Juan Antonio Rodriguez had been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, to step into the ring and show what he's capable of in the main event of a nationally televised card to kick off what he expects to be a big year for him.
It didn't unfold quite the way Rodriguez -- or anyone -- expected, but his moment will arrive on this week's "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2/ESPN3, 9 ET) from Tacoma, Wash., where he'll take on Yenifel Vicente in an eight-round matchup of junior lightweights.
Rodriguez (24-4, 22 KOs) has bounced back in a big way, with four consecutive wins -- all by knockout -- since a July 2012 setback against former titleholder Billy Dib. That winning streak has led Rodriguez (somehwat circuitously) to a showdown with Vicente (25-1-2, 1 NC, 17 KOs), who stepped in as a last-minute replacement for the injured Arash Usmanee (ankle).
"I never thought that something like [Usmanee's injury] could happen, but I kept training the same way regardless," said Rodriguez, a 25-year-old from Mexico City who will be making his U.S. debut. "We had to make a couple of adjustments, but that's OK."
"2014 will be a year full of wins that will lead to a world championship. I have realized what I have to offer because of the fights I've had recently. I hit Billy Dib hard, and even then I wasn't awarded the win. [But] my power speaks volumes on its own."
Rodriguez, who arrived in Tacoma on Wednesday, said his eight weeks of preparation with trainer Tony Flores in Puebla, Mexico (where he now resides) and Mexico City were phenomenal. He said they worked on a variety of skills but focused mostly on his accuracy, so there weren't many adjustments to be made when Vicente, a 27-year-old from the Dominican Republic, was revealed as his new opponent.
"My preparation is what helps me improve. I always spar against the heaviest opponents, and that challenge allows my punches to be stronger and my speed to be greater when it's time to fight," Rodriguez said. "That's why I'm not worried about who my opponent may be, because I can knock [any of them] out.
"I am still fighting in the main event," Rodriguez said, "and this is a good opportunity to take advantage of all the sacrifices we made during the holidays."