By: Hector Franco
This weekend at the Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, Puerto Rico’s Jose Pedraza (28-3, 13 KOs) will step in the ring against New Jersey’s Julian Rodriguez (21-0, 14 KOs) in a 10-round junior welterweight bout.
Pedraza, over the last decade, has been one of Puerto Rico’s most accomplished fighters winning world titles at super featherweight and lightweight. As an amateur, Pedraza was a standout for the island, winning the gold medal at the 2010 Central American & Caribbean Games, winning the silver medal at the AIBA World Championships in Milan, Italy in 2009, and the bronze medal at the 2007 Pan American Games.
Pedraza, who hails from the small town of Cidra in Puerto Rico, first won a title as a professional at 130-pounds when he scored a dominant unanimous decision over Russia’s Andrey Klimov in 2015. He would go on to make two title defenses of his title, including a controversial win over veteran Edner Cherry before facing Gervonta Davis in January 2017.
At that time, the Puerto Rican was part of the Premier Boxing Champions stable and ran into some promotional issues that kept him relatively inactive, fighting only once in 2016 and 2017.
Pedraza would lose his IBF super featherweight title to Davis by seventh-round stoppage in a fight where he was primarily dominated and beaten up.
More than a year after the loss to Davis, Pedraza would begin the next phase of his career, signing with Top Rank in 2018. He would fight an unprecedented four times in 2018, including winning the WBO lightweight title against Ray Beltran, giving him the distinction of being a two-division champion.
At the end of 2018, Pedraza would face then pound-for-pound star Vasiliy Lomachenko in a lightweight unification match. The Puerto Rican would endure himself well against Lomachenko finding moments of success but would ultimately lose a unanimous decision to the Ukrainian.
Pedraza would then make a move to the 140-pound division. Another bump in the road for the Puerto Rican came when he faced top junior welterweight contender Jose Zepeda losing a unanimous decision to the Mexican.
While the losses to Davis and Lomachenko were detrimental to Pedraza, the loss to Zepeda put him in a position where he had to prove himself as a world title challenger in a loaded weight class.
The road to a world title would be much more complex at junior welterweight.
In 2020, Pedraza would stay busy winning two unanimous decisions over Mikkel LesPierre and Javier Molina in commanding performances.
Now, he finds himself fighting against a fighter salivating at the opportunity to show the world his skillset in Julian Rodriguez. The New Jersey native was a well-known amateur, winning the 2013 National Golden Gloves and signed with Top Rank over eight years ago.
Rodriguez’s career stalled out due to a shoulder injury that kept him out of the ring for the entirety of 2018 and fighting only once in 2017. The 26-year old Rodriguez would like to use Pedraza as a stepping-stone to more significant fights as the Puerto Rican thus far has only lost to elite competition.
“There were a few hiccups with the injury that I had a few years ago, but I believe I’m on that top-tier level,” Rodriguez stated at the final press conference promoting the fight. “A lot of people that were in my class growing up, the same age group, they’re world champions now. I feel like that’s where I belong, and that’s what I am going to prove on Saturday.”
While Rodriguez is looking to make a name for himself against Pedraza, the Puerto Rican aims to cement himself with the best fighters to come out of his country.
Pedraza wants to join fighters such as Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfred Benitez, and Felix Trinidad as three-division champions.
“It would mean a lot to join all the Puerto Rican greats to have won world titles in three weight classes,” said Pedraza. “After the loss to Zepeda, I focused a lot more on training and training styles that I’m going to show on Saturday, everything that I’ve been working on.”
Pedraza and Rodriguez will meet in a classic crossroads confrontation. The winner will move on to possibly become a future opponent for a world title. The loser, however, will be back at the bottom of the heap relegated to climbing back up the ladder of boxing relevancy.
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