By Cliff Rold
There was a moment, in round seven, when it appeared Francisco Rodriguez might be running out of gas. Katsunari Takayama was putting it on him, his back to the ropes, his body absorbing punishment. After six fast paced, hard rounds, the more experienced man seemed to have found what he needed to win.
Then, Rodriguez started to fire again.
By round eight, Rodriguez had made a small adjustment, looking for counters and finding them. An already fantastic fight went to its next level. It reached for greatness. By the time the final round rolled around, a round where each man threw well over 100 punches, Rodriguez-Takayama had more than reached that threshold.
Each of the last four rounds stood as a round of the year candidate. When it was over, the lead the two tiny warrior had carved over everything that came before in 2014 for Fight of the Year was the equivalent of Secretariat down the stretch at the Belmont.
It looked good going in. It was better than anyone could have expected.
If anyone felt a little in awe at the end, it was justified.
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Takayama B+; Rodriguez B-/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Takayama C; Rodriguez B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Takayama C+; Rodriguez C/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Takayama B+; Rodriguez B+/Post: A; A
One of the most interesting things about the fight was how many different fights took place. Given the pace, it would be easy to see it as two guys just wailing away, but there was far more nuance than that.
Takayama, always a mover, wisely moved and boxed when the trench warfare was too prolonged over the first eight rounds. Rodriguez, too easy a target in round seven, went to a countering strategy in round eight and waited for Takayama’s rushes to time better shots. We had a knockdown in the third for Rodriguez. There were moments in the eleventh and twelfth that were correctly ruled slips but could have been called knockdowns on another night.
Referee Samuel Viruet deserves credit for getting those calls right. Much was said of the questionable job Vic Drakulich did in Brandon Rios-Diego Chaves a week ago. Viruet deserves praise then for letting the fighters decide. There were warnings for various fouls in the fight, but he kept them brief and never made himself part of the action.
Takayama was the quicker man but Rodriguez showed again, as he had in unseating Merlito Sabillo for his first of now two titles, that he is a hard night at 105. Having spent most of his career at Flyweight, his heavy hands worked against a career 105 lb. fighter like Takayama. It was a close fight, but the most telling blows were his.
The one negative from the fight was a single atrocious score. Judge John Madfis giving Takayama only one round was a disgrace, an insult to the Japanese warrior’s effort, to the fans watching, and to the fight itself. It was, to date, the fight of the year. It was also a reminder of so much of what is wrong with boxing and its officiating. Rodriguez deserved the win.
The scores should have reflected that he earned it.
The now WBO/IBF titlist Rodriguez’s willingness at Strawweight creates intrigue where there was little not long ago. Will he follow up and attempt to finish the unification of the division? If he does, let’s hope later this year (or perhaps more sanely sometime next), he can mix with South African Hekkie Budler. Budler, the WBA titlist, is either 1 or 1A to Rodriguez after Saturday. An exciting battler with less power than Rodriguez, a clash between the two might be another classic just waiting to happen.
A rematch with Takayama would also be well worth it. Takayama, at 31, may not have long left near the top. He’s been a player at 105 for over a decade and the wars will catch up. Saturday gave new fans a chance to learn who he is and why he has remained a perennial contender. He was honorable in his defeat and gave everything he had.
What more can we ask for?
Report Card Picks 2014: 33-15
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org