Middleweight Delvin Rodriguez is seeking a win that could open the door to another title shot, and he hopes that opportunity comes against George "Comanche Boy" Tahdooahnippah in this week's "Friday Night Fights" main event (9 p.m. ET) at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn.
For Rodriguez (26-6-3, 14 KOs) -- a Dominican fighting out of Danbury, Conn., who moonlights as a boxing analyst for ESPN -- Friday's bout could be a reprieve after a disappointing defeat suffered against middleweight titlist Austin Trout last June.
On the other side, Tahdooahnippah (31-0-1, 1 NC, 23 KOs), a Native American of the Comanche tribe fighting out of Lawton, Okla., will be facing a fighter of Rodriguez's level for the first time. A win could move him up in the division.
"[Delvin] is a warrior who has been in many great fights," Tahdooahnippah said, "but I've been waiting for this opportunity all my life -- both for me and for my people, who provide a lot of encouragement, pride and motivation to me."
A win on Friday wouldn't automatically re-validate Rodriguez as a contender, but he needs it nonetheless, because a loss would certainly send him to the outskirts of the division. Still, his chances seem favorable. Rodriguez will have the backing of local fans against an opponent who, despite his spotless record, is clearly the less experienced fighter.
Tahdooahnippah has fought 31 of his 33 fights in Oklahoma, and only once in his career has he gone deeper than six rounds (a TKO victory over Jonathan Corn in 2008). A notorious lack of recognizable names brings his résumé into question -- he's coming off a knockout of Gundrick King last September -- and to top it off, he will be fighting at junior middleweight for the first time.
Still, despite the seemingly obvious advantages Rodriguez takes into Friday's fight, he has his own problems. He has won only two of his past eight fights (including a draw against Pawel Wolak in an epic 2011 battle). And in his unanimous decision loss to Trout, even his reputation as a crowd-pleasing opponent who comes to fight took a hit. He knows that, and it sounds as though he learned a lesson.
"On that day, I didn't push hard enough, I didn't take enough risks to avoid his counterpunching, and that was my mistake," he said. "My strategy from now on is that the work plan in the gym must be applied later in the fight, and that's what I will do."
Rodriguez's plan likely will be to fight on the inside, throwing lots of combinations in the short- and mid-ranges to nullify his opponent's reach advantage. Tahdooahnippah will almost certainly experience some early nerves, so Rodriguez's experience should help him initially.
But Tahdooahnippah, a late arrival to boxing, has lots of technical attributes and a fairly unique athletic background that make him a complicated opponent. He usually makes great use of his reach, and although pressure can get to him, his defensive style will be easier to carry out against a right-hander. Trying to control the pace of the fight with his jab and his counterpunching may be a good option. That's what Jesse Feliciano did against Rodriguez for a stoppage victory in the eighth round in 2007.
Expect an intense fight with an aggressive Rodriguez trying to set the pace and maybe winning by stoppage within the first few rounds. The challenge for Tahdooahnippah will be to overcome that strategy, withstand the initial outburst and wait for a mistake to pounce on with a counter punch. If Tahdooahnippah scores the unlikely upset, it could be his ticket to far bigger fights than he might have imagined working the Oklahoma circuit.