Jesse Rodriguez not feeling the pressure ahead of title defense: ‘I was born for this’
Jesse Rodriguez must have nerves of steel. He had no problem stepping in as a last-minute opponent against Carlos Cuadras in February and looked sensational in winning his first world title belt against Srisaket Sor Rungvisai this past summer.
Rodriguez is now one day removed from fighting on the biggest stage of his career and is eager to further cement his status as one of the top lower-weight division fighters in boxing.
The unbeaten Rodriguez, who is ranked No. 3 by The Ring, will defend his WBC world junior bantamweight title Saturday night at the Israel Rodriguez at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 12-round bout will precede the main event bout between Ring Magazine super middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez and unified middleweight titleholder Gennadiy Golovkin.
Both fights will stream live on DAZN PPV.
Rodriguez (16-0, 11 knockouts) fought an almost flawless fight on June 25, breaking down and stopping Sor Rungvisai before a sold-out and partisan crowd in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas. The knockout win over Sor Rungvisai took place over four months after Rodriguez knocked down and defeated Carlos Cuadras to win the vacant WBC world title.
Both wins over fighters who held world title belts and were ranked were impressive in itself. The southpaw Rodriguez is one of the leading contenders for Fighter of the Year.
It has played out well for Rodriguez, who recently signed a co-promotional deal with Matchroom Boxing, the promoter of Saturday’s card. Rodriguez has not been overwhelmed by the increased media attention and limelight, taking it all in and expressing not taking it for granted.
“I don’t feel pressure because I feel I was born for this,” said Rodriguez earlier this week. “I belong on these big stages, it’s where I feel comfortable. Headlining in San Antonio, co-main to Canelo-GGG III, this is where I want to be. It’s been part of the plan and it’s great to see it play out. There’s expectations on me, all eyes are on me. I know that I need to perform at my best but that excites me.
“Canelo is the face of boxing so to be the curtain raiser for that fight is amazing. So many fans are going to be able to see what I can do. I’m only 22 so to be doing the things that I am doing, beating Carlos and Rungvisai, two of the four kings at Super-Fly. I never look back and feel I need to appreciate what I do, but I downplay what I do because I’m a humble guy.”
After the knockout win over Sor Rungvisai, there was talk of Rodriguez moving down in weight to 112 pounds. WBO world titleholder Junto Nakatani was sitting ringside.
Rodriguez’s older brother, WBA world titleholder Joshua Franco, also campaigns at 115 pounds. The WBA had mandated Franco fight Ring Magazine champion Juan Francisco Estrada, but Estrada chose to fight Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, a fight rumored to take place on December 3. The WBA stripped Estrada and elevated Franco to full titleholder.
There is the goal of Rodriguez wanting to unify the division, but that remains to be seen. Instead, Rodriguez is focused on the present. He must get by Israel Rodriguez (28-4-1, 11 KOs) of Los Cabos, Mexico, who is unbeaten in his last four bouts since losing to Gonzalez in October 2020.
“I’m right where I need to be, it’s just the beginning and the sky is the limit for me,” said Rodriguez, who is trained by Robert Garcia. “I can’t tell you how far I can go because I don’t know how to stop. I want to be one of those fighters that 20 years from now, people say, ‘Remember ‘Bam’ Rodriguez? He was a bad dude.’ One of those legends.”
Word is should Rodriguez come out victorious, as expected, on Saturday, he will appear on the same card as Estrada-Rodriguez III on December 3. A dominant win could continue solidifying his status at 115 pounds, but it could also be the opportunity for Rodriuguez to earn more fans as well.
“I feel like I’m getting the recognition that I deserve, and Saturday is the perfect platform to show everybody that I am the real deal,” said Rodriguez.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for The Ring since October 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing