Rodriguez means serious business

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Ed C. Tolentino

Ed C. Tolentino

World Boxing Organization (WBO) light flyweight champion Donnie ‘Ahas’ Nietes figures to have his hands full when he makes his seventh defense of the 108-pound diadem against Mexican challenger Francisco Rodriguez Jr. this Saturday at the Waterfront Hotel and Casino in Cebu City.

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Since upending tough Mexican Moises Fuentes in nine rounds in May 2014, Nietes has been fed with relatively pedestrian challengers. As expected, he hardly broke a sweat in dispatching Carlos Velarde and Gilberto Parra in his last two defenses. Rodriguez, however, is far from being another run-off-the-mill challenger. The 21-year-old Rodriguez totes a record of 17-2 with 11 knockouts and is as tough as nails, having gone toe-to-toe with fearsome Nicaraguan slugger Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez. Rodriguez is a resilient fighter who throws machine-gun flurries and owns a horrific left hook.

This writer was at ringside when Rodriguez figured in a non-title slugfest with local boy Jomar Fajardo at the Waterfront Hotel last November. Rodriguez was looking at a mere tune-up match, but a booming right hand from the trigger-happy Fajardo in the third round bloodied Rodriguez’s nose and literally changed the complexion of the fight. Finding himself in a surprise war, Rodriguez did not back down and fired back with vicious shots of his own. The fight was declared a split-draw after 10 rounds, although many thought Rodriguez did enough to win. Predictably, in a rematch held just two months later, Rodriguez settled the score by hammering out a unanimous decision win over Fajardo.

Rodriguez also earned high marks in September 2013, when he challenged dynamite-hitter Gonzalez in a non-title match. The formidable Gonzalez (43-0, 37 knockouts), who now sits as the World Boxing Council (WBC) flyweight champion, struggled big time against Rodriguez before emerging victorious via a seventh round technical knockout. Rodriguez was actually holding his ground when the referee prematurely stopped the contest.

Rodriguez has chalked up six straight victories since the controversial loss to Gonzalez. In March 2014, he stopped Filipino Merlito Sabillo in 10 rounds to wrest the WBO minimumweight (105 pounds) title. In his next outing, August 2014, Rodriguez outslugged Japanese Katsunari Tayakama in 12 rounds to unify the WBO and IBF (International Boxing Federation) minimum weight throne. The high-octane brawl was picked by ESPN. com as 2014 Fight of the Year.

Rodriguez does a little bit of everything in the ring, including occasionally stiff-arming a foe. The 33-year-old Nietes has the built-in advantage owing to his vast ring experience and familiarity with the weight class. Rodriguez spent most of his years in the 105-pound division and has not really been exceptional at 108 pounds.

In sum, Nietes (35-1, 21 knockouts) remains the smart money bet, but if Rodriguez lives up to his fistic resume boxing fans are in for a palatable knuckle-fest.

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For comments, the writer can be reached at atty_eduardo@yahoo.com

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