Right, so with the raging success of my previous scouting report of a boxing prospect, which spectacularly drew comments from all of 3 people, I have decided, for whatever reasons, to continue my ongoing series of having a look at some of the sport's more promising young fighters. Here is the list of top prospects we have looked at until now:
Heavyweight Anthony Joshua, touted as the next great heavyweight of his generation.
Light heavyweight Russian youngster Dmitry Bivol
Minimumweight titleholder Kosei Tanaka
Former 2012 US Olympian Jose Carlos Ramirez
Today we will have a look at Saul Rodriguez, a 22-year old super-featherweight prospect with real thunder in his fists, who trains out of Robert Garcia's gym in Oxnard. California. He is currently 19-0-1 with 14 KOs and he frequently spars with Mickey Garcia, Evgheny Gradovich and Jesus Cuellar. As a matter of fact, the way he tells it, he is actually co-trained by Eduardo (the Garcia brothers' father) and Mickey Garcia, which is not a thing I was aware Mickey does.
I was able to find 7 of his fights on youtube, some of them longer, some of them quite short:
Here is his 3rd pro-fight exactly 3 years ago, a 1st round KO
Here is his 6th fight, a 3rd round KO
Here is his 12 fight, where I thought he had a lot of trouble but in the end a 3rd round KO
Here is his 14th fight, a 4th round KO
Here is his 16th fight, the longest on this list at 6 rounds
Here is his 17th fight, one year ago, a quick 2nd round KO
And this is his most recent bout and most impressive performance against Felix Verdejo opponent Ivan Najera
As usual, here is a list of things I noticed, divided into several categories:
The Very Best
1) Shotgun fists. Rodriguez does not have fists, he has two loaded shotguns. He does not punch, he shoots. He misses quite a bit, but when he does land, opponents crumble instantly like they've been shot. You literally have to worry about the opponent getting up or not at the end of every bout of his. For one-punch KO power, P4P, there are few fighters in boxing today that can match Saul.
2) Picking off opponents' jabs with his guard. He is pretty good at defending against incoming jabs and lead straight punches (but not lead hooks)
3) Chin. Normally when I do these scouting reports I cannot comment on young fighters' chin because they are usually matched against such inferior opposition that they are rarely tested by perfectly landed power punches. Not the case of Rodriguez. I have seen him take plenty of power punches right on the chin (against the same inferior opposition) and not flinch, although to be fair this reflects poorly on his defense.
4) Punching technique. Not only can he punch spectacularly hard, but he also knows how to punch.
5) Timing and counterpunching. It sometimes works for him.
6) Hand speed. His hands are, let's say sufficiently, but not spectacularly fast.
7) Footwork and balance. This looked kinda bad early in his career and he is still very slow of foot, but at least he keeps better balance now and at least moves his feet and his center of gravity close to where his shoulders are.
The Not So Great But Improving
8) Punch accuracy. He misses quite a bit with his punches unless his opponent sits absolutely still in front of him, not moving either his head or his feet at least a little bit. This is one of the categories where I have seen some improvement in his most recent bouts.
9) Jab. BLH's technique analyst Connor Ruebusch once wrote about what he called Floyd Mayweather's "sticky" jab. He noted a tendency Floyd sometimes has of not retracting his arm after having jabbed, instead using it to brush his opponent's face, keeping him at arm's length, obscuring his field of vision and disrupting him, instead of moving his fist back to potentially protect his now exposed chin. He noted what a bad idea this would be for a fighter without Mayweather's amazing angles, head-movement, speed and reach. Yeah, about that "bad idea for a fighter lacking head movement, angles, speed and reach." HELLOOOOOO, SAUL RODRIGUEZ! This is one area though where I think some improvement can be reasonably expected.
10) Work rate. He head-hunts quite a bit and probably doesn't throw as many punches as a super-featherweight contender should, but it varies a bit from fight to fight so perhaps I am being overly critical here.
11) Head movement. A lot of work still remains to be done in this area.
12) Size. Although Rodriguez is listed on boxrec as 5'8" tall, which is good height for a jr. featherweight, lightweight and maybe even jr. welterweight, his lack of reach (just 67″ ) is simply very visible in the ring and he has a lot of trouble closing distance or operating from a distance.
13) Defending against hooks. His guard is easy to get around, especially if he moves it forward to intercent a jab. Draw out his guard with a jab or with a quick jab-straight right hand combination and then he is all sorts of open to any hook since his guard has moved forward and has left his chin.
14) Combination punching and punch variation. He doesn't seem to be very interested in varying his punches. He rarely attacks with a quality jab or any kind of jab at all. He either does the lead power punch thing or just jumps in and starts unloading with left-right-left-right power punches until someone drops.
15) Closing distance. He has this insane habbit of trying to close distance like he's Elmer Fudd hunting wabbits. He puts his Elmer Fudd shotgun (his hands, remember?) in front trying to blind his opponent or intercept jabs and then slowly tries to sneak up with sloooow tip-toes. I swear, it's just like you picture Elmer Fudd tip-toeing sloooowly, then turning to the camera and saying "Be vewy, vewy quiet! I'm hunting wabbits". To me it seems pretty easy for a fighter with any modicum of ring movement to get away from him.
16) Body punching. Doesn't seem to be very interested in working the body.
17) Upper body movement. What upper body movement?
The Downright Horrible
18) Hooking with hookers. Saul Rodriguez just loves to get into all out swinging matches with his opponents. Opens up, sticks his chin up there and tells the opponent: "Let's hit each other with simultaneous power shots left-right-left-right straight on the chin and see who wakes up directly in the hospital". Predictably, he will one day wake up directly in a hospital.
19) Open for counters. I won't even bother listing all the ways in which he is open for counterpunches. His attacks just beg to be counterted. Chin high, hands held away from his face, not varying distance, jumping in without a jab with both his hands moving away from his chin before any of his initial punches have landed, it's just painful to watch.
Well, it's always difficult to predict what will happen with a fighter with such tremendous power but also many flaws. There are lots of fighters that made it big relying mostly on their power. Heck, there's a titlist in Rodriguez's division right now (Javier Fortuna) who is mostly about power and who showed a lot of flaws when he was at about the same stage of his career as Rodriguez is now. Randall Bailey was a world titlist and he had nothing outside of one great punch. Arthur Abraham has amassed ... I don't even know, 17-18 successful title defenses in two weight classes? Despite being a somewhat one-dimensional slow fighter with a big but predictable punch. Kendall Holt... Ricardo Torres... fuck it, Enzo Maccarinelli!
Anyway, the point is that unless he improves radically, any experienced world-class fighter has ample opportunities to dissect Saul Rodriguez's game. I can think of at least 4 or 5 gameplans that would work against him right about now. Unless he lands one hail-Mary punch, in which case I have no doubt that it's curtains for even the toughest fighters. And when he moves to 12 rounds, there will be even more time for him over the course of the bout to land one big punch. But unless he makes drastic improvements, of which I have seen little trace, he is destined to maybe one day have one or two dramatic spectacular destructions, maybe even win a world title or two, but I doubt he will ever put together a consistent series of quality wins over top-10 opponents. For his sake I hope I'm wrong, it wouldn't be the first time.