There was never a doubt in Jesse Rodriguez’s mind that a leap of faith—and one division up the scale—would end with his first major title win.
It worked out exactly that way, with the unbeaten San Antonio native claiming the vacant WBC junior bantamweight title with a twelve-round win over former champion Carlos Cuadras this past February 5 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. The win came in a fight he accepted on just six days’ notice, moving up from a previously scheduled regional flyweight title fight on the undercard to replace an ill Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (50-5-1, 43KOs).
Twelve rounds later, Rodriguez breathed new life into a junior bantamweight division boasting elite level talent but whose top players are at the tail end of their prime or further in their respective careers. At just 22 years of age, the supremely gifted boxer-puncher known as ‘Bam’ knew that a three-pound jump on short notice was little more than an investment into his long-term vision.
“I’m here to become an all-time great, not just another champion,” Rodriguez told BoxingScene.com. “That opportunity presented itself when it did so we took it. We won the title at 115 but we do have plans of picking up titles at 112, maybe becoming undisputed.
“After that, who knows. I’m only 22, my body is still growing. Really, I could see myself winning titles at 122 and maybe even 126. The WBC belt at 115 is just the beginning of my career.”
The title win for Rodriguez also came just two weeks after entering a promotional pact with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, who joined forces with Rodriguez’s current promoter Teiken Promotions this past January.
The unbeaten Texan was already known throughout the industry as the future of the start, perhaps the standout talent in a gym full of champions guided by the renowned Robert Garcia. Rodriguez first appeared on a Matchroom show in February 2020, joining stablemate Mikey Garcia on a show in the greater Dallas area. Rodriguez and Garcia also shared a bill last October in Fresno, by which point he was already in high demand by his current co-promoter.
Saturday will mark Rodriguez’s second official fight under the guidance of Matchroom Boxing. In a matchup that comes full circle, Rodriguez faces Sor Rungvisai in his first title defense this Saturday from Tech Port Arena in his San Antonio hometown (DAZN, 8:00 p.m. ET).
Sor Rungvisai is a former lineal and two-time WBC junior bantamweight champion who is still viewed as among the best in the division. The Thai southpaw is part of the junior bantamweight Fab Four that includes Cuadras, lineal/WBA champ Juan Francisco Estrada (42-3, 28KOs) and legendary former four-division champion Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez (51-3, 41KOs). Sor Rungvisai is 3-2 against the trio and is the only fighter to not only beat Gonzalez twice but also knock out the future Hall of Famer, doing so in their September 2017 rematch.
Collectively, the quartet has combined for ten fights dating back to 2014. Rodriguez has now entered the mix and is in prime position to run the tables.
“I love Bam, I think he’s a star,” Hearn told BoxingScene.com. “When you can map out the future of a fighter like Bam Rodriguez—Bam fought Cuadras on six days’ notice and at a higher weight. Now he’s fighting Rungvisai.
Then, we can match him with Chocolatito, Estrada and Julio Cesar Martinez all back-to-back-to-back. That’s a fuckin’ pound-for-pound run.”
The plan sounds good to Rodriguez, even if he doesn’t get to all four.
There is a chance that a fight with Gonzalez will never see the light of day. Both are promoted by Teiken and are close enough to where such a matchup would be a last-resort option if no other opportunities exist for either.
Estrada is locked into a WBA title consolidation clash with Rodriguez’s older brother, WBA ‘World’ titlist Joshua Franco. A date is not yet set for the previously ordered fight, though is expected to take place sometime this summer. Most experts tab Estrada to emerge victorious, which would set up another terrific storyline for a future fight with Rodriguez should all roads lead to that moment. Naturally, Rodriguez envisions a scenario where Franco wins the fight and they ultimately rule the junior bantamweight division together until one moves up in weight.
For now, there exists the need for Rodriguez to keep the line moving and further his own legacy. Just as he never gave a second thought to face Cuadras on short notice, there was never a moment of hesitation in running head-in toward a dangerous title defense versus a still-live former champion in Sor Rungvisai.
“I truly believe this is the toughest test I could have taken for this fight,” insists Rodriguez. “Most champions get to pick whoever they want for their first title defense and when it’s in their hometown.
“But I’m not here to be just another champion, an average fighter. I’m here to leave a legacy behind as one of the best. It’s going to be a tough fight for as long as it lasts. He’s a great fighter, a former (two-time) world champion. These are the fights that lead to those special moments that define your career. That’s why I’m here.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox