By Jake Donovan
Their first fight – a strong candidate for 2011’s Fight of the Year – was so brutal that you’d understand if Delvin Rodriguez and Pawel Wolak didn’t like each other very much.
But they do. Quite a bit, in fact.
It’s been nearly five months since the pair of super welterweight contenders threw down in a vicious slugfest that ended in a stalemate. The bout aired live from the Roseland Ballroom in New York City on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights. It was befitting of a premium showcase, but sadly came with paydays for each fighter befitting a ballroom fight headlining an ESPN2 telecast.
That problem has been corrected in a big way.
Their highly anticipated rematch airs live from Madison Square Garden on HBO Pay-Per-View, in one of the chief supporting bouts to another eagerly awaited return go when Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito reconnect after their own fantastic first fight more than three years ago.
Each fighter will receive a payday right around the $100,000 mark for a rematch that serves as the final piece of a top-to-bottom card that most consider to be the year’s best.
Unlike the other three fights on the telecast, the absence of title fight implications in this bout means that nothing but good old-fashioned bragging rights are stake. It’s a fitting prize to seek, since neither fighter was able to secure victory the first time around.
Wolak jumped out to an early lead, but was forced to spend most of the night with a grotesquely swollen eye that threatened to cause a stoppage on several occasions. That moment never came, but allowed Rodriguez – whose career was on the line after struggling in recent years – to punch his way back into the fight, narrowing the gap on two scorecards and pulling ahead on the third.
The draw verdict was a rare moment where most seemed OK with the outcome, though among those who chose to pick a winner point towards Rodriguez’ late surge as being the difference in a nip-and-tuck affair.
Naturally, both fighters believed they won the fight, but don’t mistake the outcome as a robbery.
“It was a close fight, a tough fight,” Rodriguez (25-5-3, 14KO) acknowledges. “I’ve looked at the fight many times. I can say I landed the cleaner punches and the harder punches.”
It’s a viewpoint respected by his opponent, though not necessarily agreed upon.
“I thought I had the fight by a round or two,” Wolak (29-1-1, 19KO) insists in a calm tone, indicative of his generally fun-natured demeanor. “I’m not going to complain about the draw. Of course I wanted the win, but now there is an opportunity to settle it so I’m happy.”
Even happier are the fans that were treated to a war on basic cable the first time around and have thirsted for a sequel. Both fighters pushed hard for the chance to settle their old score, but genuinely look forward to meeting up in the ring again.
“I have nothing bad to say about Pawel at all,” says Rodriguez, who would have good reason to dislike anyone in the game. The Dominican – now based out of Danbury, CT – has won just two of his last seven bouts (2-3-2), though there exists a legitimate argument for his being no worse than 6-1 over that same stretch.
If it wasn’t for bad luck…
Still, it’s not enough to put Rodriguez on the bitter end. Nor will this weekend’s rematch bring out an ugly side. In fact, quite the opposite.
“For a fighter like Pawel, you have to respect him. Once we in that ring, it’s a whole different story. It’s a war - we’re not friends no more. I’m a guy that I respect everyone. He seems like a cool guy.”
Rodriguez will be pleased to know that the feeling is mutual.
Wolak enters the fight riding a nine-fight unbeaten streak, including knockout wins over Jose Pinzon and Yuri Foreman to confirm his place as a legitimate contender. While Rodriguez is in need of a win to keep his career afloat, Wolak actually stands more to lose considering that he’s not very far off from an eventual title shot as long as he keeps winning.
The first fight with Rodriguez put enough of a scare into his career to where there would be cause for concern about doing it again. Wolak could’ve easily looked in another direction.
Instead, he wants to prove his worth against a fighter he holds in the highest regard, in a venue close enough to his New Jersey home to where he managed to sell a massive amount of tickets to friends, families and fans in general.
Those same fans shouldn’t be surprised if the two fighters – ten rounds (or less) after delivering action everyone hopes will be as savagely beautiful as their first fight – are spotted at a local bar throwing down a couple of drinks while reminiscing over what took place.
“If we bumped into each other in the street, sure I’d love to have a drink with him,” Rodriguez admits.
“I definitely respect Delvin - unless he puts plaster in his gloves, that’s a different story,” Wolak quips. “I wouldn’t mind having a drink with him. Delvin’s alright by me.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at JakeNDaBox@gmail.com