinda broke him to where he didn’t want to come in anymore, and when he did come in, he wasn’t doing anything. We stayed low, a lot lower than the first fight, and I was killing him with the uppercuts and the hook every time he tried to step in. It got to the point where he didn’t feel like coming in anymore because he was getting punished.”
The win put Rodriguez in the driver’s seat for the first time in a long time, if ever, and when the call came for a June 2, 2012 title shot against WBA junior middleweight champion Austin Trout, it was the fight he had wanted since he lost a split decision to Hlatshwayo in a 2009 fight for the vacant IBF welterweight title.
“This is the opportunity that I’ve been looking for, and I know that winning the June 2nd fight will definitely change my life,” said the 32-year old Rodriguez. “It’s gonna make me the world champion, and it’s gonna give me a lot of choices, a lot of good fights, a lot of big fights, and it’s gonna put me right in that circle of HBO, Showtime, and Pay-Per-View, so that’s definitely a life-changing moment.”
Now he just has to beat the underrated Trout to get there.
“I respect the man,” said Rodriguez. “He’s a champion, he’s undefeated, and I don’t care who he fought, when he fought them, or where he fought, I know that if he’s undefeated, he must be doing something right. I’m sure he put in his work as much as I did to get to the position where he is, so I respect the guy, and I respect any fighter that steps into the ring because this is a very hard and dangerous sport. I know that he likes to box, he likes to counterpunch and tries to be slick, but from my side, I’m getting ready for it. I’ve been to that place where I’m fighting guys that are undefeated, that people expect will blow right through me, so this is the time for me to rise up again and get that belt that I’ve been working so hard for all my life.”
When Delvin Rodriguez talks about his career, he calls it a “long journey,” with the emphasis on long. But tomorrow night, the only time the remnants of the past will appear is when the challenger has to reach down deep for some extra resolve to gut out a tough fight. It’s at that moment that every rise from the canvas will be accounted for.
“The experience will kick in, my heart will kick in, and the will to win and the will to become a world champion will definitely kick in,” he said. “So I don’t worry about any of that.”