Former IBF bantamweight titleholder Emmanuel Rodriguez is ready to showcase the form that took him to a world title when he rematches unbeaten Gary Antonio Russell at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday.
Rodriguez, who is rated No. 3 by The Ring at 118 pounds, welcomes the opportunity to renew ties with Russell after their first fight, which took place last August, was curtailed due to a clash of heads after just 16 seconds of action.
“This is a super-important fight for me,” Rodriguez (20-2, 13 knockouts) told The Ring through Fernando Gaztambide. “Coming out with the victory will put me one step away from the world title.
“Russell is fast and he uses his jab a lot. For me, he is a basic boxer and that will not be a problem. In his last fight [against Alejandro Santiago] many saw him lose. From the seventh round on he looked tired, maybe he was [over]confident. I will attack his strengths and weaknesses. I’m ready for war for 15 rounds. I’m here to give a great show.”
It’s been a difficult three years for Rodriguez. In May 2019, he lost his unbeaten record in devastating fashion, when pound for pound star Naoya Inoue ripped away his world title in two rounds.
The 30-year-old Puerto Rican didn’t fight for 18 months and when he returned to action, curious judging cost him what should have been a victory over Reymart Gaballo (SD 12) in the fall of 2020.
The powers that be didn’t penalize Rodriguez and he went straight into a big fight against the emerging Russell. Although it wasn’t a loss, the circumstances were far from ideal.
“It’s frustrating because it is wasted time and a boxer’s career is short,” admitted Rodriguez. “So much training for it to end that way. It’s hard, but God, my family and my team have kept me motivated and happy.”
Team Rodriguez remain confident that their fighter will come good again.
“Despite losing, my team has kept looking for important fights,” said the former titleholder. “My last fight was a great win, in Mexico, against a great opponent and I’m ready for whatever comes next. In defeats, robberies, in everything, you don’t lose, but you learn and you will see a renewed and different Manny Rodriguez on October 15 against Russell.
“Russell is [ranked] first by the WBA, so beating him would be my return to title contention. Many do not want to face Russell and I just want to show that I am at a higher level than him.”
To prepare for this fight, Rodriguez moved his training camp to the high altitude of Jiquipilco, Mexico, with junior welterweight contender Subriel Matias and their trainer, Jay Najar.
However, Rodriguez is all too aware of the devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico.
“My town, Vega Alta, specifically the Los Naranjos neighborhood, where I am [from,] was one of the most affected by the hurricane,” he said. “Power outage for nine-plus days and some properties of my parents were totally lost. The entire neighborhood was flooded and there are alligators everywhere.
“It’s sad because many people suffer and I can’t do much to help because I am training in Mexico.”
Russell, rated No. 4 by The Ring, is the younger brother of former WBC featherweight titleholder Gary Allen and the older brother of rising junior welterweight Gary Antuanne. He turned professional in 2015 but hasn’t received the push his talent deserves, fighting just 19 times in seven years. Russell holds a win over former titleholder Juan Carlos Payano (Tech. Dec. 7). This is the 29-year-old southpaw’s first fight this year.
Wilder-Helenius, plus full supporting undercard, will be broadcast on Fox Sports Pay-Per-View, beginning at 9 p.m. ET/ 6 p.m. PT