Rodriguez's time to shine!
Story by Mariano A. Agmi
Photo by Chris Cozzone
Delvin Rodriguez (25-5, 14KOs) faces the biggest challenge of his career to date when he battles once defeated Pawel “Raging Bull” Wolak (29-1, 19KOs) on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City.
Rodriguez, fighting out of Danbury, CT, is moving up from welterweight to junior middleweight for a fight he calls his “opportunity to shine”.
“It’s my first fight at 154 and I’m so grateful for it because facing a guy like Pawel Wolak, the people that know him know that he’s a great fighter and a warrior,” asserts Rodriguez. “They know that this is a guy that comes forward and is determined, and will bring the best out of me, so I couldn’t be in a better position”.
Originally from Santiago, Dominican Republic, Rodriguez immigrated to the United States when he was 10 years old. New to the country and unfamiliar with the language, the fighter learned much about US after stepping foot in a boxing gym.
“Coming to this country, not knowing the language and the culture, I became friends with a kid that was also Dominican, and he lived close by,” recalls Rodriguez. “One day I went to his house and his mom said, ‘he’s in the gym right now’. As soon as I walked into the gym, I loved the environment. What I loved most about it was the competition. I got into the ring to spar my friend, and he started beating me up. I was like, ‘how is this little kid beating me up? It’s just not possible’. From there, I started training and traveling around with the team. My first amateur coach took us all over for amateur competitions, and that’s how I got to see much of the state and the country. I ended up with an amateur record of about 65 wins and 7 or 8 losses”.
Rodriguez is not as fond of his professional career thus far. The 31-year-old relishes the chance to redeem his career after the ups-and-downs he has faced over the past 12 years. Specifically, Rodriguez would like to make up for the time, opportunity and money he lost as a result of being on the short end of close and sometimes controversial decisions against the likes of Ashley Theophane (L10), Rafal Jackiewicz (L12), and Isaac Hlatshwayo (Draw 12, L12).
“My career has been very disappointing,” laments Rodriguez, despite having won the USBA title on three occasions. “I’ve had management problems; promotional problems. I’ve been through some hard, tough opponents. I’ve also been through some really bad robberies. If you look closely at my record fight-by-fight, there’s only one fight that I can say ‘yes, I lost that fight’”. Rodriguez is referring to an eight round TKO suffered at the hands of rugged brawler Jesse Feliciano in 2007.
The controversial decisions, two of which occurred on the road in Poland and South Africa, left the boxer so dejected that he considered walking away from the sport altogether.
“The worst was the Theophane and the Jackiewicz fight in Poland. Those were ones where I said ‘Wow, is this how it’s gonna be? What the heck? Do I have to kill somebody to win the fight?’ That’s the way it felt. You come out of the ring and you think, ‘forget this’. But I have a fighting heart and I got home and I was thinking ‘you know what? I can’t give this up like this – I have to prove myself and I have to come back.’”.
For the tough-luck Dominican, even his biggest win has been tainted. In 2008, after winning a decision over the undefeated Troy Browning, Rodriguez faced former US Olympian Oscar Diaz on ‘Friday Night Fights’ for the USBA welterweight title in Diaz’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas. The fight started out well enough, with Delvin out-boxing the Olympian through the first few rounds.
“I knew the type of fighter he was, a come forward fighter,” states Rodriguez. “Around the 8th round, I started landing right hands and he started backing up and I thought ‘I have this fight in my hand. This guy is backing up’. So I moved around, took it easy and kept shooting right hands and short uppercuts”.
Diaz absorbed terrible punishment in the ensuing rounds but continued fighting back. At the end of round ten, the Texan went back to his corner and let out a frightful yelp that was loudly heard on the broadcast. The fighter collapsed on the canvas and was rushed to the hospital, where part of his skull was removed to relieve the swelling in his brain.
“It was supposed to be a good victory for me but it was very sad. I didn’t have the energy to celebrate and I didn’t celebrate. I didn’t know what happened and at the end of the fight, I asked his uncle ‘is he ok?’, and he couldn’t really answer and he started crying, so I knew something serious happened”.
Diaz eventually woke up from his coma, never to fight again but at least able to live a semi-normal life. Rodriguez tried contacting his fallen opponent on several occasions, but was told that the family did not want to speak with anyone involved in boxing. “The only way I was able to find out how he was doing was at a Doctor’s seminar in Las Vegas, and a guy that was taking care of him was there and I was able to find out how he was doing,” says Rodriguez.
Despite the tragedy, Rodriguez views the fight as a valuable learning experience about life and the dangerous profession he chose to pursue. “I thought, this is a sport, what happened to him could have happened to me, thank God it didn’t,” says Delvin. “What that fight did to me was it made me prepare better and it’s another reason why I moved up to 154, because if I’m dried out and I get hit with a big punch, anything could happen”.
The 6 foot tall Rodriguez feels much more comfortable with the added weight, especially after enduring a scare of his own in his last fight, a majority decision loss to the aforementioned Theophane.
“In my last fight, I was against a fighter that should not have been in the same ring with me,” admits Rodriguez. “Even though I beat him very clearly, I should have taken him out in 3 or 4 rounds at the most. I had to lose 4 pounds the day before the weigh in, and I went to bed hungry and couldn’t eat anything. The next day, I woke up and still had to lose a pound. So think about that: you go to bed hungry, dried out, and you get up and have to lose another pound. I still couldn’t eat or drink anything. When I was in that ring, I felt like I couldn’t even walk. I felt like a fat guy – a 400 lb guy because my body couldn’t react the way I wanted it to. I really had to push myself after the 4th round.”
The loss behind him, Rodriguez firmly believes that he is moving up at the perfect time: “For the past 2 years I’ve been killing myself to make weight. On a day like today, if I was trying to make 147, I would be in a bad mood thinking about my weight. I would be drying out, watching what I eat, so by the time I would fight, my legs would be shot. My body couldn’t react after 4 or 5 rounds. I’m grateful I moved up in weight, because today, I’m walking around and I feel great, I’m already on weight. I feel explosive.”
Admittedly, the Dominican fighter must be at his best if he is to defeat Wolak, a classic pressure fighter who swarms his opponent while throwing punches from all angles. The Polish-American fighter is currently enjoying an 8 fight winning streak and is coming off his career best performance, a beating of Yuri Foreman that caused the Israeli New Yorker to retire after 6 rounds.
“Pawel Wolak is the type of guy where you have to be set, if you give him the opportunity, he’s going to be in your face,” states Rodriguez. “I believe that’s the mistake that Yuri Foreman made against him. Yuri was trying to run around too much, he never set his feet, he never balanced to throw his combinations.”
Rodriguez believes that the best way to offset Wolak’s pressure is not to run, but instead to use a stiff jab and movement to create counterpunching opportunities. “I don’t plan to run around,” asserts Rodriguez. “I have to calm myself down, because I can’t let the pressure get to me. I’ll use my power and speed and give him angles and not run around. I have to take small steps, make some small movements to the side, always keep that jab in his face and hit him really hard”.
To help ensure that he is successful, Rodriguez hired a new team, including trainer Fernely Feliz and strength and conditioning coach Matt Petren. The trio set up camp 30 minutes away from the Catskills and employed the sparring services of super middleweight contender Curtis Stevens, amongst others.
Having trained for 6 weeks, the Dominican-born fighter feels great physically and seems to be inspired to deliver his best performance at a time when he needs it the most.
“After all that I went through, I thank God that I’m still here,” Rodriguez states confidently. “I’m stronger than ever right now. I feel ready. This fight is going to be very exciting. We’re both from the East Coast and bring lots of fans. Tickets are almost sold out. On Friday, I’m winning this fight on ESPN2 right in front of everyone’s eyes. I feel like too many opportunities and fights were taken from me and I deserve to fight on HBO and go for the top guys. All I have to do is win on Friday and I’m back in range for the big names.”.