For many months, Emmanuel Rodriguez sat home patiently waiting when he would get a call to finally fight. It’s a struggle all too familiar with several boxers, including current and former world champions, during this COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s been nothing but struggles for Rodriguez to get back in the ring ever since he lost his IBF bantamweight title to Naoya Inoue in May 2019. He was originally supposed to fight Luis Nery in November 2019, but that fight got called off after Nery missed weight. Since then, it’s been a steady stream of waiting, waiting and more waiting.
“With the pandemic, everything sort of changed. Can’t really put the blame on anyone. Can’t blame the team, the management. Everything got delayed. At one point, I thought that I wasn’t fighting this year, but I wanted to find a way to get in at least one fight before the year is over. I had fights nearly signed, but everything was done to get me fighting before the year is over. I thank God for that and it was better than expected. I’m fighting for a title,” Rodriguez told me in Spanish.
Fate smiled on the Puerto Rican boxer when he got the call to fight future Hall of Famer Nonito Donaire in the main event of one of Showtime’s last shows of 2020. However, plans quickly changed.
Donaire tested positive for COVID-19 and had to withdraw from the fight and allowed unbeaten fighter Reymart Gaballo step in to face Rodriguez. For Rodriguez, it’s not a big deal. More than just getting a victory and getting back into the title picture, Rodriguez simply wants to fight.
“The change in opponent hasn’t really affected us. Nonito and Gaballo have similar styles and so, I don’t have to make a lot of adjustments to the gameplan. I’m not going to get caught by surprise. We’re all focused and ready to go,” Rodriguez said.
After seeing the rise of Inoue as the division’s presumed No. 1, the dominance of John Riel Casimero since he went back down to bantamweight and Nordine Oubaali’s continued reign as the WBC champion, Rodriguez is perhaps viewed as bit of an afterthought at 118 pounds.
Of course, he doesn’t blame it on anyone. The pandemic is what extended his long wait to fight. He’s kept himself busy, avoiding a complete restart and getting a head start in camp.
“Neither he nor I have any fault for the way things went in recent months. I’ve been keeping myself busy training. I don’t know about him, but I kept myself moving, working and training to avoid going back to the gym for camp and starting from zero. That’s not great for a boxer. Being inactive is bad, but being inactive and going to the gym starting from zero is also bad. There might be some issues with the long rest, but we’ll see,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez will be looking for his first win since October 2018 when he retained his IBF bantamweight title against then-unbeaten fighter Jason Moloney. Rodriguez has faced young, hungry fighters like Moloney and Gaballo is no different.
Gaballo possesses a remarkable 23-0 record with 20 knockout wins, but Rodriguez will be by far his biggest test. Rodriguez is wary of what Gaballo is capable of doing when he connects, but believes Gaballo has not faced a “complete boxer” like Rodriguez before. As confident as Rodriguez is, he knows that his fight against him has the potential to be an exciting slugfest.
“I’ve seen him fight and I’ve had my eye on him for a while. He’s young and he’s hungry like most boxers. We know what we have to do and we know what we’re capable of. I’m going to be all over him. I know he likes to depend on his strength, but on Saturday, he’s facing a complete boxer, not like the other boxers he’s faced. It will be a great fight and we’ll do what we do to come out with the victory,” Rodriguez said.
A win over Gaballo nets Rodriguez the interim WBC bantamweight title. Holding that belt would put him in line to potentially fight Oubaali, Donaire or even look for a rematch against Inoue. It all depends on Rodriguez’s ability to shake off more than 18 months of inactivity.
“It all depends on Saturday. I think there is plenty of opportunity and I have to take what I can get. Whoever has the belt, say Nonito or Oubaali, I’m ready to face whomever is in front of me,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez vs. Gaballo headlines the December 19 Showtime Boxing: Special Edition at 9 p.m. ET.
Video Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mZVNz0-SQI