Rodriguez: 'I knew it was make-or-break'

Delvin Rodriguez and Pawel Wolak battled to a draw in what could be a fight of the year candidate. Carlos Suarez Jr./Mpsportimages.com

The recent history of ESPN2/ESPN3's "Friday Night Fights" is marked by great crossroads bouts between fighters in need of victories, producing hotly disputed fights that in some cases exceeded the expectations. On July 15, Delvin Rodriguez (25-5-3, 14 KOs) was a 7-1 underdog to Pawel Wolak (29-1-1, 19 KOs), but a courageous performance by Rodriguez turned the meeting into a war -- one of the most memorable fights in a drama-filled year for the series. Wolak-Rodriguez offered explosive and constantly changing action, a battle from post to post in every round and a controversial decision (a majority draw). In a busy, even fight, both fighters scored highly enough in their own terms to claim victory -- Wolak connecting on almost 50 percent more punches while pressing the fight; Rodriguez being the surgically accurate and harder puncher who grotesquely deformed his opponent's face with his punishing left hook. The bout, considered an early entrant for fight of the year, has generated enough intrigue for ESPN to show it again, before the start of the scheduled July 22 card.
A few days after the extraordinary performance, Delvin Rodriguez had these thoughts to share:

Did you watch the fight on video? What were your impressions?
As soon as I finish a fight, I like to look at the videos. And it was just like I thought it was during the fight: I believe I landed the best punches, the cleanest and strongest punches, and the best combinations. Unfortunately, two judges saw it differently.

Do you believe that Wolak had the right strategy by cutting off the ring and pressing the fight in the short range to keep you from using your longer reach?
Sure, I do. But that was his only strategy. That's the kind of fight he makes and the kind of fighter he is. We studied his strategy and his way of fighting, and we knew that we had to prepare extra well to be in great shape because he is a fighter that charges forward all the time throwing punches. He never backs down.

Do you think the result was unfair?
The most I can give him is four rounds. And this is because it took me some time to warm up, because I had been away from the ring for a year. But this is all I can give him when I watch the fight again, those four rounds. Because I never felt at any moment any punches that could hurt me, or any clean punches. Sure, he always put the pressure on and charged forward, but I never saw a strong and clean punch or combination landing.

Did you believe at any moment that you were going to be able to score a knockout?
On any other day, I believe this fight would have been stopped in the eighth or ninth round. I spoke to the referee and he said he was getting ready to stop the fight, but since he had already talked to the doctors about this possibility, he just kept watching that eye to see how it developed and to see whether [Wolak] could see from it. And on those rounds, I was throwing four- or five-punch combinations and I was always landing.

Did the long layoff affect you in any way?
It is clear that the body can get a little bit lazy, because after so much time of not doing what your body used to be accustomed to doing, maybe you lose a little bit of balance or direction, I would say. But this long rest is what I needed, something that my body needed after all the punishment I put it through in many difficult fights. And at the same time, I needed to rest not only my body but also my mind, because there were many fights in which I was robbed, and that's hard to accept.

Did all those bad decisions that you had to endure in the past weigh on you in any way?
Sure, of course. This was a very important fight for my career, because I truly don't have many years left as a professional fighter in my career. This is a tough sport that should be practiced when you are young. I knew this was a make-or-break fight. This was the fight that was going to make me bigger or was going to make me hang 'em up for good, as they say. And it was a fight in which I wanted to show people that I have what it takes to be a great fighter.

You had a new trainer for this fight. What did (former heavyweight fringe contender) Fernely Feliz contribute to your style and your mentality in this fight?
It was very important to have Fernely Feliz in my corner because he knows what it takes to come into a fight as intense as this one. And he is a guy that works from his heart. We are like brothers. I could say that I started my career with him, because when I was a kid and I had just turned 10 years old, I went to the gym for the first time and the first person I met there was Fernely Feliz. It is a beautiful story, because I met him when I was starting out in boxing, and by the end of my career he comes back and we get together again to start working together. And I feel very happy, because we worked really well together.

How good an idea was it to make your debut in a higher weight class against a rival as difficult as Wolak?
Look, I am a fighter with a great deal of experience in this sport, and I saw it this way: If I feel well at this weight, at 154 pounds, and I feel strong because I don't have to starve to make weight, and the weight feels perfect in the gym because I feel stronger, then I thought that I had to make the jump to this new weight to demonstrate that I am still a strong fighter and that I will be stronger than ever up here. And that's why I thought this was the perfect opportunity. When they offered me to fight Wolak, I said, "Thank God, this is the perfect fight to show the boxing fans that I can be a great boxer at 154, and that we are going to be able to get in the mix with the stronger, bigger and more renowned fighters, and then move on to bigger things."

Did you consider retiring from boxing recently?
There were two fights in which they robbed me blind, and those were tough times. And sure, I thought, You know what? I can't go on like this. I thought I had to retire and look for something else to do. But then it came to me that, as the fighter that I am, and I think that I have this in my heart and in my blood, I said, "No, I cannot leave now. I have to continue because I feel it in me and I have the tools and the abilities to become great in boxing, and I have to keep trying."

Would you prefer an immediate rematch or are you planning a stay-busy fight before that?
I think I would like to have an immediate rematch. Of course, we should have a couple of months to rest, because we both need it -- him more than me. But I don't think it would be necessary to have another fight before the rematch, I don't think it would be convenient for me.

What are you expecting in your career from now on?
This week we are going to sit down with my manager and talk about the negotiations and the rematch with Wolak to see what kind of offers they have, and then we'll see whether it happens or not. After that, we'll see where we go from there.

Do you believe that your performance may warrant you a title fight in the near future?
Well, I do believe that this fight put my career on the rise. This is a fight that everyone is talking about and is already being named as one of the fights of the year. We have already received a ton of calls from promoters and from people who want to see the rematch, but if we go along with that, it must be for a much bigger purse than this first time, because this fight is already opening a lot of doors in my career.

Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.