Interview by Scott Ploof
Photography by Emily Harney
On Saturday night from the MGM Grand Theatre at Foxwoods and televised around the world on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark,” current WBC and IBF #4 world rated super middleweight contender and Worcester, Massachusetts own Edwin “La Bomba” Rodriguez (21-0, 14 KOs) will do battle against durable power puncher Jason Escalera (13-0-1, 12 KOs) in the ten round main event. The “Road to Glory” fight card is being promoted by DiBella Entertainment. Rodriguez is a fast rising star in the super middleweight division who has his sights set on a potential world title opportunity sometime in the next year. FightNews had an opportunity to speak with Rodriguez about his career, his fight with Escalera, and his future. In addition, FightNews also had a chance to speak with Rodriguez’s trainer Ronnie Shields about his fighter’s preparation and training going into fight night.
For those who are not familiar with your story, you moved from your home in the Dominican Republic to Worcester, MA when you were 13 years old. Were you always interested in becoming a professional boxer as a young child or did you become interested in the sport once you arrived in the United States?
I got into this sport when I got to the United States. I always wanted to be a professional athlete like every other Dominican they always strive to be a baseball player. I dedicated myself since I was little to try to make it as a baseball player. Once I was in the United States, it was different with the weather and stuff, so it was just not working out. I had to find a sport and that was boxing. Back in the Dominican Republic we did not know much about boxing. When I got here I found out through one of my brothers friends at the Boys and Girls club where I started boxing and had my first amateur fight in 2002 when I was 17.
What was it that motivated you towards having a career in the sport of boxing?
You know for boxing it was basically like any other sport, I did not really know much about it professionally, I didn’t know much about it, but I just like doing it. I have a very competitive personality. You know once I was there the first day I remember sparring with this kid that was a little younger than me. I remember he got the better of me and I remember thinking that I had to come back and I had to keep getting better. I had to keep getting better so I could beat him and then beat the other guys. That is how I was. I got myself all battered and bruised because I was so competitive in boxing. It’s a one on one sport where you need to have that want to be able to compete and have that drive to be a winner. If you don’t win you cannot blame anybody else but yourself and that is what I love about boxing.
You began your training at the same location that former world champion, Jose Antonio Rivera did, as well as your close friend, Danny O’Connor (18-1, 6 KOs), who is fighting coincidentally on the same card at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods in the co-feature bout of the evening against Josh “Nino Assasino” Sosa (10-3, 5 KOs). Tell us about your experiences growing up and training at the Worcester Boys and Girls club?
Training at the Worcester Boys and Girls club was like a second home to me. I was in the amateurs with Carlos Garcia, who was kind of like a father figure to me as I was coming up, and boxing is kind of big in Worcester, MA. I stayed in Worcester and was growing up with Jose who was a world champion at the time gave us something to look up to.
Was it at this time that you became close friends with the super lightweight prospect from Framingham, MA, Danny O’Connor?
No Danny actually started training out of Framingham and after we went to a couple of nationals on the New England team. That is where we met and then he began training with us at the Worcester Boys and Girls club.
How has your relationship with your close friend O’Connor helped to motivate you to get to the next level of your career?
Just like myself he is always very competitive so when were training we always try to push each other and try to get each other better. It’s good to have somebody who is going through the same things that I am going through so we can relate.
By age 20 you had won the US amateur boxing championship in 2005 and the 2006 National Golden Gloves at super middleweight, while compiling an outstanding amateur record of (84-9). What was your boxing style back in your amateur days and how has your style changed when you first turned pro?
It was difficult getting going and getting ahead early, and now I have more time to be able to sit down and work on things to create openings. When I was in the amateurs which is straight to the point, get the point, don’t get hit, and hit your opponent. In the pros working with Ronnie Shields, I am able to pick my shots and make them count.
When you began your professional career in 2008, you quickly rattled off four knockouts in your first five fights. How did your amateur experience help you to get adjusted to the professional ranks?
At the beginning it helped a lot because even though the amateurs are a whole different game, but at the same time I was able to see a lot of different styles, and it taught me to be able to adapt to different styles, especially in the beginning when you do not know that much about your opponent. Some of them only have four or five fights so it’s hard to know what to expect. So to get in there and have only four rounds to do it, so all of this helped out, things that I have seen before and am able to adjust to, things like that.
Both you and Danny O’Connor are in part promoted by Dibella Entertainment and also work with the same trainer, Ronnie Shields out in Houston, TX. Shields is a world renowned boxing trainer who has worked in the past with Mike Tyson, Vernon Forrest, Pernell Whitaker, David Tua, and Evander Holyfield among others. How did this relationship come about?
When I went to Houston, TX and I got to stay there and I began training there. Being on the New England team in the amateurs and not having the kind of training up here, I needed the best and found it down in Houston, TX with the help of my manager, Larry Army, he hooked me up with Ronnie Shields and the rest is history. I have surrounded myself with a great team. My promoter Lou Dibella has been doing a great job for me. My manager Larry Army is terrific and has helped guide my career in the right direction, and I have the world’s best trainer in Ronnie Shields. I have been working down at Shields state of the art facility called Plex Boxing down in Stafford, TX. Working there makes me feel like a true professional. There are good things coming out of Plex Boxing.
Before working with Ronnie Shields, you seemed to have a very aggressive straight forward style utilizing your punching power. You still of course have that tremendous punching power, but how do you feel that your style has changed since working with Coach Shields?
Before working with Ronnie, my strategy was to go in there and try to kill my opponent, which we still try to do but now we try to do it at different angles to show my skills. I am very happy to be working with Ronnie as he is bringing out the best in me, to play the game the way that it is meant to be played and not just one guy trying to hit the other.
You currently have 14 KOs in your 21 bout professional undefeated career giving you a 67% knockout percentage thus far. In your own opinion what is your biggest weapon in the ring?
It is my determination to win. I think that is why I have to remain undefeated and I feel up to this point that it is my determination to be a winner and I don’t look for any excuse to ever give up.
In your last fight against Donovan George, which was televised on HBO back in March, was a pure brawl for most of the fight. Do you feel that your upcoming fight on Saturday against Jason “Monstruo” Escalera (13-0-1, 12 KOs) at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods will end up in a brawl as well or more of a technical matchup?
I think that with the way he fights I think it’s going to end up. I am going to fight him in the middle of the ring and Ronnie put together a great game plan for this fight and I am just going to follow it but I am sure that I am going to get him out of there. I think that he is reckless and he is willing to take a punch to be able to land one but I don’t see him being able to withstand at.
How has your training camp been with Coach Shields?
I had a great training camp with Ronnie Shields and Eddie Arnold. I am ready to perform for all of my fans in Worcester, the Dominican Republic, and in the United States. I’ve worked hard to try and put things together. I feel that we have a great game plan going Escalera on Saturday night. I feel good and I am ready to go. I worked on the basics to keep things simple and keep my skills sharp, putting my punches together, which is something that I didn’t do in my last fight. I am going to bring the whole package on Saturday night both offense and defense.
You will be fighting on HBO once again but this time in the main event on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” series against a tough durable power puncher in Escalera. What do you know about your opponent going into Saturday’s main event at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods?
I know that he is young, reckless, and has a strong pride. I know that he has strong pride being that he is Puerto Rican. I have to take that away by delivering the knockout.
Currently you are the fourth ranked super middleweight in the world by both the WBC and the IBF. How far away do you feel you are from fighting for a world title?
I feel that I am really close. My goal in this fight is to send a message to every super middleweight that I am ready to take on anybody. Hopefully something could happen in 2013 if everything falls into place.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today, do you have anything else you would like to say to all of your fans here at FightNews?
Thank you very much. Keep following me, you can follow me on Twitter at @labombaboxing, and I look forward to putting on a great performance for the fans.
FightNews also had a chance to speak with Ronnie Shields concerning Rodriguez’s training camp and preparation for the fight.
I think the training camp went great. We got a lot of things done. We worked on a lot of strategies on how to beat this guy. His conditioning is great and the sparring was great as well. So we are ready to go on Saturday night.
Was there anything special that you had worked on with Edwin that you wouldn’t normally have for his opponent?
Not really. Basically I have watched this guy. Studied him a lot and he doesn’t do anything spectacular, except for hitting you in the back of the head to try and knock you out. So we got to be careful on how we approach this guy and Edwin needs to just stick to the game plan and he will be just fine.
How do you think Escalera is going to approach this fight? Will he choose to brawl with Edwin or will he use a more conventional technical approach?
I think he is going to try and brawl. I think that it is his only chance to win is to throw something big and try to knock Edwin out. He is willing to put his chin out there so he can land a punch back. He definitely isn’t going to try and out box him because there is no way he will be able to out box Edwin that is for sure. If he tries to out box Edwin it will be an easy night for us, but I suspect this guy is going to come with the pressure. He is a big power puncher so he is going to have to bring it.
“Road to Glory” is the highly anticipated HBO Boxing After Dark tripleheader, Edwin “La Bomba” Rodriguez (21-0, 14 KOs) vs. Jason Escalera (13-0-1, 12 KOs), Luis Orlando Del Valle (16-0, 11 KOs) vs. Vic Darchinyan (37-5-1, 27 KOs), Danny O’Connor (18-1, 6 KOs) vs. Josh “Nino Assasino” Sosa (10-3, 5 KOs) in addition to featuring some of the brightest young fighters in all of boxing looking to continue on their paths toward their respective world championships. The card will take place on Saturday, September 29, at MGM Grand at Foxwoods. 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.