Former world champion Emmanuel Rodriguez picked up the vacant bantamweight IBF title in 2018 with a win over Paul Butler and immediately defended the title against Jason Maloney five months later with a split decision win.

The Puerto Rican fighter was on the up-and-up until he suddenly got stopped in his tracks.

The first setback came when Rodriguez suffered his first career loss and surrendered his 118-pound belt to Naoya Inoue in 2019 when he was crushed with a second-round KO by one of the sport’s top pound-for-pound fighters. 

The second loss was less definitive, as Rodriguez was on the wrong side of a split decision when he lost to undefeated Filipino upstart Reymart Gaballo, even when the highly efficient Rodriguez outanded Gaballo 109-of-372 to 93-of-520. The scoring was so controversial, a rematch was ordered by the WBC.

Rodriguez (19-2, 12 KOs) has since moved on, and is now looking to stop the rocky road and reel he’s been on when he takes on one of the sport’s most promising prospects in Gary Antonio Russell (18-0, 12 KOs) on Saturday night. The fight will be a co-featured bout on Showtime as part of the card headlined by fellow bantamweight John Riel Casimero's WBO title defense against Guillermo Rigondeaux at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. 

“This is my chance for redemption,” Rodriguez said at a Thursday news conference in Los Angeles. “Everybody knows I got robbed in my last fight with the controversial decision. Now, I’m just trying to do my best on Saturday night and prove that I’m still here. I’m going to show why I deserve more opportunities and that I’m going to be a champion again at some point.” 

The 28-year-old Russell is coming off an impressive stoppage win over former world titlist Juan Carlos Payano in December. The fight took place on the same card of which Rodriguez lost to Gaballo. 

Russell is confident he will hand Rodriguez his third straight loss

“I’m hungry and I’m ready to eat. It’s just that simple,” said Russell. “This fight is going to give me a chance to broadcast more skills that I haven’t been able to show so far. You’re going to see more of what’s in my arsenal. He’s a good fighter and I’m not overlooking him at all, but I know what I’m bringing to the table … I believe I’m ready for the title.”

Rodriguez is focused on Russell while also having his sights set on getting back into the world championship picture. 

“Of course I’m focused first and foremost on Saturday night, but for the future I’m looking for fights against stellar fighters like Casimero and Rigondeaux. It’s a matter of first taking care of business on Saturday and then looking to fight the best,” said Rodriguez. “After this fight, I want fans to be able to say that I’m within range of the contenders of this division.”

Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at] or on