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Jesse Rodriguez steps in to face Carlos Cuadras

Carlos Cuadras
Ed Mulholland/Matchroom
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai falls ill and Jesse Rodríguez moves up to save the show against Carlos Cuadras, writes John Dennen

THE top end of the super-flyweight can be relied upon to deliver excitement. The leaders of the division might be drawing into the twilight years of their careers but they remain thrilling fighters with long standing rivalries and shared battles behind them. But there’s room for new entrants as well. At less than a week’s notice Jesse Rodríguez steps in to box Carlos Cuadras, one of the elder statesmen in the weight class, on Saturday (February 5) at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.

It should have been the admirable Srisaket Sor Rungvisai taking part in this fight. But with the Thai picking up a non-Covid related illness, and reportedly hospitalised, mere days before the fight, he had to pull out.

Jesse Rodríguez, a light-flyweight, was due to box on the same bill and has gallantly agreed to save the show and enter the main event.
Rodríguez is young, only 22 years old, but unbeaten in 14 fights, 10 of which he finished inside the distance. During a pandemic, fights are at risk of falling through at any moment before the first bell chimes. Super-flyweight leader, world champion Juan Francisco Estrada for instance is currently sidelined as he seeks to recover from a bout with Covid.

Promoter Eddie Hearn was delighted to put this fight together with such little time left. “Once again, my hat goes off to both Carlos, Jesse and their teams for making this happen,” Hearn said. “Both camps and fighters were quick to get this fight together after Srisaket was taken ill and unable to fight, and we wish him well.

“But what a fight we have in prospect. Carlos has the chance to become a two-time [WBC belt-holder] and eye up the winner of the [Román González-Julio Cesar Martinez] fight, and Jesse has been chomping at the bit to get a world title shot, and victory on Saturday night catapults him into the mix for huge fights in 2022.

“The lower weights always deliver and fate may well have sent us another barn-burner.”

Cuadras is experienced. He’s fought at the highest level for years. He’s beaten Rungvisai before, all the way back in 2014, even if it was a technical decision after eight rounds once a nasty cut opened over Cuadras’ left eye. He moved on from that to box the other mainstays of the division, losing a decision to Román González in a tremendous 2016 fight and fighting Estrada twice.

Cuadras, however, has been inactive since his last fight, when he boxed Estrada in 2020. That was a thriller still. Cuadras had put his countryman down early on, whipping him off his feet with a stunning right uppercut-left hook combination. That only prompted Estrada to seize control of the fight and batter the brave Cuadras down to an 11th round stoppage defeat.

That was his 44th professional fight and at 33 he is more than a decade Rodríguez’ senior. Age, as well as wear and tear from that long career, could catch up with him at any moment. It makes this bout hard to predict, with Rodríguez unproven and Cuadras a veteran who hasn’t boxed regularly in the past two years.

In hs most recent fight, Cuadras tended to hold his ground with Estrada. Though he had some success, and was also up against the best in the division, that is a hint Cuadras’ legs are not as sprightly as they once were. Rodríguez is a southpaw, like Rungvisai, and can sharp shoot with spite. But on paper Cuadras ought to have too much experience and strength for the younger man. Rodríguez’ time will come eventually, this contest might too soon though.

The vacant WBC super-flyweight belt is on the line for the winner.

“This is what I desire the most in the world, to be a champion again. Whoever is in my way, it was meant to be Rungvisai but he got sick, so we have Jesse and I am ready,” Cuadras said. “As the fight progresses, you’ll see my experience show. I’ve seen Jesse fight and I know he’s a great fighter, I will be careful but more than anything, I will give him his medicine.

“I expect the best from him and from me. I think Jesse will come prepared and be strong, so he doesn’t go down quickly. I will give the best of me like I do in every fight.”

“No hesitation in taking this fight,” Rodriguez said. “This opportunity came at 115lbs for the WBC title, and who is going to pass that up? We’re ready for this.

“The size is not a problem. A lot of people are saying that I have to gain weight to go up to 115lbs, but I walk around at 130lbs so I have had to lose weight and I’m a big 108lber so at 115lbs it’s just going to be another beautiful performance.

“This is my moment, I am born to perform and on Saturday night, a star will be born.”

On the DAZN undercard Jamie Mitchell, who came over to the UK to beat Shannon Courtenay, boxes another Briton. Liverpool’s Carly Skelly travels to Arizona to challenge Mitchell, who holds a WBA super-bantamweight belt. “It’s come from nowhere getting this shot and I am absolutely made up for it. It’s an opportunity that I am going to take with both hands,” Skelly said. “As soon as I saw the message about the fight, I didn’t even process it, I 100 per cent wanted this fight. I was at the fight in Liverpool when Jamie and Shannon fought, and I wanted to call out the winner for a fight.

“I have been given a draw before that I didn’t agree with, so I know that I have to go and give everything to win that belt. I am a fighter, I am going to come forward and make it hard work, I’ve got so much more about me than just work rate. I’ve got skills and I am going to show it all on Saturday.”

The Verdict Super-flyweight is the division that keeps on giving.

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