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Jesse Rodriguez has never been underestimated before. Not in his distinguished amateur career or in his first 14 professional fights before his unexpected title shot.
When it came he evaded Carlos Cuadras by sheer force of movement, knocked him down and landed one powerful left hand after another to secure the vacant WBC super-flyweight belt.
Now that he is such a young champion at just 22 – the youngest belt-holder in the world, in fact – there is a danger that Rodriguez is dismissed as having come to prominence too early.
After all, he was not supposed to fight Cuadras in the first place; it was meant to be Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, but he became ill just a week before fight night. Rodriguez was set to take on Fernando Diaz but had no qualms in taking Rungvisai’s place, and he now go head-to-head as he defends his title for the first time in his home state of Texas.
As an amateur, he gained huge popularity, winning silver medals at the Junior World Championships, as well as gold at two US National Youth Championships.
Rungvisai is still a dangerous man and boasts far more experience, aged 35 and with a 50-5 record. He is one of just two men to beat the veteran Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, which says everything about his pedigree.
It should not be forgotten either that he is a former two-time WBC champion, and it is not so long that he was ranked No 1 at super flyweight in Ring‘s rankings, though he is no longer even in the magazine’s top 10.
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That is reflective of Rungvisai’s wider decline in the public imagination, which hasn’t been helped by the fact he has been largely fighting in Thailand and hasn’t fought in America since an unsuccessful defense of his title to Juan Francisco Estrada.
“He’s been in there with the greats at 115, so a win over him it would not only boost my confidence but it would sky-rocket my career,” Rodriguez said. “It’s probably one of the toughest defenses I could take on for my first title defense, but I have no problem with that.
“A lot of people have their eyes on me now, I see a lot of things on social media saying that I am the new Chocolatito, that means a lot, that’s a lot of motivation, I want to live up to the hype.”
Rodriguez vs Rungvisai
- Date: Saturday 25 June
- Venue: Tech Port Arena, Texas, USA
- Fight time: Ring walks for the main event are expected around 4am UK time
- TV/live stream: DAZN, with subscriptions from £7.99 a month
- Undercard highlights: The card might not have garnered too much attention in the UK but there are two stellar fights before Rodriguez and Rungvisai. Julio Cesar Martinez and McWilliams meet again, with the WBC flyweight championship on the line. Murodjon Akhmadaliev defends his IBF and WBA (super) super-bantamweight titles against Ronny Rios. Also look out for a huge undisputed title fight between welterweight champion Jessica McCaskill and challenger Alma Ibarra.
- i predicts: For all Rungvisai’s skill, it does feel a little like his moment has been and gone, whereas Rodriguez’s is just arriving. He really does have a bit of everything and while he’s only had 15 professional fights, he’s shown explosive power, tenacity and he’s incredibly quick. Rodriguez to win by unanimous decision.
Subject to change
- Jesse Rodriguez vs Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
- Julio Cesar Martinez vs McWilliams Arroyo
- Murodjon Akhmadaliev vs Ronny Rios
- Jessica McCaskill vs Alma Ibarra
- Raymond Ford vs Richard Medina Jr
- Jesus Martinez vs TBA
- Marc Castro vs Jean Guerra Vargas
- Nikita Ababiy vs Noe Larios Jr
- Khalil Coe vs Joaquin Berroa Lugo
In Coventry, meanwhile, prolific former amateurs Adam Azim and Karriss Artingstall are the highlights of a Boxxer showcase.
Artingstall, a huge puncher and former British Army gunner, following in the footsteps of partner Lauren Price in making her professional debut after winning bronze at Tokyo 2020.
Upon turning pro, she admitted her main focus this summer had initially been the Commonwealth Games, before realising “how big women’s boxing is growing in the professionals”.
“I watch pretty much every boxing show that is aired so I know pretty much all the female fighters that are around,” she said.
Azim also returns to the ring with a record of 4-0, with promoter Ben Shalom suggesting it is becoming increasingly difficult to find opponents for the explosive lightweight – who won 10 national titles as an amateur – because of his formidable reputation.
Speaking to i in January, Azim said: “When I fought in the amateurs I knew what to do. Opponents were scared. It was like ‘wow, this guy has won everything’. I had a reputation. As a pro it’s different. [Trainer] Shane [McGuigan] is teaching me a lot of stuff.
“On fight night it’s the same. I have to perform, show what I’m about. In the second fight I did that, knocking the guy out. It’s all coming together. It’s on to the next fight and the next after that. I just want to progress to become a better fighter.”
- Adam Azim vs TBC
- Karriss Artingstall vs TBC
- Cori Gibbs vs Carlos Perez
- Sam Eggington vs Przemyslaw Zysk (IBO super-welterweight championship)
- River Wilson-Bent vs Tyler Denny (English middleweight championship)
- Shakiel Thompson vs TBC
- Kaisee Benjamin vs TBC
- Rhys Edwards vs TBC
Any other business
- Full details of Anthony Joshua’s rematch with Oleksandr Usyk have been confirmed, with the IBF, WBA and WBO belts on the line on 20 August in Jeddah.
- Artur Beterbiev is eyeing a unification bout with Dmitry Bivol at light-heavyweight after knocking out Joe Smith Jr inside two rounds.
- Joe Joyce vs Joseph Parker was only confirmed back in April, but now details are starting to emerge about why the fight was called off. Parker was later offered a deal with Boxxer and informed promoter Frank Warren he would no longer be taking the fight – which could be a good thing for Joyce, now a mandatory challenger with the likes of Joshua ahead of him.
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