Dan Rafael: Isaac Hlatshwayo
October, 4, 2013
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Delvin Rodriguez has had his big opportunities, but has been unable to cash in on either of his two world title shots.
In 2009, Rodriguez, a fan favorite for his numerous action-packed fights, lost a heartbreaking split decision on his home turf in Connecticut to South Africa’s Isaac Hlatshwayo for a vacant welterweight belt. In 2012, Austin Trout shut him down in a dominant decision win in a junior middleweight title bout.
But although those were world title fights, the biggest opportunity of Rodriguez’s up-and-down 14-year career comes Saturday night (HBO, 9:45 ET/PT) against Puerto Rican superstar and former three-division champion Miguel Cotto at the Amway Center in Orlando.
After the loss to Trout, Rodriguez, 33, a native of the Dominican Republic, rebounded with a pair of impressive knockout victories, taking out "Comanche Boy" George Tahdooahnippah in six rounds and former world title challenger Freddy Hernandez in eight.
That set him up for the shot at Cotto (37-4, 30 KOs), 32, who is looking to rebound from back-to-back losses to Trout and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
"The two wins Delvin had earlier this year along with the wealth of world-class experience he's fought over his outstanding career has truly prepared him for this opportunity to fight Miguel Cotto," Star Boxing promoter Joe DeGuardia said. "This will be his sixth fight in the junior middleweight division and he's very comfortable at 154. He's prepared very well for Miguel Cotto and I'm confident he will put on a terrific performance."
Because of Cotto's stature, Rodriguez (28-6-3, 16 KOs) considers this the biggest fight of his career, even though there will be no belt to wrap around his waist if he wins.
"I fought for the title twice but it's nothing compared to this," Rodriguez said. "I'm motivated for this fight, very, very motivated. It's a huge fight, the biggest fight of my career, even though it's not a title fight. I'm facing a guy whose only defeats are against the best. I've been wanting this fight for a while.
"I will bring everything I have into the ring. I am going to surprise people with my ability and people will finally see the best of me. It's a dream for me to get to this level, to be on HBO, after so many years of hard work. I've had downfalls, gotten bad decisions, had management and promotional problems, but I finally have this opportunity and I am enjoying everything about this. For me, the fight is going to be like going to the party on Saturday. It'll be like going to perform, going to the big dance."
Rodriguez is getting a chance to fight a guy whose undercard he was once on, for his 2011 rematch victory against Pawel Wolak.
"I've got nothing but respect for Miguel," he said. "Our paths have crossed a number of times over the years and he's always been a gentleman. He's a certain Hall of Famer, who earned everything he's gotten. Nothing was handed to him. It's the perfect test for me."
Rodriguez, whose four-inch height advantage over Cotto is very noticeable, has paid attention to Cotto's fights and believes he has the right plan to send him to a third consecutive loss.
"I got to box him," Rodriguez said. “The main thing is I got to beat him to the punch. I'm faster than him, I have a longer reach, I'm taller than him. As soon as he tries to develop his combinations, I just need to beat him to the punch and stop him in the tracks. I got to use my height and reach and boxing ability.
"Against Trout, I made a big mistake. I was waiting too much. But Trout never hurt me and I was in great shape. This fight, Cotto will put pressure on me and it will make it easier to get inside, keep a jab in his face. I think with Cotto I will use basic stuff, straight punches, jabs. You will see a lot of surprised faces in the stands when he gets hit with my jab and combinations and right hands."