PHOENIX – Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez became the youngest active titlist in the sport, doing so on short notice and in an unfamiliar weight division.

The 22-year-old San Antonio native moved up to junior bantamweight on just six days’ notice, outpointing Mexico City’s Carlos Cuadras to win the vacant WBC junior bantamweight title. Judges Barry Lindenman (115-112), Steve Morrow (117-110) and Dennis O’Connell (117-110) in favor of Rodriguez, who joins his brother, WBA “World” junior bantamweight titlist Joshua Franco on the title stage following his win in the DAZN main event Saturday evening at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Cuadras entered fight week of the belief that he would once again face Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, whom he defeated in May 2014 to win the WBC title that was at stake. The 33-year-old Mexico City native was just as fine with facing a blue-chip talent in Rodriguez, who moved up in weight and from an undercard slot to appear in the main event after Sor Rungvisai fell ill shortly after arriving in Phoenix more than a week ago.

The fight was competitive early, with Cuadras working the body while Rodriguez calmly sought to find his groove. Cuadras was brimming with confidence both throughout fight week and well into the opening round.

That dynamic would change in round two, as Rodriguez hit his stride. Cuadras stood directly in front of the 22-old-southpaw, whose combination of hand speed and power proved far too challenging for the former titlist to keep pace.

Rodriguez scored the lone knockdown of the bout early in round three. Cuadras failed to slip the jab, left perfectly positioned for a right uppercut which deposited him on the canvas. Cuadras beat the count though on unsteady legs.  In a veteran move, Cuadras was able to buy some time in selling referee on a low blow which Rodriguez accurately though unsuccessfully argued was a clean body shot.

Both fighters were warned for low blows midway through round four. Cuadras targeted Rodriguez’s midsection, only to stray below his elbows and just under the beltline. Rodriguez immediately returned the favor, drawing a stern two-warning from the referee.

Cuadras worked behind the jab to begin round five before being forced into a shell defense. Rodriguez constantly circled to Cuadras’ right, enjoying frequent success with his uppercut while also not pardoning the body. Rodriguez briefly rocked Cuadras with a straight left hand, though the former titlist was able to shake off the shot and finish the round strong.

Rodriguez fought more stationary to start the second half, much to the detriment of head trainer and former junior lightweight titlist Robert Garcia. Cuadras did his best to exploit the tactic, enjoying success on the inside with his jab and straight right, though Rodriguez was still often beating him to the punch during exchanges.

Rodriguez reverted back to in-and-out movement while punching in combination in round eight. Cuadras stood directly in front of Rodriguez, on the rare occasions the unbeaten rising star stood in one place for very long. Rodriguez peppered Cuadras with rapid-fire left hands, though managed to get clipped by a left hook. Both boxers worked the body in the closing seconds of the round, even as the referee flagged low blows that weren’t at all low.

Cuadras doubled up on his jab at the start of round nine, uncharted territory for Rodriguez who had only been eight rounds twice in his career. Rodriguez responded with a jab upstairs and one to the body. Rodriguez found his desired space before exploding with an uppercut that forced Cuadras to go on the defensive. Cuadras rode out a combination to land a body shot, briefly forcing Rodriguez to the ropes.

Rodriguez slowed down in round ten, while Cuadras grew in confidence. The Mexican veteran applied pressure, taking advantage of the moments when Rodriguez didn’t let his hands go although at a point when he may have conceded too many early rounds to make enough of an impact on the scorecards.

Cuadras did his best to rough up the younger Rodriguez in round eleven. Included among his tricks was a near tackle as his shoulder drove Rodriguez to the canvas, with the sequence accurately waved off as a push. It proved effective in stunting Rodriguez’s offensive attack, as Cuadras bullied his way down the stretch heading into the final round.

Rodriguez and Cuadras let it all hang out in round twelve, proving every bit as competitive as was the fight as a whole. Rodriguez enjoyed success when darting in and out, though not often enough for his corner’s liking. Cuadras applied relentless pressure until the final bell, at the very least forcing Rodriguez to sweat out the decision.  

Cuadras falls to 39-5-1 (27KOs), though still offering plenty of fight in the twilight of his respectable career. All five career defeats have come within his last nine fights dating back to September 2016 when he conceded the WBC junior bantamweight title to then-unbeaten pound-for-pound king Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez.

Saturday marked the second straight defeat for Cuadras, who traded knockdowns with lineal junior bantamweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada before succumbing in the eleventh round of their October 2020 rematch.

Strangely, he could remain in line for another shot at the title if the chips fall in his favor.

Rodriguez is likely to drop back down in weight, as his original goal was to win his first title at junior flyweight. The situation called for the supremely gifted Texan to rise up in weight, where he ultimately rose to the occasion. The win advances his record to 15-0 (10KOs), though with a good chance of his junior bantamweight reign going one and done as he will seek title opportunities at junior flyweight and flyweight.

That dynamic isn’t guaranteed, though.

“I feel good at 115,” Rodriguez stated after the fight. “We’ll see what opportunity comes, if I drop back down to flyweight and junior flyweight.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox