Saturday night is a night of rematches all around boxing. Of course, the HBO pay-per-view main event between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito is a rematch, as is Showtime's headline bout between bantamweight standouts Abner Mares and Joseph Agbeko.
But the best fight of them all might wind up being the second fight between Polish brawler Pawel Wolak and Dominican boxer-puncher Delvin Rodriguez, set for 10 rounds in the opening bout of the Cotto vs Margarito pay-per-view broadcast.
On July 15, Wolak and Rodriguez headlined a card at the Roseland Ballrom in New York City, the main event of that week's ESPN Friday Night Fights.
Friday Night Fights had been on a roll coming in. On July 1 in San Antonio, veteran welterweight grinder Sebastian Lujan knocked off Top Rank prospect Mark Melligen in a grueling fight, flooring the Filipino in each of the sixth, seventh and eighth rounds, before finally knocking him out in the ninth. Lujan overcame a sluggish start in the fight to impose his will in a damn good fight.
The next week's main event from Phoenix saw Jesus Gonzales bring in a crowd at the US Airways Center, and that crowd got a flat out brawl between Gonzales and Francisco Sierra in the main event.
Wolak vs Rodriguez the next week was a nice fight on paper. Both were proven commodities and known to provide solid action. But I don't think many expected the Fight of the Year contender that we got.
Rodriguez had been out of the ring for a year following a questionable loss to Ashley Theophane. In act, almost all of the losses and draws on Rodriguez's 25-5-3 (14 KO) record have been questionable, save for a TKO-8 loss to Jesse Feliciano in 2007.
[ Related: Rodriguez Says Rematch Could Be Even Better (Video) ]
Wolak (29-1-1, 19 KO) was coming in fresh off of a win on March 12 over former titlist Yuri Foreman, in which the Pole physically dominated the taller, longer man en route to a corner retirement after six rounds from Foreman, who hasn't boxed since.
Right from the get-go, the two cut a blistering pace. Wolak, as he always does, charged forward with reckless abandon, pressuring Rodriguez and forcing the Dominican into his own attack mode. As the fight wore on, it became a matter of wills. Wolak was not going to stop moving forward, and Rodriguez was going to batter him with sharp, hard counter shots as much as possible.
As the action intensified, a massive hematoma developed around Wolak's right eye, essentially making him a one-eyed fighter.
Photo by Carlos Suarez Jr / Boricua Boxing
Boxing fans around the world shuddered at the condition Wolak was in, and watched in awe as it seemed to barely register on his own radar. With three good eyes between them and a doc who said, "Let 'em roll," Wolak and Rodriguez blasted their way through the remainder of the fight, finishing in a flurry of toe-to-toe action in the exquisitely violent final two rounds.
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After a majority draw was announced, with two 95-95 cards overruling a 97-93 card for Rodriguez, the buzz spread around the boxing web sites, blogs, forums, and Twitterverse: If you'd missed Friday Night Fights, you missed something special.
And a rematch was immediately discussed. The next week on Friday Night Fights, Delvin Rodriguez was a sit-in guest in the studio with anchor Brian Kenny, and Wolak called in to the show, as well. Both said they were ready to go for December 3, at Madison Square Garden, which seemed to everyone to be the perfect stage for these two underpaid warriors.
"I'm willing and able to do it. I've gotta heal up, and then I'm willing to do it," said Wolak. "I've met with my promoters, I haven't gotten any concrete response on what's next. But I'm definitely willing to do it."
"I think it's perfect. It's a rematch that people would like to see. The fans want it," said Rodriguez.
"I think it's a great idea to have it on the undercard of Cotto vs Margarito. New York, back in New York, the fans would love it. The place is gonna be jumping. Two rematches. ... I think it's a perfect opportunity, perfect place, perfect time."
But it wasn't quite that easy.
Though the Rodriguez rematch was attractive, Wolak set his sights on bigger fish: A shot at a world title, most notably the IBF belt held by Cornelius "K9" Bundrage. A fight with Vanes Martirosyan was also rumored at one point, though Wolak denied having any knowledge of those discussions and kept his aim on Bundrage.
In the end, Bundrage and Wolak never did make a deal, or even really get close. They sniped and talked a lot, but that was about the extent of it. It became a minor media war and nothing more.
With no Bundrage fight, and thus no world title fight, Wolak and Top Rank finally made it happen: The rematch with Delvin Rodriguez was set, and on Saturday, it will be delivered.
[ Related: Wolak Says He'll Fight Smarter ]
Wolak and Rodriguez probably will not live up to the hype of their first fight. We should get that out of the way first. It's a really ridiculous expectation to put on a fight, honestly, to ask it to be as good as the Roseland War from July. I also can never shake the thoughts of some famous rivalries and their second fights: Ali vs Frazier II stunk, and Gatti vs Ward and Barrera vs Morales were fairly strong letdowns the second time around (if still pretty damn good fights) before great third fights in each rivalry.
If Wolak really tries to box, he's going to get lit up. Three things Wolak is not enough of to box with Rodriguez: Strong, tall, fast.
Wolak is not a puncher. He's a pure pressure fighter who saps the will of his opponents. If he starts trying to have a boxing match with the the six-foot tall Rodriguez (Wolak is 5'8"), he will get picked apart and beaten up, maybe even knocked out. Rodriguez is more than good enough to thrash Wolak if Pawel starts fighting like something he's not.
If Pawel does his usual, which no matter what he says is the most likely scenario, it will be another good fight. As Rodriguez said at his media day, the styles of these two fighters mesh in such a way that it would be difficult for them to not come up with an entertaining scrap.
But Rodriguez said something else that is a big key to my pick here. In July, Rodriguez was rusty, and said he needed about three or four rounds to get his rhythm, to heat up. He was also moving up to the 154-pound division for the first time, having been a junior welterweight in his first two years in the sport (1999-2000), and then a welterweight from 2001 through 2010.
I won't make any bones about the fact that I'm a big Pawel Wolak fan. I love pressure fighters who make up for a lack of speed, a lack of power, through sheer determination and even stubbornness. But when I re-watch the July fight, which I scored a 95-95 draw myself, I can understand thinking that Rodriguez won the fight, and the 97-93 card he got from judge Tom Schreck was totally acceptable.
But I cannot see Wolak winning that fight. I think the 95-95 was the best you could have scored it for Wolak, and that was a Delvin Rodriguez who had been off for a year.
This is going to wind up being a close one again, unless Wolak does something stupid like try to be a boxer (think the awful experimentation of Michael Katsidis against Juan Diaz), or unless this is by far the best Delvin Rodriguez we've ever seen. If we get either of those unlikely happenings, Rodriguez will dominate, and might even stop Wolak. But I'm just calling this as an extension of July's fight, because that's what I expect. And I'm giving the nod to Delvin Rodriguez in a competitive but clear fight. Delvin Rodriguez by unanimous decision.