NEW YORK – Emmanuel Rodriguez has shared the ring with Naoya Inoue and Paul Butler.
Based on his completely opposite experiences with those two bantamweight champions, the Puerto Rican contender cannot envision England’s Butler lasting many rounds with the Japanese knockout artist nicknamed “Monster.” Rodriguez, who will square off against Gary Antonio Russell on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, offered a blunt prediction for the Inoue-Butler bout Wednesday while he participated in an open workout at nearby Gleason’s Gym.
“I don’t believe Butler will last five rounds with Inoue,” Rodriguez said, according to his translator.
The full 118-pound championship unification bout between Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs) and Butler (34-2, 15 KOs) was officially announced Thursday at a press conference in Tokyo. They’ll fight for Inoue’s IBF, WBA and WBC crowns and Butler’s WBO belt December 13 at Ariake Arena in Tokyo.
The 29-year-old Inoue knocked out Rodriguez (20-2, 13 KOs, 1 NC) in the second round in May 2019 at The SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland.
“I made the mistake when I came in and tried to fight Inoue,” Rodriguez said. “We went toe-to-toe.”
Inoue’s power was too much for Rodriguez, who was knocked down three times in the second round. Inoue won the IBF bantamweight title from Rodriguez as part of the World Boxing Super Series’ bantamweight tournament.
Rodriguez had won that IBF belt a year earlier, when he beat Butler unanimously in a 12-round fight that took place at O2 Arena in London in May 2018. Butler suffered two first-round knockdowns, but he went the distance with Rodriguez a day after coming in overweight for a fight for that then-vacant championship.
The 30-year-old Rodriguez came away much more impressed by Inoue than by Butler.
“Of course, that’s the best fighter I’ve ever faced,” Rodriguez said, “and the most explosive fighter that I’ve ever faced.”
The winner between Rodriguez and Russell (19-0, 12 KOs, 1 NC) will become the IBF’s second-ranked contender in the 118-pound division. Russell, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, is ranked fourth by the IBF, two spots atop the sixth-ranked Rodriguez.
“We’re fighting for a title eliminator, for the number spot [in the IBF rankings],” Rodriguez said. “That guarantees us a spot for a world championship. We believe that Inoue is gonna abandon the weight class and move up, if he beats Butler, so we’re hoping to get a shot at the world title.”
Russell-Rodriguez is one of three fights FOX Sports Pay-Per-View will televise as part of the Deontay Wilder-Robert Helenius undercard Saturday night (9 p.m. ET; $74.99).
Most oddsmakers have installed Russell as an approximate 2-1 favorite over Rodriguez, whose first fight with Russell resulted in a no-contest because Rodriguez suffered a prohibitive cut only 10 seconds into it in August 2021 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. Wilder (42-2-1, 41 KOs), of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is consistently listed as an 8-1 favorite to defeat Helenius (31-3, 20 KOs), of Mariehamn, Finland.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.