By Thomas Gerbasi
Let’s get this out of the way right at the start. Hey, Edwin Rodriguez, how does 175 feel?
“It feels awesome,” he laughs, and the fact that it’s fight week and he’s still got the energy and desire to joke around should tell you how much life has changed for “La Bomba” since the last time we saw him against Andre Ward last November.
Back then, Rodriguez said all the right things before his first world title fight, but as the bout drew closer, the whispers became shouts when it came to the reality that the Dominican Republic native wasn’t going to make weight. And when he tells you what he went into the eight-week camp at, that’s no surprise that making 168 pounds was wishful thinking at best.
“I’m just gonna put it as it is – I came into this training camp at 195 while I was trying to make ‘68, I was coming in at 217.”
217 pounds. Not a typo. So in short, Rodriguez’ camp wasn’t about getting ready to fight one of boxing’s best, pound-for-pound, but simply about losing pounds.
“Exactly,” he said. “We didn’t really have time to go over a game plan or anything like that. When it comes down to it, my opponent did everything he needed to do, and I came into camp just to lose weight.”
Talking about it now, he makes no excuses for his inability to make weight (he eventually clocked in at an official 170 pounds, costing him 20 percent of his purse), putting the blame solely on himself. So how did he get up to 217? Well, he had some fun after winning 2013’s Monte Carlo tournament with wins over Ezequiel Maderna and Denis Grachev, going on a vacation with his family where he lived the good life for a bit and got away from the boxing grind.
At the time, he didn’t have a manager, but a month after the Grachev fight in July of last year, he signed with uber-adviser Al Haymon, and life started moving fast for Rodriguez, who was thrust into the mix for a fight against Ward. Negotiations stalled, but when they finally made the fight, Rodriguez had a problem.
“We couldn’t say no to that fight because it was what I working so hard to get to,” he said. “It just came at the wrong time. Of course I didn’t think it was the wrong time then, but the negotiations took really long, which didn’t give me enough time to prepare and make 168 comfortably. I couldn’t even make it. But Andre Ward did everything right. He did the weight right, he fought a great fight, so I’ve gotta respect that and give him credit for that.”
The fight did garner Rodriguez his largest payday to date, but guys like him aren’t in this just for the money, though good paydays do help. For Rodriguez, he wants to walk out of this sport with the title “champion” associated with his name, and after his long stint at 168, he’s going to try his hand at getting that belt in the light heavyweight division, beginning with a Saturday bout in Carson, California against Azea Augustama that will air on HBO Latino.
“I knew that eventually I would be a 175-pounder, but I didn’t think it was gonna come as soon as now,” he admits. “I thought I would win a world title at ‘68 and move up to ‘75. Unfortunately it happened the way it happened, but I didn’t see it coming.”
What he does see these days is a bright future, one where he can focus on fighting and not just dieting.
“I’ve had the time to focus on the game plan for this opponent and just putting everything together, and not having that stress on a daily basis about how much weight I have to lose today and tomorrow,” he said. “It’s a good feeling. I kinda miss this.”
Rodriguez, 29, said that he came into camp lighter for this bout than he did when he was fighting at super middleweight, and his dedication is clear, especially with what’s at stake this weekend.
“I’m a hundred percent focused and prepared for this fight. This is my ‘gotta look good’ fight. After my last performance, I have to show up and look impressive. In boxing, you’re only as good as your last fight, and right now, I suck. (Laughs) So I’m ready to get back in and look good.”
You can’t get a more blunt assessment than that, but in this business, the best punches are the ones that are thrown straight down the middle. Rodriguez feels like he has a few more of those left in the tank, and in a division with plenty of intriguing matchups for him, he’s happy to have a fresh start.
“I see a lot of great fighters, a lot of great matchups and I think I’m going to fit into this division really well and I’m looking to make a statement in this fight and take it from there,” Rodriguez said of life at light heavyweight. “There are a lot of big names that I would love to fight and now I have the opportunity to get back and win this fight on HBO Latino, look good, and get back to where I was at before the Ward fight. I want to continue to move up the ladder and I’m hoping to fight for a world title in the middle of next year.”