Veteran superstar Miguel Cotto will be fighting for his pay-per-view future when he faces ESPN2 stalwart Delvin Rodriguez at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday night.
For his part, Rodriguez, like many outsiders in boxing, is fighting for another tomorrow. After turning pro in 1999, Rodriguez has little to show for a man who made his premium cable debut in 2002 for a purse of $4,000. A farm boy from the Dominican Republic, Rodriguez wandered into the Fat Hat Boxing Gym in Danbury in the early 90s to keep away from riff-raff. Instead, he found himself spending nearly half his life in a cutthroat business where only a laugh track is missing. In fact, Rodriguez has been scuffling in this unforgiving racket longer than Cotto, and he has has built a ledger that is recognizably that of an honest-to-goodness professional prizefighter. Here he is, off to Poland for a decent paycheck and a sketchy decision setback; then down to South Africa as a longshot—another dubious “L.” Hell, even a man named Ashley got the nod against him in a Miami, Oklahoma, casino. There were some layoffs, small change in White Plains and Poughkeepsie, PALs and High School gyms, an upset KO loss, cancelled fights, you name it.
Somehow, Rodriguez has persevered, and now he finds himself in a position to make that popular Pauper-to-Prince theme in boxing a reality. For Rodriguez, there was no fat signing bonus, no Olympic experience, no prominent slots on major pay-per-views, no HBO subsidies. But he did pop up on TCS a while back, before his disappointing sleepwalk against Austin Trout:
Despite being bilingual, photogenic, and an ESPN highlight-reel mainstay, Rodriguez has never caught the eye of the exclusive boxing powerbrokers who might as well be operating out of the Ravenite Social Club in Little Italy circa 1989. Naturally, this means that Rodriguez has had to be a real prizefighter over the last decade or so, and not one of these premium network creations who own enough stock in Smoke & Mirrors to retire comfortably for the rest of their lives. It is incredible that none of the boxing capos had the sense to sign and guide a personable East Coast Dominican with TNT in both hands. Without the proper connections, Rodriguez has had to fight in pick â€˜em matchups, has had to go on the road for his biggest opportunities, and has come up on the short end of more than one (or two or three) noxious decisions. Unfortunately, his shot will come three or four years too late . . . .When the Big Time arrives, Rodriguez may not be able to capitalize on it, but he has certainly earned the opportunity.
So, how does an exciting, articulate, photogenic, bilingual sharpshooter with ties to an untapped ethnic market avoid the limelight for so long? Maybe it has something to do with the haywire demographics spreadsheet HBO uses, or the fact that Rodriguez has spent most of his career with Joe DeGuardia. DeGuardia actually knows how to put a card together, but, like so many of the small fry operating on the fringes of boxing, he has to wait for Lady Luck, drunk, maybe, with mascara running down her cheeks, to unexpectedly knock on his door or give him a call in the blue hour. Then he has to hope that a wrong number is somehow not in play. DeGuardia had a nice run a while back with Antonio Tarver, and, before that, it was Lou Del Valle, who eventually accused DeGuardia of double-dipping and then took a swing at him at a card in New York City. Since then, it has been mostly the waiting game for DeGuardia and Star Boxing. But not much has happened on the big stage for DeGuardia recently, at least not much good. A few years ago, even his gym in Morris Park caught fire.
After a spirited showing against Floyd Mayweather, Jr., in 2012, Cotto found himself wallowing in matchmaking hell when he faced tricky Austin Trout last December. What was supposed to be a steppingstone to a pay-per-view showdown with Saul Alvarez turned into a sinkhole for Cotto, who dropped a unanimous decision and saw his undefeated record in Madison Square Garden come to an end. At this stage of his career, the last thing Cotto needs is a cunning southpaw answering the bell against him. Now, at 32 and with his best days behind him, Cotto looks to re-establish his viability as a bankable commodity, possibly for Sergio Martinez, who sits atop the middleweight throne and sporadically issues pompous decrees from on high.
There is no telling what Freddie Roach—who makes his first start with Cotto—will add at this point. Roach replaces Pedro Diaz, who may have exhausted Cotto with his Spalding regimen. Over a decade into his career, Cotto, Caguas, Puerto Rico, will likely not vary his habits in the ring. No longer the switch-hitting bodysnatcher of a few years ago, Cotto is more of a boxer-puncher these days, one who gets hit often and who reaches for his opponents more than ever. Entering the bout with Rodriguez, Cotto, 37-4 (30), has lost back-to-back fights for the first time in his career. Against Trout, Cotto looked clumsy and off-balance, but Trout can do that to a fighter. Although Rodriguez is not a cutie in the ring, he is likely to try to outbox Cotto from the outside, using his pulls in height and reach to his advantage. A six-time Junior Olympics champion, Rodriguez is at his best when he overworks his jab, mixes in his left hook, and remembers to keep his right hand up. While Cotto looks to dig hooks in close, Rodriguez, Danbury, Connecticut, will try to beat him to the trigger with his money punch: a right cross that has lost some of its sting since Rodriguez moved up to 154 pounds.
Nothing less than his best is likely to beat Cotto tomorrow night, and Rodriguez,28-6-3 (16), seems a few years removed from his best, which was always less than Cotto at his worst. Among his biggest flaws are a tendency to retreat in a straight line and a habit of dropping his hands. Rodriguez also moves almost exclusively to his right, a predictable pattern a veteran like Cotto ought to be able to exploit. Every now and then, Rodriguez opens up with a blistering combination, but he is often too deliberate in the ring, and his work rate is erratic.
Last February, Rodriguez beat on George Tahdooahnippah as if the “Comanche Kid” were a Zildjian cymbal. He followed that up with a TKO over veteran grinder Freddy Hernandez on ESPN2 a few months ago. Rodriguez, 33, can whip any circuit fighter or clubfighter working today, but he has always had trouble overcoming better opposition. This, of course, is the definition of a journeyman, and the question here is simple: Is Cotto so faded that a loss to a journeyman—even a talented one—is possible tomorrow night?
Boxing too often offers only a brief transit between being a young man at his peak with a luminous present and being its ghostlike facsimile—a young man, still, but now facing the bleak shadows of an uncertain future. Although Cotto and Rodriguez are a class apart in the ring, they share similar dilemmas: that sad dimming all fighters eventually face. A fading Cotto would like to keep his past alive a little longer. A fading Rodriguez would like nothing more than to look forward to looking forward to something.