NEW YORK – Emmanuel Rodriguez expects experience against top opposition to set him apart when he goes up against Gary Antonio Russell again Saturday night.
Their initial meeting lasted all of 16 seconds due to an accidental clash of heads that prevented Rodriguez from continuing. Rodriguez is confident, though, that he’ll execute the same strategy 14 months later that the former IBF bantamweight champion believes would’ve led him to victory in August 2021 at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.
“I believe from the third round and up I’m gonna be the dominant one in the fight,” Rodriguez said during an open workout Wednesday at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. “I don’t think that it’ll go 12 rounds.”
Russell (19-0, 12 KOs, 1 NC), a 29-year-old southpaw, conceded that Rodriguez has faced a much higher level of opposition than him. The Capitol Heights, Maryland native just doesn’t think Rodriguez’s experience edge will make a dramatic difference in their 12-round IBF/WBA elimination match at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The 30-year-old Rodriguez conversely considers the invaluable lessons he learned during a challenging four-fight stretch from 2018-2020 important preparation that’ll help him defeat Russell in the opener of a four-fight FOX Sports Pay-Per-View telecast that’ll feature heavyweights Deontay Wilder and Robert Helenius in the main event (9 p.m. ET; $74.99).
“That’s why I think I’m gonna win,” Rodriguez said. “Because of my experience, I’m gonna frustrate Russell. I’m gonna show him I’ve been in there with the best and I’ve been able to defeat the best. So, I’m gonna try to frustrate Russell, who hasn’t faced the better opposition.”
Puerto Rico’s Rodriguez (20-2, 13 KOs, 1 NC) out-pointed current WBO bantamweight champion Paul Butler (34-2, 15 KOs) and Australian contender Jason Moloney (24-2, 19 KOs) in back-to-back 12-round, 118-pound title fights in 2018. Naoya Inoue (23-0, 20 KOs) knocked out Rodriguez in the second round of his following fight in May 2019 and Rodriguez lost a controversial 12-round split decision to Reymart Gaballo (24-1, 20 KOs) in his comeback bout in December 2020.
The Russell-Rodriguez winner will earn the number two spot in the IBF’s rankings. Russell is rated fourth by the IBF, two spots above the sixth-ranked Rodriguez.
“That guarantees us a spot for a world championship,” Rodriguez said. “We believe that Inoue is gonna abandon the weight class and move up, if he beats [Paul] Butler, so we’re hoping to get a shot at the world title.”
Japan’s Inoue and England’s Butler will fight for Inoue’s IBF, WBA and WBC belts and Butler’s WBO title in a 12-round, 118-pound championship unification fight December 13 at Ariake Arena in Tokyo.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.
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