Imagine if a young, talented junior middleweight had come along in the mid-‘80s — think Donald Curry, Mike McCallum, Davey Moore, someone like that — and proceeded to outbox Roberto Duran, then knock out Tommy Hearns, then spar with Marvin Hagler while preparing to take on Sugar Ray Leonard.

The modern-day super flyweights certainly do not stand elevated on the same pedestal as the iconic 1980s “Four Kings,” but if we’re willing to squint and make slight reaches for the sake of convenient equivalencies, the above almost-inconceivable scenario describes what Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez is currently doing.

Two weeks after turning 22, he dropped and decisioned Carlos Cuadras. Four months later, he stopped Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, something no opponent had done since Srisaket’s second pro bout. On Saturday, he’ll be taking on Juan Francisco Estrada. And in preparation, he’s sparred 24 rounds with Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.

All this at just 24 years of age.

The phrase “dare to be great” has perhaps never fit a boxer any more snugly than it fits Bam Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’s trainer, Robert Garcia, captured his fighter’s mentality perfectly when I spoke to him last week. He told me how Rodriguez responded when, before they had made the deal to fight Estrada, his promoter, Matchroom Boxing, proposed a spring tune-up fight for him.

“Matchroom gave me a date in April against an opponent that would have been just a stay-busy fight, and Bam didn’t want it,” Garcia said. “He wants to fight the best fighters in his division. He loves those challenges. The way Bam is, every fight he wants a bigger challenge and a bigger challenge. He doesn’t want to waste his time taking a stay-busy fight.”

The Cuadras fight, on Feb. 5, 2022, really told us all we needed to know about Rodriguez’s dare-to-be-great attitude. Bam was a flyweight — and an undersized one at that, weighing between 109 and 111 pounds for his previous six bouts. He was set to take on Fernando Diaz in a flyweight contest in his first fight with Matchroom, on the undercard beneath a Cuadras vs. Srisaket headliner.

On five days’ notice, Srisaket had to pull out.

On five days’ notice, Rodriguez, an undersized 22-year-old flyweight who’d never gone more than eight rounds in his brief, 14-fight career, said yes to a fight for a 115-pound belt against a veteran of 44 pro fights who’d already faced Srisaket once, Chocolatito once, and Estrada twice.

“They asked me,” Garcia recalled, “is he really crazy enough to jump up in weight and replace Rungvisai? And he took the challenge.”

That night at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Bam didn’t just dare to be great. He was great. The southpaw Rodriguez started unleashing combinations Cuadras couldn’t defend against in the second round, dropped the Mexican veteran with a right uppercut in the third, and continued to impress as the rounds wore on, whether circling and boxing, cleverly darting in and out, or standing flat-footed and trading. After 12 rounds, Rodriguez prevailed by scores of 115-112 and 117-110 twice.

As brilliant as Rodriguez was that night, Cuadras probably stands out as having the fourth-place career of the four men who’ve ruled the lower weight classes over the last decade or so, going 1-3 against those rivals. Next Bam dared for greatness against a man in Srisaket who is 3-2 against Gonzalez, Estrada, and Cuadras.

In a battle of southpaws 13 years apart in age, Rodriguez dazzled with his speed and footwork, swept every round, dropped the Thai veteran with a left cross in the seventh, and did what none of the miniature Four Kings could against him, forcing a stoppage in the eighth.

What Rodriguez did to Sunny Edwards last December doesn’t fit into the same narrative of beating up the best of an era he’s single handedly causing to be bygone. But what he did was no less spectacular and was no less the result of his burning desire to face the best possible opposition fight after fight. Tricky though the previously unbeaten Edwards is, Rodriguez gradually overwhelmed him and dropped him at the end of the ninth round with a left hand, convincing his corner to surrender between rounds.

Afterward, Bam declared what he’d just done “badass as fuck.”

Sometimes the fighters put it into words better than any writer could.

Next up is Estrada this Saturday, again at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. Although some of the results have been controversial, Estrada is a gaudy 5-2 against the three chief rivals of his generation. Even if he were 0-7 against them, just fighting those dudes seven times total would be, to borrow a phrase, “badass as fuck.” Estrada, like the man 10 years his junior with whom he’ll share the ring this weekend, dares to be great.

“I do believe that Estrada will be our toughest opponent until now,” Garcia said.

Agreed Rodriguez when I spoke to him a few days ago, “He’s been in there with a lot of great names, and beaten the great names as well. This is definitely my toughest fight and winning this would be the biggest win of my career.”

Recognizing the magnitude of this challenge, Team Rodriguez isn’t messing around when it comes to sparring. If he isn’t going to find occasion to formally face off against the greatest of this group — one-time pound-for-pound king Gonzalez — Bam at least pounced on the opportunity to share a ring with Chocolatito informally.

Garcia trains Rodriguez out of his gym in Riverside, California, and he learned a few weeks ago that Gonzalez, who’s scheduled to fight July 12 in his native Nicaragua, was training about an hour away in Coachella.

“I got a call from Mr. [Akihiko] Honda, who promotes Chocolatito and helps me with Bam also,” Garcia explained. “He said, if I was interested, we could have them do some sparring sessions. So we did two eight-round sessions in my gym and one in Coachella.

“It was some of the most beautiful sparring I’ve ever seen. They didn’t go to war. They didn’t try to knock each other out. They both just fought so beautifully, and it was the kind of sparring where no instructions were needed.”

I asked Rodriguez if he was awed at all, finding himself swapping punches with probably the best fighter in boxing’s lowest weight divisions since the retirement of Ricardo Lopez.

“Yeah, I was a little shocked, in the first round, that we were actually sparring,” Rodriguez said. “It was like, man, I’m really in the ring with him. It’s just sparring, but just to share a ring with a fighter like Chocolatito, it’s a blessing.”

Gonzalez’s 2-4 record against Estrada, Srisaket, and Cuadras doesn’t do him justice, as it includes three disputed decision losses. Two of those controversial defeats came in the last three years against Estrada. Chocolatito and Gallo have fought 36 rounds in all counting their first fight way back in 2012 (when Rodriguez was 12 years old), so it’s hard to imagine any fighter being able to offer better insights and advice that Gonzalez could on how to approach fighting Estrada.

So what advice did he offer Rodriguez?

“He didn’t tell me anything, honestly,” Bam said. “We just sparred and that was it.”

“No words were said. There was nothing to be said, right?” Garcia added. “I like this about Chocolatito. He didn’t come to tell us, ‘You need to do this, you need to do that.’ And we didn’t ask him either. We’re not looking for his advice because, you know, it’s totally different, their styles are different. It was just about getting the experience that we’re getting sparring someone like Chocolatito.”

Rodriguez has acquired 12 rounds of experience against Cuadras, eight against Srisaket, and, albeit with headgear and no stakes, 24 with Gonzalez.

Somewhere between one and 12 with Estrada await.

Rodriguez doesn’t believe in tuneups. He doesn’t believe in wasting time. If he could fight more reigning champs, former champs, and future Hall of Famers, he would.

Eventually, he’ll get around to cleaning out his own generation. He just needs to dare to disrespect his elders one more time first.

Eric Raskin is a veteran boxing journalist with more than 25 years of experience covering the sport for such outlets as BoxingScene, ESPN, Grantland, Playboy, Ringside Seat, and The Ring (where he served as managing editor for seven years). He also co-hosted The HBO Boxing Podcast, Showtime Boxing with Raskin & Mulvaney, and Ring Theory and currently co-hosts The Interim Champion Boxing Podcast with Raskin & Mulvaney. He has won three first-place writing awards from the BWAA, for his work with The Ring, Grantland, and HBO. Outside boxing, he is the senior editor of CasinoReports and the author of 2014’s The Moneymaker Effect. He can be reached on X or LinkedIn, or via email at