March 1, 2013

KO Digest Interview - Edwin Rodriguez: "My eyes are on the prize"

"I am ready to fight Andre Ward"
The road to the top is typically long, twisted, and challenging.

For undefeated 27-year old Edwin "La Bomba" Rodriguez, the journey has been much longer than it has been difficult, at least to the naked eye. Since debuting in December of 2008, it was clear that Rodriguez possessed talent and potential far superior to most young fighters. Although boxing is a battle of will and skill that tests each combatant to the maximum, the Dominican fighting out of Worcester, Massachusetts, has compiled 15 knockouts in 22 career professional fights and has impressed ringside observers with convincing victories in the vast majority of his fights.

What lies ahead is not as clearly defined, but Rodriguez has his eyes on the ultimate prize - World Super Middleweight Champion Andre Ward - and the next twelve months will crystallize most of the murky future ahead in his career. On the precipice of glory - and a world title shot - Rodriguez travels to Monte Carlo in the first stage of an international tournament at 168 pounds, scheduled to duel toe to toe with Argentina's Ezekiel Maderna (19-0-0, 13 KOs) on March 30.

Rodriguez confidently believes he is ready for the best in the weight class, the likes of which include American Andre Ward, Danish Mikkel Kessler, and Britain's Carl Froch, but before he can be crowed the best super middleweight in the world, he must first earn the honor of Monte Carlo Million Dollar Super 4 tournament titlist.

KO Digest: You were born in the Dominican Republic and currently fight out of Worcester, Massachusetts. Tell us about the road to America, the effect of the transition on your life, and life before boxing.

Edwin Rodriguez: I came to the United States, to Worcester, in 1998. My father was living here and brought me, my four brothers, and my mother to the states. I found boxing through my brother's friend in the Boys and Girls Club and trained with Carlos Garcia, who has helped a lot of kids out of Worcester get their life in check and stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to train full time until I was 16, but by then I kept coming to the gym every day.

KOD: Most people in any profession have somebody that they respect and look up to. When you first began boxing, did you ever patent yourself after a particular fighter's style or attitude?

ER: Definitely. I'm a throwback fighter, so I looked back to Sugar Ray Robinson but I like to imitate Roberto Duran when I'm fighting. His fighting style was very entertaining. He would sit in the pocket, and his defense was great, always making the opponent miss while always being in position to punch and he was a tremendous body puncher. He's someone I want to be like in the pros.

KOD: Is athleticism, particularly boxing talent, something that runs in the Rodriguez family?

ER: No. Being born in the Dominican Republic, I didn't know much about boxing except for Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield fighting back in the day. Just like every other Dominican, me and my brothers always looked up to baseball players and tried to pursue the American Dream through baseball. I found it through boxing.

Team Rodriguez - Shields, Edwin, Army, and DiBella
KOD: After a successful amateur boxing career, you turned pro in 2008 and eventually signed with promoter Lou DiBella. How did you and Lou become connected, and how important has his guidance been on your career?

ER: He's been very important. After I had nine pro fights, me and my manager, Larry Army, got together with Lou DiBella and working with DiBella brought attention to my career. He and my manager have done a great job getting me where I am today, being ranked in the top ten in multiple organizations.

KOD: In the past year and a half, you weighed in anywhere from 165 lbs. to 174 lbs., and you tacked on plenty of weight following the weigh-in for your most recent fight against Jason Escalera on HBO. What is your natural weight, and what weight class are you currently focused on?

ER: Right now, I'm currently focused on 168 because that where the first fight of the tournament is. I'm rated highly at 168 and I want to fight the best guy there. But maybe down the road, I'm big enough and strong enough to hang with the guys at 175 as well.

KOD: In one of the first real tests of your career, you fought Will Rosinsky in October of 2011 in a fight that many fans perceived as being closer than the scorecards indicated. What was your reaction to the apparent controversy and are you surprised that boxing fans continue to debate the outcome of that fight?

ER: I'm not surprised because there are a handful of guys like that from New York. I've fought bigger and better fighters and I've kept improving. Down the road, if this guy accomplishes something in boxing other than saying that he gave me a close fight, maybe down the road I'll give him a rematch, knock him out and and put him to sleep.

Rodriguez in the middle of a firestorm
KOD: Is a second bout with Rosinsky something you would ever seriously consider?

ER: It would have taken him to beat Kelly Pavlik and accomplish something with his career more than beating Otis Griffin in a fight that I heard was controversial as well. If he's fighting a guy at that level and having a hard time with him, he hasn't done enough to get a rematch. A lot of people, especially from New York, get caught up in the fact he was coming forward, but I was hitting him with five shots before he even threw two. I hurt him and he never hurt me. He's feather-fisted. What is he complaining and whining about?

Will wanted to fight because he was craving for attention and he never got that in his career. I thought he was a friend, but after I beat him I found out he really wasn't. He can cry robbery, but he got an opportunity that he asked for over and over again and he didn't do anything with it. Now he tries to act like he won the fight, and that's not a man in my eyes. Maybe it wasn't 100-90, but I felt like I won the fight clearly—there was no doubt.

KOD: Many of your fights have been on your home turf, in the Northeastern United States. However, your next fight is against Ezequiel Maderna in Monte Carlo, Monaco. How do you anticipate the drastic change in scenery will affect you both in training and in the actual fight itself? 

ER: Not at all. On the amateur travel team, I got to fight in a lot of different countries, so I'm used to that. The man I'm fighting is a former Olympian and is undefeated, but I've beaten undefeated guys before. My punching power has increased and I'm putting my whole game together. He looks like a decent boxer-puncher, and I'm looking forward to going to Monaco, winning, and looking impressive.

KOD: Maderna is not a well known fighter stateside. You are aware of his career résumé, but how much do you know about your opponent stylistically heading into the clash on March 30?

ER: I know he can fight from the videos I've seen of him on YouTube. He's tall, likes to go to the body, and I think it's going to be a very good fight. Ronnie Shields has been putting together a team plan for this fight and I'm working hard to master it.

KOD: How important are the impending results of this tournament are to your career?

ER: It's very important. I believe that after I win this tournament, I'll be right at the door to fight one of the major world champions for a title.

KOD: You said “when you win,” not “if you win.” You're confident that you're the odds on favorite to win the Monte Carlo Million Dollar Super 4?

ER: I'm confident in my skills. I don't know how other people feel, but that's how I feel. There's three other really good fighters involved, two of whom are undefeated, but I'm the one who is going to win it. When I'm in a tough fight, I'll pull it out.

KOD: Have you acquired any expansive knowledge about the other fighters in the tournament, or are you solely focused on Marderna for the time being, taking things one fight at a time?

ER: I'm a student of the game so I know about these guys already. I've seen Denis Grachev, who gave Lucian Bute all he could handle. And he beat my friend, Vladine Biosse, on the East Coast. I've seen them all fight before, but I'm focused on Maderna.

Teacher and Student of the game
KOD: Beginning with your fight against Chris Traietti in Worcester,  just before the Shobox clash against Will Rosinsky, you made the switch to trainer Ronnie Shields. What sort of impact has he had on you and your career in the year since the transition?

ER: Ronnie has been able to calm me down a little bit. Before, I was more of a seek and destroy kind of guy. I'm still trying to accomplish that, but I'm doing it a different way and I've realized I have ten or twelve rounds to do that. At that point in my career, I was too wild, and he was able sharpen my skills that I had neglected. He helped me put everything together.

KOD: What’s your take on the current state of the super middleweight division? Where do you stand in relation to the best in the weight class right now, names like Andre Ward, Carl Froch, and Mikkel Kessler?

ER: I think I'm right there with those guys, I just need results in the right fights to prove it. I need a breakout fight against one of the top names. I believe in my skills and after the tournament, I believe I should be able to fight one of the top names in the division.

The ultimate 168 lb prize - Andre Ward
KOD: Although you're just 22 fights into your professional career, some boxing bystanders have expressed disappointment that you aren't fighting the fights they want to see against some of the top names in the division. How do you respond to this fan feedback?

ER: I want to fight the big names in boxing. I want a big fight against guys like Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler. I'm ready to fight Andre Ward. I'm ready for the big names, but I need to get my name more out there. They aren't willing to get in there with me because right now for them it's a high risk-low reward, but I want to fight for a world title and give the fans what they want.

KOD: Since the retirements of New England heroes like Micky Ward and others, boxing events have been on a bit of a decline in the Northeast. Boxing returned to the Boston Garden four weeks ago, headlined by local prospect Danny O’Connor. How important is boxing's return to the state capital for the sport's resurgence in the region?

ER: Depending on how well myself, Danny, Demetrius Andrade and a few other guys do, we can bring boxing back to this region. Andrade has a really good trainer and definitely has the talent to be a top pound for pound guy. Danny O’Connor works with me. He’s one of the hardest working guys in boxing. I was very excited to be helping out in Danny's corner because Ronnie had another fighter in Las Vegas. We're good enough to bring attention to boxing and we can pull it together. That can set up other guys who are coming up in the amateurs now.

The Rodriguez family - with another on the way
KOD: Outside of the ring, your family will be welcoming a third child into the world in April. How has maintaining a family affected your fighting career? Does it make it more difficult to travel across the country, or in this upcoming case, the world?

ER: It's motivation for me. This is such a great opportunity for me and my family, and I'm staying focused and blocking all of those feelings. I just need to do what I need to do. I flew back home for my wife's birthday, but I was back in camp after the weekend. My eyes are on the prize and I am working hard.

KOD: You and your family are featured in a ten page spread in the latest Ring Magazine. From afar, it seems that you are a quiet man who cherishes his privacy. As your popularity and career portfolio continues to increase, are you worried about losing that sense of personal privacy? Are you ready to become famous?

ER: I'm not ready at all. There are times I like keeping touch with fans and friends through the media and I appreciate the support, but there are other times that I want to be a private person. In this sport, you need to interact with fans, but I'm still not totally comfortable with it.

KOD: Does this family responsibility add any extra pressure to win fights, or instill any mixed emotions about fighting aggressively for fear of losing or getting hurt?

ER: It's a lot of added pressure knowing that every time you fight, you're going to be promoted or fired. A fighter never thinks about getting hurt. If you think about getting hurt, you're going to get hurt, so you need to block that out. Fighters have the mentality that they're Superman. It sounds stupid, but that's how you have to be able to be to keep that from getting to us because we're all human as well.

The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio.
Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.  

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli