By Francisco Salazar
Saul Rodriguez was on the cusp of stardom about two years ago. He was an unbeaten prospect, had become well-known to boxing fans with his fan-friendly style and was about to receive a major push by Top Rank.
To the surprise of many, Rodriguez left the confines of the promotional company, which has a history of grooming unbeaten fighters and prospects to world title shots.
After a stint with Mayweather Promotions, where his reputation as a fighter took a significant blow, Rodriguez wants to reclaim that label of 'can't miss' prospect.
Returning to Top Rank is the first step.
Rodriguez will fight for the first time in over 20 months tonight when he squares off against Claudio Rosendo Tapia at the Don Haskins Convention Center in El Paso, Texas. The 10 round bout will be streamed on ESPN+ (6 p.m. ET/ 3 p.m. PT).
The 25-year-old Rodriguez (21-0-1, 15 knockouts), who resides in the Los Angeles suburb of Riverside, had notched impressive knockout victories on 'Solo Boxeo' telecasts in 2014 and 2015. His breakthrough performance occurred on Nov. 20 of 2015, when he notched a first round knockout over Ivan Najera.
Rodriguez left Top Rank after knocking out Daulis Prescott in May of 2016. He would sign a promotional contract with Mayweather Promotions in December of that year, which came as no surprise after Rodriguez had posted several pictures on his social media accounts with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in the months leading up to the contract signing.
Rodriguez had only one fight under the Mayweather Promotions banner, where his defense was exposed in a close 10 round split-decision victory over gatekeeper Oscar Bravo of Chile, a fight many boxing scribes thought Bravo did enough to win.
Citing inactivity, Rodriguez parted ways with Mayweather Promotions in June. Rodriguez would sign a promotional deal with Top Rank in August.
Top Rank does hold out hope the flashes of brilliance Rodriguez showed early on in his career will return or can improve.
"He's going to be rusty," Top Rank matchmaker Brad Goodman told BoxingScene.com Thursday night. "We're not overmatching him early on. We're getting his feet wet."
Rodriguez used to be trained by Robert Garcia, but both amicably split after the Prescott fight. He is currently trained by his father Saul Rodriguez, Sr.
Rodriguez, who will campaign as a junior lightweight, has always had devastating power, but must improve on his defensive aspect of his game. Goodman, who along with Bruce Trampler do an excellent job as matchmakers for Top Rank, acknowledges Top Rank is holding out hope Rodriguez will improve his skill-set.
"He has the potential to do exceptionally well," said Goodman. "We have high hopes for him. We want him to improve on the defensive aspects of his game."
"We'll see by his third fight whether he has indeed improved defensively. We've seen the type of potential he had offensively when he was first sign with us. It's up to him to put everything together."
Tapia (28-18-4, 13 KOs), who resides in Ciudad Mendoza, Argentina, has not fought since December of 2016 and has lost his last three fights, all to unbeaten prospects.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing