By “Boxing” Bob Newman
For welterweight contender Delvin Rodriguez, all the years of toil and heartache in the ring come down to twelve rounds this Saturday in front of his loyal Connecticut fans. On that night he’ll battle it out in a rematch with South African Isaac Hlatshwayo for the vacant IBF welterweight title at the Mohegan Sun Casino. Last November, Rodriguez traveled to South Africa to battle Hlatshwayo in an IBF eliminator to face then champion Joshua Clottey. The fight ended in an unsatisfactory draw. After Clottey was stripped of his belt for signing to fight WBO counterpart Miguel Cotto, the IBF mandated that Rodriguez and Hlatshwayo face each other again, this time with the title on the line. Rodriguez’ promoter Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing won the purse bid and therefore the hometown advantage this time around will go to Rodriguez who was born in the Dominican Republic and now fights out Danbury, CT. Earlier this week, Rodriguez took time out of his schedule to talk with Fightnews about his long awaited title shot, the first fight with Hlatshwayo, and his ill-fated, nationally televised USBA title match with fellow contender Oscar Diaz, just over a year ago on July 16, 2008, in which Diaz was seriously injured.
How has your training gone thus far?
It is going good. We had a really good camp. Our last day of sparring was Friday. We had some tough sparring. That’s the main thing for camp and the closest thing to a fight is sparring.
You are in a unique situation in this title fight because you fought Hlatshwayo just two fights ago. That has to be better than studying any tape of a guy you’ve never seen before.
That is correct. I can’t take anything away from him. He’s a tough guy, a very good fighter. He’s been doing it for awhile. He’s got a really good record, but I’ve been in front of him. I know what he’s bringing to the table. It’s gonna be a really good fight, but this time I think I’m gonna make it clear for everybody and the judges, and I’m gonna get the victory.
What are you thoughts of that first fight?
I don’t think I was properly prepared for that fight. I couldn’t really put everything into the fight that I have. First of all, we were promised sparring (in South Africa) and we never got any. All that makes a difference in a fight like that, going to a whole different place. It was even hard for me to breathe up there. He’s not going to be able to change much because he’s a guy that just comes forward, likes to put that pressure and that’s about it. I think my trainer Lou and me work really well in camp and we kind of saw some things that we can do much better than last time.
You came in at one of your lightest weights ever for that fight. Did that affect you at all?
You know, I don’t think so because I felt pretty strong but not in the greatest shape. For a fight like this, you definitely have to be in your best shape and be able to go twelve hard, strong rounds, which I didn’t (in the first fight). I felt I had to hold myself back because I didn’t want to run out of air totally. This time we’ve been sparring with some good, good sparring partners. I think we’re ready.
What does it mean for you to be going for this title in your home state in front of fans that are really fans of yours?
It means everything. I’m really excited bout it. I can show my fans that I’m right there. I need to be in the circle of champions.
A year ago, you had that very tough fight with Oscar Diaz in his home town on ESPN2. You won the fight and the USBA title, but Oscar was seriously injured, and fought for his life afterward. He is slowly recovering now. Do you carry any thoughts of him into the ring with you now?
That was a tough situation, you know? I think about it all the time but I kind of have learned to block that out of my mind when I’m in the ring and still fight hard and try to win no matter what. Do I think about it? Yeah I think about it a lot. I wonder how he’s doing. I hope that he’s getting better each day.
I was thinking of Brian Viloria’s fight just before he won his first title. He knocked out Ruben Contreras who was later hospitalized with a brain injury and has since recovered. Viloria dedicated his title win to Contreras who was at ringside. I wondered if that crossed your mind.
I definitely want to win this title and then give him (Oscar Diaz) a visit. I hope he’s getting better each day. One thing is what people tell you and another is what you see. If it’s OK with the family, I’d like to take a train ride over there and see how he’s doing.
You only have two losses in your career: a tough split decision early on against Andre Eason and the shocking KO loss to Jesse Feliciano, against whom you were way ahead at the time. What goes through your mind about that fight and not letting that happen again?
I look at it like it was bad but at the same time it was good because I have changed a lot of things. I’ve changed my mind and the way I think in the ring. I never though you could get so much experience from just one fight, you know? That fight even changed the way I train. I could sit here and tell you things. It’s incredible how in just one fight you can learn so much. I have learned from that loss so much. I believe it has made me a much better fighter.
Did you have an invincible mindset before that fight-that nobody could beat you?
Not really because I have never been that kind of person. I always go into the ring very positive because that’s the way I am. My mind wasn’t as clear as it is now. Anything can happen in the ring. You always have to be focused. You gotta stay alert. I believe that’s how I’m doing now. I stay alert through the whole fight, watching what’s going on. In that fight (with Feliciano), I don’t know if I over did it, but my legs were very weak. We did little things differently and you’d be surprised how even the little things affect you in the ring.
Backing up a bit, you were born in the Dominican Republic. How old were you when you came to the U.S.?
I was nine years old.
Have you been in Connecticut ever since or were you moving around for a while?
No, I’ve been in Connecticut the whole time.
Do you carry your Dominican heritage and pride with you into the ring?
You know I have a lot of family back in the Dominican Republic and I have a lot of family here. I’ve pretty much been raised here. I basically have to say I’m from the U.S. first even though I have a lot of family over in the D.R. This country has given me all the opportunity that’s going on now especially.
With Hlatshwayo having been a lightweight and junior welter most of his career, and being listed at 5’8, did you feel you’d have an advantage over him all the way around?
Well, first of all, he’s taller than 5’8, at least 5’9 because I wasn’t that much taller than him in the ring. He’s a tough, strong fighter though. I saw him fight once against Nate Campbell. I knew that was going to come to fight. That’s his whole game – come to fight and put pressure.
With less than a week to go, are you in the situation now where most fighters say they can’t wait to get in the ring?
I’m just laying back and enjoying the moment. Like I say, I’m excited. I don’t wanna be too over excited, but it’s a great feeling. I’m just staying focused and going over the fight a thousand times a day in my mind. I keep trying to see if I can see anything new. Especially when I fought him back in Africa, I keep trying to see if I can find different little things to pick up on. That’s what I’ll be doing until the fight comes.
Sadly, the fight won’t be televised, but do you have a message to your fans and Fightnews readers before you go?
It’s too bad it won’t be televised. But everybody should come to the Mohegan Sun Casino. It’s gonna be a good fight!