by Francisco Salazar
Angel Acosta has much to be thankful for.
Acosta has the adoration and support from people in Puerto Rico, he is a world titleholder and he is part of what many consider to be the greatest rivalry in boxing.
He also has the penchant to end fights with one punch.
Acosta will defend his WBO junior flyweight title tonight against Abraham Rodriguez inside The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The 12-round bout will headline a ‘Facebook Watch’ stream (9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT).
The fight will be another chapter in the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry. Will Acosta-Rodriguez be added to the significant bouts that made the rivalry between the boxing-rich countries, such as Salvador Sanchez-Wilfredo Gomez, Julio Cesar Chavez, Edwin Rosario, and Gomez-Lupe Pintor?
Even the two recent wars between Orlando Salido and Juan Manuel Lopez gave the rivalry the jolt it needed.
That all depends on what game-plans both Acosta and Rodriguez want to implement, but it also depends on how aggressive and willing both fighters will stand and trade in the pocket during the fight. For Acosta, he will do his part to give fans action.
“This fight (tonight) has the potential to be the best in this rivalry,” Acosta told BoxingScene.com over the phone earlier this week. “I’ve always done my part to be in great fights. To give the fans a great show. This fight between myself and Rodriguez could live up to the expectations of the great fights between Puerto Ricans and Mexicans. Everyone knows when Puerto Ricans and Mexicans fight that it is going to be a war.”
Acosta (18-1, 18 knockouts), who lives and trains in San Juan, will be defending his WBO title for the second time. In his last bout on June 16, the 28-year-old Acosta stopped Carlos Buitrago of Nicaragua in the 12th and final round in his hometown of San Juan.
He will face a fighter in Rodriguez (23-1, 11 KOs), who resides in Tijuana, that who’s most impressive win was a unanimous decision over contender Saul Juarez on Dec. 6. Acosta knows Rodriguez will give it his all to take the title away from him.
“I know this is Rodriguez’s first time fighting for a world title,” said Acosta, who won the vacant WBO title on Dec. 2, knocking out Juan Alejo in round 10. “I know what he is going through. I was once the challenger when I fought for a world title. I have to be more motivated and hungry to keep my crown.”
Acosta would like to unify the division. There are other world titleholders in the division, including Japan’s Ken Shiro (WBC) and Hekkie Budler of South Africa (WBA). Nicaragua’s Felix Alvarado and Randy Petalcorin of the Philippines are fighting for the vacant IBF title on Oct. 29.
With the talented fighters at 108 pounds jostling for position as to who the best is, Acosta is modest on where he ranks himself in the division.
“I know I’m a good fighter. I believe I’m one of the best fighters in the division. The press and boxing fans know that the 108-pound division is a tough division. I’m just trying to be the best I can be.”
Acosta also fights for the people of Puerto Rico who were affected by Hurricane Maria last year.
“The hurricane was tough, but Puerto Rico is recovering little by little. I fight for them as I watch the island rebuild. Seeing the people pick themselves up does motivate me to fight and do well for the people. I know Puerto Rico will rise again.”
He may be a world titleholder, and he could be at the peak of his career, but Acosta believes he can still become a better fighter and improve his skill-set.
There are also the possibilities of fighting on bigger fight cards on larger platforms in the future, which is why Acosta wants to be the best fighter he can be. A win tonight over Rodriguez will put him in that spot sometime late next year.
“I believe that you always learn, especially in boxing. I want to continue learning in this sport. I’m grateful to learn from my corner. I can’t say I’m a complete fighter yet, but I am working hard to achieve that goal.”
“I am grateful to Cotto Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions (who co-promote Acosta) for the opportunities they have given me so far. I just have to follow through and do my job to work hard in the gym and defend my world title.”
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing