THEY say it takes a lifetime to become an overnight success. For many fights fans 2022 has been the year they discovered a super-flyweight gem in Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez. Yet for the 22-year-old himself it’s been the culmination of a lifetime of toil and struggle, both for him and his entire family.
“I’ve been boxing for almost 13 years now so a lot of people don’t know the lot of hard work and sacrifice I’ve been through,” he tells Boxing News. “Not only me but my family. My family went through so much during my amateur career. We were so broke and it was hard to get to tournaments. We had to do fundraisers, get loans from different companies. It was a hard time. But it’s all part of the process. And I’m so blessed to have the parents and the team that I have.”
Rodriguez has looked hugely impressive throughout his 16-fight professional journey but it wasn’t until February of this year, when he was named as a late replacement to take on Mexico’s Carlos Cuadras, that he truly announced himself onto the boxing landscape. The young Texan had been earmarked for the undercard of a huge fight between Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Cuadras, but when the Thai wrecking ball withdrew through illness Rodriguez seized the opportunity to jump up a weight class to 115lbs and fight for the vacant WBC super-flyweight strap at a week’s notice.
“It was pretty crazy. I was drinking coffee, it was in the morning and my dad called me and he was like, ‘Did you hear?’ I was like, ‘No. What happened?’ The way my year was going the year before I thought they had cancelled my fight. So when he called me I just thought it was bad news at the time. But when he said I was fighting Carlos Cuadras for the world title I was more than excited and I couldn’t pass the opportunity up. Any fights they present me, I’ve always said yes. I’ve never turned down anybody. I believe in my team. I believe all the fights they get me, they’re at the right time. So that’s why I never doubt anything that my team offers me.”
Such was the performance of the young challenger that Rodriguez was instantly the talk of the boxing world, dropping his vastly experienced foe on the way to an assured points victory. With such an esteemed name on his record many would have forgiven the youngster for taking an easier challenge in his next fight. Yet Bam (short for ‘Bambino’, his nickname since birth) was intent on challenging himself even further, electing to take on the very man he’d replaced in Rungvisai. It was this display that truly elevated Rodriguez to potential superstar status, breaking down and knocking out one of the lower weight class’s most formidable punchers.
“It was more mental than anything. The confidence I gained, not only from Rungvisai but also Carlos Cuadras. I’m so blessed to be fighting these guys because I grew up watching them, so to be in the ring with them and beating them the way that I have been, it’s more confidence than anything. To be in the ring with Carlos Cuadras and Rungvisai, then getting in the ring with any other fighter, it’s just gonna be like a walk in the park, mentally,” he says.
“Taking a world title fight against a former world champion, that right there is taking a huge risk. And then to defend it for the first time against Rungvisai, another legend at the lower weight classes that is chasing more greatness? That’s taking an even bigger risk than the Carlos Cuadras fight, just because of the power he carries. I’ve just never doubted myself or my team. So that’s why I take these fights. I believe in myself. So anytime I step into that ring I already know I’m gonna win.”
Rodriguez is open about his fixation with achieving greatness in the sport. When asked about the idea of easier fights to exhibit his dazzling footwork and combination punching he sounds almost offended, weighing in on other fighters in more high profile weight classes who choose not to test themselves against the best opposition possible.
“I just feel like they’re protecting their undefeated record. But I don’t really care about any of that. I already know that when I step into that ring I’m gonna win, so I never doubt myself. I feel like maybe fighters doubt themselves sometimes so that’s why I don’t take the big fights, to take risks. But like I said in my interviews during fight week, I wanna be a special fighter. Not your average fighter.”
With news confirmed last week that Rodriguez would be taking on Israel Gonzalez as the co-main event on the massive Canelo vs GGG III fight the Texan is now gearing up for the biggest stage of his life. For such an ambitious fighter the opportunity is something he’s champing at the bit to perform on.
“It’s a worldwide fight and the whole world’s gonna be tuned into that. So it’s a huge opportunity to present myself. The year I’ve had I’ve had a lot more eyes on me but fighting on a Canelo card, it’s gonna be triple that. It’s gonna be something special.”
Gonzalez will be Bam’s third opponent in his newfound weight class of 115lbs, yet dropping back down to flyweight is still very much in his plans for the future. A potential fight with Britain’s Sunny Edwards has already been talked about, not least by Edwards himself, and Rodriguez lights up at the thought of travelling over to take on such an intriguing challenge.
“I love that fight. I’ve always watched when an American goes to the UK and fights the UK fighters. It’s something I’ve always wanted to experience. So if the opportunity presented itself I would take it right away,” he declares.
“112 (lbs), I can still make that. I mean, I make 115 (lbs) fairly easy so a few more pounds wouldn’t be a problem. With the team I have, they know what they’re doing and they know how to how to cut weight, so I’m in good hands and we do plan on going back down to 112. But at 115 I feel better than ever. I feel strong. And I’m only 22 years old so my power’s still gonna come. I’m not even a full grown man. So at the end of my career I believe I’ll probably be around 126-130.
“I’m not even in my prime yet. The things that I’ve shown you, that’s just a little sneak peek of how great I’m gonna be when I’m in my prime.”
Central to Rodriguez’s success has been the presence of Robert Garcia. The highly experienced trainer signed the flyweight star to a managerial deal when he was just a teenage amateur, guiding him into a promotional deal with lower weight specialists, Teiken Promotions. Garcia has remained an essential part of Rodriguez’s team, not only developing his skillset as a boxer but helping to mentor him as his success and fame grows.
“My coach, Robert Garcia, he called me the other day. He talked to me about how to handle things at this point in my career. I’m just so blessed to have Robert. He’s not only a good trainer but at the end of the day he’s a great friend of mine and, I would say, he’s almost like another dad.”
Attention now turns to Bam’s showcase fight on September 17, Mexican Independence Day, in Las Vegas. The feeling of invincibility that’s been cultivated inside him after such a successful 2022 has Rodriguez lit up at the prospect of taking on even the most feared opposition (“Eventually, I would love a fight with [Naoya] Inoue. We can do it in Japan. It’ll be huge! Mega fight!”). Bam’s obsession with greatness, he assures us, has only just begun.
“I feel like where I am right now, it’s destiny. I came across a lot of obstacles to get here but I’m more than blessed to be in position that I am. In the future expect more world titles, more outstanding performances. Like I said, this is it’s only been a sneak peek and I’m only gonna get better and better and better, fight after fight. Sky’s the limit at this point.”