OFTEN the difference between a very good fighter and a future superstar can be found in the manner in which they cut through the competition en route to the top.
In the case of Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez, this absolutely rings true, with the WBC super-flyweight belt-holder fast developing a knack for not only beating very good fighters on his way up but beating them in ways they have never been beaten before.
First, the talented Texan breezed past Carlos Cuadras in February (dropping him in the third round), and then tonight (June 25) in San Antonio he managed to successfully overwhelm and stop Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in eight, thus retaining his belt.
Quite the year, whereas the breakout win against Cuadras heralded Rodriguez’s arrival as the youngest belt-holder in the sport (which perhaps mean more than the title itself), tonight’s win did something even greater for Rodriguez’s career: it justified the hype. Beating Sor Rungvisai the way he did, the 22-year-old proved that he belongs at this level and showed, moreover, the kind of dominance that might suggest others around him will find it difficult to knock him out of his stride anytime soon.
Indeed, such is Rodriguez’s ferocity and hunger to finish fights against world-class opposition, one can’t help but recall the rise of someone like Manny Pacquiao, who exploded with similar ruthlessness almost 20 years ago, and become excited at the prospect of a new superstar in the lower weight classes.
Certainly, the signs are so far promising. Against Sor Rungvisai, a man 13 years his senior, ‘Bam’ displayed a poise and composure belying his age and looked in total control from first bell to the finish. Always on the move, always changing angles, he operated behind a snappy southpaw jab and was quick to make a statue of his slower opponent, nailing him with a big left cross in round one and never seeming likely to lose his grip on the fight at any moment.
By the seventh, in fact, Rodriguez was gunning for the stoppage, first teeing off on Sor Rungvisai early in the round, then dropping him with a beautifully-picked left hook. The shot, thrown as Rodriguez cleverly switched angles on the inside, carried enough force to spin Sor Rungvisai around and have him touch down and, though he complained, the breakthrough had been made.
There were two minutes left in the seventh at that stage, enough to close the show, yet Sor Rungvisai, 50-6-1 (43), battled back admirably. It still appeared only a matter of time, though, before the finish Rodriguez craved was at last secured.
This, in the end, came in the next round, when Rodriguez knocked back Sor Rungvisai’s head with a long left hand before shooting an uppercut through his guard and landing a follow-up cross, its impact immediately evident. Riding the momentum of this salvo, Rodriguez continued to stalk and attack Sor Rungvisai, now penetrating his guard with ease, and, sure enough, it wasn’t long before a cluster of hard shots to the head and body had the Thai slumped against the ropes, ready to be saved.
It was then, with one minute and 11 seconds left in the round, that referee Mark Calo-oy moved in to stop the fight, leaving Rodriguez, now 16-0 (11), to collapse to the canvas in a display of unbridled joy.
“My skills proved a point tonight,” said the winner in the immediate aftermath. “My team know what I am capable of and what I bring to the table. That’s why we took the fight.
“I felt I started to break him down after three rounds. The power wasn’t there from him. I knew I couldn’t stand there but we came in and put on a show. I was using my angles more. Robert (Garcia, trainer) kept telling me to do that and I listened.
“The Cuadras fight gave me experience and put me here, fighting at home in San Antonio. I will do whatever Robert says. I am a special fighter not an average fighter and I am here to stay.”
Nobody knows what Jesse Rodriguez will ultimately go on to achieve in the sport, nor, for that matter, what sort of fighter he will eventually become. But what we do know already, with him just 22 years of age and 16-0 (11), is that he is no average fighter and that, yes, it is most likely, barring anything unforeseen, he is very much here to stay.