By Tyson Bruce
Edwin Rodriguez had the biggest opportunity of his life this Saturday. In the build up to the fight he talked a big game about how he was going to destroy Ward and that it was his time to shine. However, when the opportunity arrived Rodriguez punked out, pure and simple. He failed to make weight and never attempted an additional try to shed the additional two pounds. Later, it was learned on the HBO telecast that he was drinking water at the fighter meeting and falsely claimed that he was already on weight. It looked like it was Rodriguez’s attempt to purchase an advantage in a fight that he knew that he couldn’t win. Other than showing an impressive chin, he fought like that too.
Making weight is one of the toughest parts of being a boxer. The physical and mental toll it takes on the fighters is something that is so far beyond the average human being that it is difficult to even comprehend. But the great fighters always make weight. Did you ever hear stories about Roy Jones, Sugar Ray Leonard, or Bernard Hopkins not making weight? You didn’t and it’s not because it wasn’t just as hard for them. Real professionals with a life changing opportunity and a chance to win a title make the weight. Andre Ward made weight for his first title fight against Mikkel Kessler and he has in every subsequent fight. Edwin Rodriguez didn’t make weight and didn’t try after he had initially failed because he knew that after a fourteen-month absence from the ring Andre Ward was going to fight regardless.
It’s the exact reversal of the stunt Adrien Broner pulled against poor Vincente Escobedo, where he knew that the starving challenger wasn’t going to give up a career high paycheck because of his opponents neglect. He took the payoff from Broner’s lackeys and received a beating that probably had career-altering effects. These acts of unprofessionalism are becoming sickeningly commonplace with boxers like Julio Caesar Chavez Jr. and Mikey Garcia also failing to make weight in high profile bouts. In a sport that’s creditability is almost constantly under fire from the mainstream media, this kind of neglect only further serves to damage boxing’s already fragile reputation.
Had Rodriguez came out and fought the fight of his life and lived up to the fuselage of pre fight boasts this act of unprofessionalism at the weigh-in might very well have been forgotten. He did not. Instead he came with a deliberate strategy that consisted of a variety of fouls, with a notable emphasis on holding, butting, and rabbit punching. It was so blatant and without any visible attempt at creating a normal offense that one actually began to wonder whether he was intentionally trying to get disqualified. The first four rounds of that fight were downright ugly and that is putting it mildly.
Fortunately, referee Jack Reisse took a stern command of the bout (docking two point from both fighters) and the level of ugliness, mercifully, subsided to a large degree. Things only got worse for Rodriguez who was badly out-boxed by Ward in virtually every single remaining round. Surely he had to have come with some kind of strategy didn’t he? At one point even his trainer Ronnie Shields said, “all your doing is coming forward and fouling”. Whatever game plan, if one ever existed, died with his lost attempt at making weight or perhaps Ward is just that good.
The real question is when is this blizzard of shame going to come to an end? This wasn’t some fringe contender getting a measly paycheck to get waxed by a superstar champion. Maybe under those circumstances you could understand a guy not making weight. But many experts regarded Edwin Rodriguez as the very best super middleweight that Ward had yet to beat. Is it going to take another fighter getting seriously injured or dying for people or, God forbid, an athletic commission to do something about this charade? Just think of the damage that it would do to the health of boxing if one of these fighters with an unfairly purchased weight advantage were to seriously hurt or kill the opponent he was boxing? The consequences could be irreparable and why shouldn’t they be. This is a dangerous sport and weight classes exist to protect the fighters and create an even playing field.
Fortunately, tragedy did not occur and some measure of justice was done because Andre Ward administered a boxing lesson on Rodriguez. That said, even when the victory had been achieved, Ward seemed irritated that his opponent’s abuse of the rules, inside and outside the ring, overshadowed what should have been a triumphant return. Despite it being a rough night at the office, it was a welcome sight to see one the best back in the ring.
The same cannot be said for Rodriguez, who made a beeline for the dressing room as soon as the decision was announced. This was an opportunity wasted. Even if he had won he would not have gotten what he had came for which was a title. So, it begs the question, of what, other than an oversized paycheck, did he even show up for? It may be awhile before opportunity, especially in the form of a million dollars, knocks on his door again.