Good, bad, worse: The remarkable emergence of Jesse Rodriguez, Canelo’s ire

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A critical look at the past week in boxing

GOOD

Jesse Rodriquez has said repeatedly that his goal is to be a special fighter, not an average one. Well, there’s nothing average about this boxing savant.

The Texan has made the quantum leap from prospect to star as a result of two remarkable performances this year, a decision over Carlos Cuadras in February and a stunning knockout of Srisaket Sor Rungvisai on Saturday in San Antonio, Rodriguez’s hometown.

Cuadras and Sor Rungvisai have been 115-pound stalwarts for a decade. The naturally smaller Rodriguez not only beat them, he dominated them.

How did this unfold?

Luck played a key role. Rodriguez was scheduled to take part in a 108-pound fight on the Cuadras-Sor Rungvisai card on Feb. 5. When Sor Rungvisai pulled out because of illness, Rodriguez agreed to move up two divisions to 115 on five days’ notice and stunned everyone outside his own circle by winning a wide decision and the WBC’s secondary title.

Rodriguez would’ve have been justified had he moved back down weight. Instead, he made the decision to defend his belt against a powerful puncher who has victories over Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman Gonzalez (twice). The result? Rodriguez outclassed him, baffling the Thai star with his elite technical ability and then taking him out in the eighth round.

Sor Rungvisai hadn’t been stopped since his second pro fight, in 2009. Future Hall of Famers Estrada and  Gonzalez couldn’t do that.

I hesitate to anoint Rodriguez (16-0, 11 KOs) the next great thing because he’s had only 16 pro fights and both Cuadras (33) and Sor Rungvisai (35) are beyond their primes. At the same time, he has aced the eye test and won two important fights back to back.

One person who hasn’t been surprised by the events of the past four-plus months is Robert Garcia, Rodriguez’s veteran trainer.

“Look man, we know what Bam is all about, we know his talent,” Garcia said on a Little Giant Boxing video. “… So when they offered us a fight, I never even doubted that we’d be able to beat him. … At the end, everybody ended up seeing pound-for-pound one of the best in the world. And he’s only 22. He’s a baby.”

A bad ass baby.

 

BAD

Srisaket Sor Rungvisai couldn’t solve Jesse Rodriguez. Ed Mulholland / Matchroom Boxing

One had to feel for Sor Rungvisai (50-6-1, 43 KOs) when it became clear that his mission was impossible on Saturday.

He overcame a 1-3-1 start to his career to become a two-time junior bantamweight champion and a potential Hall of Famer. He lost a technical decision to Cuadras, split two fights with Estrada and has the two victories over “Chocolatito”, the second a brutal fourth-round knockout that lifted him to stardom.

I was at that fight, which took place in what is now Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. I left the arena in awe of Sor Rungvisai, who has rare punching power for a man his size. He, too, was special.

And he seemed to be on track to get a shot at the winner of an anticipated third fight between Estrada (the WBC’s “franchise” champion) and Gonzalez, which could happen later this year. All he had to do was beat Cuadras in February and then wait.

Well, we know what happened. He had to pull out of the Cuadras fight, which opened the door for Rodriguez’s emergence. And then he suffered his most thorough defeat since the early years of his career.

The look on his face between the seventh round, in which he was knocked down, and the eighth said a lot. He seemed to be thinking, “Oh man, what have I gotten myself into here? What do I do?” He was essentially helpless by that point, a beaten man.

That was difficult to see given his enduring place among the top 115-pounders and his pride.

If we’ve seen the last of him, he certainly should be pleased with his career. The two titles, the victories over his rivals, the fact he remained an elite 115-pounder for more than a decade. All that made him one of the greatest Thai fighters of all time, which is saying something given the boxing tradition in that country.

Sor Rungvisai simply ran into a juggernaut on Saturday. In the end, with all his accomplishments, he won’t be judged by this one setback.

 

WORSE

Canelo Alvarez is a sensitive guy.

He didn’t like the fact that Sept. 17 opponent Gennadiy Golovkin called him a drug chat after Alvarez failed a drug test before their second fight in 2018, which resulted in Alvarez’s suspension and delayed the bout.

Alvarez blamed the positive test on tainted meat but athletes are responsible for everything that goes into their bodies, which lends credence to Triple-G’s comments.

They seemed to settle their differences when they shook hands after their second fight but, obviously, that wasn’t the case.

Alvarez didn’t like the fact that Golovkin accused Alvarez of avoiding him after that second meeting, a close points victory for the Mexican that followed a draw the previous year. Golovkin arguably earned a third fight. And Alvarez did fight mostly lesser opponents between 2018 and his loss to Dmitry Bivol in May.

Still, Alvarez called Golovkin an “a—hole” at the kickoff news conference. And he vowed to retire the popular 40-year-old Kazakhstani star by knockout, which was a bit harsh given how competitive their first two fights were and Triple-G’s accomplishments over his decorated career.

Maybe Alvarez is just trying to sell the fight, which might need a nudge given the perception that Golovkin is in decline. Or maybe Alvarez is just revealing thin skin, as Golovkin suggested.

“If he says he still has something against me,” Golovkin said, “… that’s his problem, not mine.”

 

RABBIT PUNCHES

Unified junior featherweight champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev (11-0, 8 KOs) looked sharp in his defense against veteran Ronny Rios on the Rodriguez-Sor Rungvisai undercard, particularly given what he said was a lead-hand injury early in the fight. The southpaw from Uzbekistan outboxed and outworked a good fighter before finally stopping him in the 12th and final round. I don’t think he will beat Stephen Fulton if they meet for all the 122-pound titles but he’s good enough to push his rival. And kudos to Rios (33-4, 16 KOs) on a good career. The Southern California fighter performed on a high level for a long time. … Undisputed welterweight champ Jessica McCaskill (12-2, 5 KOs) isn’t much of a technician but she’s athletic and has good boxing instincts, which has been enough to make her a star in the women’s ranks. She blew out Alma Ibarra (10-2, 5 KOs) of Mexico on the Rodriguez-Sor Rungvisai card, stopping her after three one-sided rounds. McCaskill has come a long way since losing a wide decision to Katie Taylor in 2017. She has won seven in a row since, including two victories over future Hall of Famer Cecilia Braekhus. I hope McCaskill gets the fight she wants, a showdown with 140-pound titleholder Chantelle Cameron. … Skillful featherweight contender Raymond Ford (12-0-1, 6 KOs) easily outpointed Richard Medina (13-1, 7 KOs) in a 10-round bout on the Rodriguez-Sor Rungvisai card. Ford is going to be extremely difficult to beat if he stays focused and avoids firefights. He’s that good when he’s at his best.