Edwin Rodriguez will headline on HBO Boxing After Dark on September 29, and while there's simply no arguing this to be a true HBO quality card, the details of how it got here in the first place -- a cast-off idea for a prospect-oriented series, which HBO paid for ahead of dropping their designs -- don't place any of the blame on the fighters or promoters, really.
Rodriguez (21-0, 14 KO) is a super middleweight prospect out of Worcester, Mass., born in the Dominican Republic. His earlier career gave him his nickname: "La Bomba." But since working with respected trainer Ronnie Shields, Rodriguez has become a more disciplined fighter. His last two wins over Will Rosinsky and Don George (his HBO debut) were both solid for where he's at (though the 100-90 scores against Rosinsky were completely absurd), and next he'll face Jason Escalera, another prospect.
You wouldn't call it a step-up fight, because it isn't one. But Shields says the two continue to work to make Rodriguez, 27, a better fighter, and move him toward true contender status in a division where it won't be easy to rise through the ranks.
Shields, who has been around and seen more than his fair share in the boxing game, continues to describe Rodriguez as a work in progress, but one he's pleased with to date:
"Edwin always came forward, throwing punches, and when you hit him, he hit you back. There's nothing wrong with that attitude, but you don't want to trade shots with an opponent who hits harder. You don't go head-to-head with an opponent like Donovan George who was stronger. Edwin boxed in the middle of the ring and won rounds, catching everything George threw on his gloves instead of his chin. Edwin agrees that he doesn't have to punch it out. I'm not taking the fight out of a fighter like Edwin. I'm making him more of a complete fighter like I'm doing with Danny (O'Connor), too. Complete fighters are smart fighters. If Edwin is losing late in a fight and needs a round or two, he can still do that if he needs to, but he has perfected his defense."
Danny O'Connor, a 140-pound prospect from Framingham, Mass., is good friends with Rodriguez, and the two -- and their trainer -- say that they help push each other in training through bad days.
O'Connor, also 27, will be fighting on the same card at Foxwoods on September 29, but he won't be on TV. Now 18-1 (6 KO), O'Connor has won four straight to start bouncing back from a really bad showcase loss on ShoBox: The New Generation in April 2011 against Gabriel "Tito" Bracero, where he was simply outclassed on the night.
Shields says that O'Connor is coming along:
"When Danny first came here, I watched tapes of his fights and all he did was box against everybody. I asked him if he thought there was any other way to fight. He didn't know how to fight any differently. We worked on getting him to fight inside, not just to go in there throwing punches. He needed defense to create offense. He's done that perfectly in his last few fights and I've been impressed by his defense. He's knocking people out now. He's never going to be a power puncher, but he's punching harder and sitting down on his punches. He's a tough kid who sacrifices whatever I take to do it. I love working with him and Edwin.
"It's very important that they're down here together. One feeds off of the other. If Edwin is having a down day, Danny picks him up, and vice-versa."
Also featured on the HBO 9/29 card will be Luis Del Valle taking a big step up against veteran Vic Darchinyan, who will move up to 122 pounds as his career comes closer and closer to winding down, but there's definitely no looking at "The Raging Bull" from Armenia as a gatekeeper here -- he'll come to win. In the TV opener, welterweights Alex Perez and Antonin Decarie will do battle.
Tickets are still on sale for the event:
Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased through the Foxwoods box office by calling 1 (800) 200-2882. Tickets are priced at $45, $75, $100 and $200.