- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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When promoter Lou DiBella and HBO were working on the co-featured fight for Sergio Martinez's middleweight championship defense against Matthew Macklin, which takes place Saturday night (10 ET) at New York's Madison Square Garden Theater, middleweight contender Andy Lee was originally ticketed for the slot.
It made sense: Lee is promoted by DiBella, had appeared on previous Martinez undercards on HBO and is a likely future opponent for the winner of the main event. But when Lee dropped off the card for no good reason -- just a bad business miscalculation by his team -- it left DiBella and HBO to come up with a new fight.
Well, hats off to them, because I think the replacement fight, for action, is better than any of the fights that were suggested for Lee, who never had a set opponent.
The scheduled 10-round fight matches super middleweights Edwin Rodriguez (20-0, 14 KOs) and Donovan George (22-1-1, 19 KOs), both of whom have been in previous crowd-pleasing scraps. Rodriguez, a 26-year-old from Worcester, Mass., is a former amateur national champion and blue-chip prospect who, after notching wins against previously unbeaten Will Rosinsky, Aaron Pryor Jr. and James McGirt Jr., is just about ready to make the jump to the next level.
Chicago's George, 27, hasn't looked like he is on Rodriguez's level, especially after taking a brutal beating from Francisco Sierra in July 2010. But if Rodriguez isn't as good as many of us think he is, George -- who has won two in a row since, including a first-round knockout of previously undefeated Cornelius White -- probably can expose him.
Whatever happens, I expect a good fight.
"How can this one be a bad fight?" DiBella said. "This is one of those fights I want to see as a boxing fan."
DiBella has dubbed the fight "Bombs Away," which is the perfect name for it because Rodriguez and George like to throw and both have good knockout power.
For Rodriguez, a quality performance in this fight can send his stock soaring. He knows what it can lead to.
"I'm ready," said Rodriguez, who trained with Ronnie Shields at his Houston gym. "From the very beginning, we've pointed towards a fight like this -- HBO at Madison Square Garden -- but we all realize that there's still a long way to go, and our ultimate goal is to be world champion."
Besides Shields, who began training Rodriguez about a year ago (they are going into their third fight together), manager Larry Army also brought the controversial Victor Conte -- he of the BALCO steroid scandal -- into Rodriguez's training camp. Since the scandal and his subsequent jail term, Conte has worked with a handful of fighters, including Nonito Donaire, Andre Berto and Andre Ward.
"Science has been brought into the mix at the elite level of sports, but boxing is still far behind in that respect," said Army, who was referred to Conte by Tony Morgan, Berto's trainer. "Victor is the best in terms of bringing scientific advances into boxing. We've seen what he's done with Donaire and Berto. What Victor has done with Edwin is making a big difference in terms of his energy, mental focus and recovery. Victor has developed a program for Edwin to use at various stages of training, including different legal supplements, protein drinks, vitamins, minerals and, of course, proper diet and rest."
Said Rodriguez: "I felt a big difference during training camp. It's a great feeling knowing that it isn't all about training. I'm less stressed than normal because of the proper rest, vitamins and minerals, diet and information provided by Victor. I am more of a complete fighter."
George found himself in the fight under odd circumstances.
In December, he was in Cozumel, Mexico, to face Librado Andrade in a title eliminator, only to have the fight called off on the night of the bout because, of all the craziest things I've ever heard of, the ring was far smaller than the size contracted for -- 15 feet by 15 feet instead of 20 by 20. George's team pulled him out of the fight because of the obvious disadvantage, given his style compared with Andrade's.
It all worked out for the best, however. George will fight for far more than the $32,000 he was due against Andrade, and will get to fight on neutral ground at famed Madison Square Garden and on HBO.
"To be at the mecca of boxing is a dream come true," George said. "I was supposed to fight there five or six years ago, and my opponent failed his EKG or one of the heart tests, so it's kind of like I had a rain check to be back there. As far as Rodriguez, I've seen a lot of tape on him. I've seen him coming up. He's a great fighter, he comes to fight. He's a big super middleweight. I know he's going to be in tip-top shape and I think it's going to be an excellent war.
"Obviously, I think I am going to come out on top. I don't care if I win by split decision, majority decision, knockout, whatever. I just want to win. I am going to lay it all out on the line for this fight. This is my big opportunity. I think you only get one in life, and this is it for me. I'm sure we both want the same thing: We're both trying to be world champions, to become an HBO fighter and make millions of dollars and take care of our families. At the end of the day, may the best man win. I just hope we have a great fight, nobody gets seriously hurt and we can continue with our careers."