There has never been any question that unbeaten super middleweight contender Edwin Rodriguez has the skill set to be a top fighter in the division.
But if there had been anything to criticize, it was that Rodriguez (24-0, 16 KOs), a native of the Dominican Republic who resides in Worcester, Mass., has failed to entertain during his biggest showcase opportunities.
That theory was heavily challenged last Saturday when Rodriguez scored the biggest win of his career by stopping hard-nosed Denis Grachev (13-2-1, 8 KOs) by first-round TKO in the final of the Monte Carlo Million Dollar Super 4 tournament.
On Wednesday, Rodriguez stopped by ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., to talk about what comes next in his pursuit of a world title:
The way you took out Grachev left a lot of the boxing media saying, "Wow." But what was your reaction to the knockout?
Wow! You know, he was supposed to be really tough, so I wasn't really expecting to blow him out so soon. But I'm really confident with my body work and I felt like I landed a good shot early in the fight. I knew he was hurt, and as soon as I felt that, I went for it.
What were your thoughts on Grachev going into the fight, and were you expecting a war?
I was expecting a really tough guy. I was expecting to come out in the beginning of the fight and win the rounds and then stop him later on. I felt like his defense wasn't that good. He was tough and strong, and I thought that I wasn't going to be able to hurt him with the head shot. But I knew that I had a game plan to hurt him to the body. I knew I was going to be able to do that at some point in the fight. I didn't know I was going to be able to do it that early, but I did get the opportunity -- I hurt him and I went for it.
How surprised were you that you had him hurt so early and had a chance to get him out in the first round?
After I put him down the first time and I go over to the neutral corner, I'm thinking, Wow, he's already down? I better get him out of there because if I let this guy come back, he's gonna be angry. So I just went after him.
What does this fight mean to you considering you came out and took care of a dangerous fighter so impressively?
It was huge. Being on the big stage in Monte Carlo with a big purse -- 60/40 of $1 million dollars -- and being the winner of the tournament and looking impressive in doing it means a lot. I put myself in a good position moving forward to continue to get big fights on televised networks.
This tournament was one that sort of popped up out of nowhere, but the money was obviously very good. How interested were you after initially hearing about it?
Right off the bat I was interested in the tournament, and at the same time I was highly rated for the IBF. But Carl Froch recently had just defeated Lucian Bute, and I knew that they had a rematch clause to fight again. And then Carl Froch had the option to fight Mikkel Kessler, which was the fight that he wanted, so I knew there wasn't much for me to do in my division because everyone else was tied up. It was an opportunity that came at the right time and we couldn't say no.
You are undefeated and have shown a strong skill set, but critics have often pointed to you being a boring fighter. How hard is it to deal with that type of criticism?
It wasn't that hard at all. I'm a winner, I love winning. So just looking back to all the criticism, you just look at it and try to get better, because those things that they are criticizing you about, maybe you do need to make them better. I just try to look at it in a positive way and work on it. The people who are saying good things about me, I'm already doing those things right, so there's no need to look into them and do anything about it. But things that I'm doing wrong -- and I think there are some that are criticizing overly -- those are things that I need to work on. I want to get better. I want to continue to improve. I'm obsessed with trying to get better and be the best that I can be.
The business side of boxing is obviously important, and so many doors begin to open up when you win impressively. Is it hard to manage that balance between feeling like you have to go for the knockout as opposed to simply focusing on winning?
I'm always trying to set up the knockout. I'm always trying to be entertaining. The fight before this one, against [Ezequiel] Maderna in Monte Carlo, I tried so hard to be entertaining and to make the fight, but Maderna's style was kind of a stinker and I couldn't get him to engage. So coming into [the Grachev fight], I wasn't really looking into going all out, but just working behind my jab and letting things fly. And I noticed that it works a lot better like that.
Middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin was in attendance Saturday in Monte Carlo. There were rumors that you turned down money to fight him earlier this year. How close was that fight to happening?
The fight was close to happening, but they weren't trying to fight me at my weight class at 168. There was a lot behind the doors to it. It was a fight I was willing to take at 168. I think Gennady is a good fighter, but I think I'm better. I'm willing to make that fight at 168. A lot of people say how big of a puncher he is, and I don't doubt that, but I think that I could box and punch as well, so I think it would be an entertaining fight for the fans. He's a very good fighter. I don't know how he can punch like that, though, because he doesn't look like he can punch. It would be a good fight to be made.
Where do you think you fit in the title picture at 168 pounds, and who would you like to face?
So many big names in that division: Arthur Abraham, Mikkel Kessler, Andre Ward, Carl Froch. So many big fights and big names to make out there. Any names that my promoter, Lou DiBella, gets together will be good for me because there are so many big names. I want a world title this year, and I know that I'm with the right people to make that happen.