Dan Rafael: Francisco Rodriguez Jr.

Notes: Ill Walters off March 21 card

February, 3, 2015
Feb 3
A few notes from around the boxing world:

•  Featherweight titlist Nicholas Walters (25-0, 21 KOs), who is coming off a sensational sixth-round knockout victory against Nonito Donaire on Oct. 18, was due to return March 21 in the HBO-televised co-feature of lightweight champion Terence Crawford’s rise to junior welterweight against an opponent to be determined. However, Walters is suffering from the flu and unable to train, so he is off the card and will be rescheduled, Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti told ESPN.com. Walters did not yet have a set opponent. Moretti said it has not been determined who will take place Walters’ place in the co-feature of the card, which will likely take place at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

•  Deontay Wilder’s lopsided unanimous decision win against Bermane Stiverne to win a heavyweight world title on Jan. 17 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas generated a gate of $765,200 from a paid attendance of 4,074, according to the Nevada State Athletic Commission. However, the announced crowd for the fight was 8,453, meaning more than half the tickets were complimentary. The commission also said that the fighters’ drug tests were clean.

•  Junior flyweight titlist Donnie Nietes of the Philippines has been ordered to face mandatory challenger (and former unified strawweight titlist) Francisco Rodriguez Jr. The WBO notified both sides last Thursday and they were given 30 days to make a deal or a purse bid will be ordered. Minimum bid is $80,000. If either side does not want to negotiate, it can ask for an immediate purse bid. Nietes (34-1-4, 20 KOs), however, will have an interim bout. He is due to defend his title against Mexico’s Luis Ceja (26-5-3, 21 KOs) on March 28 in Pasay City in the Philippines.

•  The debut edition of adviser/manager Al Haymon’s time-buy “Premier Boxing Champions” monthly boxing series on Spike TV, scheduled for March 13, will take place at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. The card was initially slated for the StubHub Center in Carson, California. The welterweight doubleheader will feature former titleholder Andre Berto (29-3, 22 KOs) against Josesito Lopez (33-6, 19 KOs) in the main event, with former titleholder Shawn Porter (24-1-1, 15 KOs) facing Roberto Garcia (36-3, 23 KOs) in the co-feature.

Notes: Bute signs with Haymon

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
A few notes from around the boxing world:

• Former super middleweight titlist Lucian Bute (31-2, 24 KOs) has signed with Al Haymon, who adds Bute to his vast stable of more than 150 fighters. InterBox, Bute's promoter, announced that the "promotion of Lucian Bute's career will remain unchanged. It is a pleasure for InterBox to work jointly with Al Haymon and his team in the organization of future fights for Lucian. The first fight is planned for the end of this spring." There was some discussion that perhaps Bute would make his ring return on the Sergey Kovalev-Jean Pascal undercard on March 14 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Bute's hometown. However, Bute won't be ready, InterBox promoter Jean Bedard said. Bute was scheduled to fight on Dec. 6 at the Bell Centre, but withdrew after suffering a back injury about two weeks before the fight and he is continuing to recover.

• All-action welterweight Sammy Vasquez (17-0, 13 KOs) will face Ghana native Emmanuel Lartey (16-2-1, 7 KOs) on Feb. 20 (Showtime) in a "ShoBox: The New Generation" at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Vasquez's home region. Lartey easily outpointed long-faded Steve Forbes in June to rebound from back-to-back eight-round decision losses to top prospects Felix Diaz (a 2008 Olympic gold medalist) and 2012 U.S. Olympian Errol Spence Jr.

• "Friday Night Fights" fan favorite Delvin Rodriguez will be back on the show on Feb. 27 when he will face Eliezer Gonzalez (14-1, 9 KOs) at the Paramount in Huntington, New York. Rodriguez (28-7-4, 16 KOs) will be fighting for the first time since a 10-round split draw with former world titlist Joachim Alcine on FNF last May. In his previous fight, Rodriguez got a big opportunity on HBO and got knocked out by Miguel Cotto in the third round in October 2013. Rodriguez-Gonzalez will open the card headlined by junior welterweight brawler Cletus Seldin (15-0, 12 KOs) against Johnny Garcia (19-2-1, 11 KOs).

• Former unified strawweight titlist Francisco Rodriguez Jr. (16-2-1, 11 KOs), who fought to a split draw with Jomar Fajardo in November in Fajardo's native Philippines, will meet him in a junior flyweight rematch on Jan. 31 (UniMas) in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico. Rodriguez, 21, of Mexico, eyeing a junior flyweight title shot, outpointed Katsunari Takayama of Japan in August in the 2014 ESPN.com fight of the year. Rodriguez then gave up the belts he unified and moved up in weight and fought to the draw with Fajardo (14-5-2, 7 KOs), 22, in his next bout.

"I have this thorn in my side with Fajardo," Rodriguez said through a translator. "It was a bad night, a lot of things were happening which resulted in a draw. Jan. 31, things will be different and there's no question I will win that fight, I have trained for that."

BWAA awards: And the nominees are...

December, 15, 2014
Terence Crawford AP Photo/Nati HarnikTerence Crawford, the 2014 ESPN.com fighter of the year, won't be fighting on March 21 as expected.

As if last week wasn’t busy enough in Las Vegas, where I shuttled between the Cosmopolitan and MGM Grand on Thursday, Friday and Saturday for coverage of both big shows – I hit both press conferences and weigh-ins and watched the early MGM bouts before going to the Cosmo – there was also a Boxing Writers Association of America meeting on Saturday morning at the MGM.

A few weeks ago in Atlantic City there was also a BWAA meeting for those folks in the organization on the East Coast. At that meeting we did the preliminary ballot for the 2014 awards, which will be handed out at the annual banquet in the spring a night or two before a major fight.

On Saturday we finalized the ballot and here is what the full members will be voting on in the coming weeks. The nominees are:

Sugar Ray Robinson Fighter of the Year: Terence Crawford, Sergey Kovalev, Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Gennady Golovkin.

Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier Fight of the Year: Francisco Rodriguez Jr.-Katsunari Takayama (incredible action-packed strawweight unification), Orlando Salido-Terdsak Kokietgym (interim junior lightweight title bout featuring blazing action and seven combined knockdowns), Lucas Matthysse-John Molina (a back and forth junior welterweight battle featuring five combined knockdowns), Tommy Coyle-Daniel Brizuela (dramatic lightweight slugfest that featured eight combined knockdowns); Terence Crawford-Yuriorkis Gamboa (lightweight title fight that was dramatic and exciting in front of a wild Crawford crowd).

Eddie Futch Trainer of the Year: Abel Sanchez, Freddie Roach, John David Jackson, Naazim Richardson, Floyd Mayweather Sr.

Cus D’Amato Manager of the Year: Egis Klimas, Vadim Kornilov, Al Haymon, Pat Lynch, No award

Sam Taub broadcast award: Marc Payton (retired longtime director of HBO’s boxing broadcasts), Lou DiBella (promoter who spent many years buying the fights for HBO and the creator of “Boxing After Dark”), Seth Abraham (former longtime president of HBO Sports who teamed with DiBella to make HBO into a powerhouse boxing network), Brian Kweder (boxing programmer for ESPN), No award

Bill Crawford award for courage in overcoming adversity: Magomed Abdusalamov, Steve and Livvy Cunningham, Vitali Klitschko, Anthony Dirrell, Kathy Duva

Barney Nagler Long and Meritorious Service award: Michael Buffer (legendary ring announcer), Bob Canobbio (CompuBox founder), Lou DiBella (promoter, former HBO executive), Dr. Margaret Goodman (head of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association and former Nevada ringside physician), Jack Hirsch (outgoing longtime BWAA president)

Marvin Kohn Good Guy award: Dan Goossen (promoter, posthumous), Andrey Ryabinsky (Russian promoter who paid for most of Magomed Abdusalamov’s medical expenses), Ken Condon (longtime casino executive in Atlantic City), Don Turner (trainer), Tami Cotel (HBO boxing production coordinator).

Rodriguez vacates 105 title, moves up

October, 9, 2014
Francisco Rodriguez  vs. Katsunari TakayamaMario Ocampo/LatinContent/Getty ImagesStrawweight titlist Francisco Rodriguez Jr., left, will be moving up to the junior flyweight division.
When Francisco Rodriguez Jr. outpointed Japan's Katsunari Takayama on Aug. 9 in Monterrey, Mexico to unify strawweight titles it was the end of a fantastic fight. For my money, it is so far the 2014 fight of the year and one of the greatest fights in the history of the 105-pound division.

It will also be the last time Rodriguez will fight as a strawweight. The 21-year-old Mexican, who won a world title in March by knocking out Merlito Sabillo in the 10th round and then beat Takayama to unify belts in their epic battle, is moving up to junior flyweight.

His promoter, Zanfer Promotions, notified the IBF on Oct. 1 that he was vacating his title because he can no longer make weight.

To fill that vacancy, the IBF has ordered Takayama (27-7, 10 KOs) and Mexico's Jose Argumendo (13-3-1, 7 KOs), who would have been Rodriguez's mandatory challenger, to begin negotiations for the title fight.

Although Rodriguez (15-2, 10 KOs) has not yet formally resigned his WBO version of the title, it is a matter of time.
Strawweight unification fights are rare.

Hall of Famer Ricardo Lopez of Mexico, the greatest strawweight of all time, fought two of them in his heyday, knocking out Alex "Nene" Sanchez in the fifth round in 1997 and then fighting to an eight-round technical draw in his next fight against Rosendo Alvarez in their classic in 1998 (the lone blemish on Lopez's record).
More recently, Japan's Kazuto Ioka unified two of the 105-pound titles by outpointing countryman Akira Yaegashi in June 2012.

Now, another strawweight unification match is on tap as Mexico's Francisco Rodriguez Jr. (14-2, 10 KOs) and Katsunari Takayama (27-6, 10 KOs) of Japan are set to meet on Saturday night in Monterrey, Mexico, in what could be a very entertaining fight.

Rodriguez, 21, will be making his first defense and Takayama, 31, will be making his third defense. And the good news for American fight fans is that the bout will air on beIN Sports Espanol (11 ET).

"We did a lot of preparation in Osaka for 70 intense days," Takayama said through a translator. "We are ready for everything this Mexican has. Rodriguez is very hungry, young and ambitious, and that makes it dangerous, but I have my experience and my intelligence to defeat him in his own house."

Said Rodriguez, “I look forward to being in the ring with Takayama and to me giving my people a historic victory."