WORCESTER, MA–Edwin Rodriguez has fought in Madison Square Garden, gone the distance with the man some believe the best fighter in the world in Andre Ward, and won the Monte Carlo Million Dollar Super Four Tournament. But a strange sparring session with Tamerlan Tsarnaev remains the Worcester, Massachusetts-based boxer’s most discussed in-ring moment.
Breitbart Sports recently caught up with La Bomba to get the story behind the story of his surreal close encounter with the Boston Marathon Bomber.
“It was when I saw his face,” Rodriguez says of the moment that he grasped that the man whom he had hurt in the ring had hurt so many others. “I knew him as ‘Tim.’ I just knew him as this ‘Tim’ guy. I was just looking for sparring. They told me about this kid. We sparred. It went a few rounds.”
The meeting of the beloved boxer and the reviled terrorist took place before a handful of onlookers at Camp Get Right, a sweaty, 5,000-square-foot pugilist’s playground echoing with the din of speedbags, blare of rap music, and dull thud of leather. Breitbart Sports met up with Rodriguez as he stayed fresh (for a likely October 18 HBO fight) inside the ancient brick structure built for cold storage. Camp Get Right, like the oddball who sparred there four years ago, leaves an impression.
“He walked into the gym,” Rodriguez recalls. “He just had his gloves. He didn’t bring a mouth guard or headgear. He came back in by himself. As a fighter, you bring someone everywhere you go–a trainer or someone to corner you. I thought that was a little weird. We talked him into putting head gear on. But he refused to wear a mouthpiece.”
Rodriguez notes that boxers, himself included, sometimes forget mouth guards or headgear before sparring. But they will generally buy or borrow the missing equipment before stepping into the ring. In Tsarnaev’s case, Rodriguez notes that his sparring partner didn’t forget the equipment. Tsarnaev, an accomplished amateur fighter, insisted on taking on the then-undefeated professional opponent without protection.
“People don’t do that,” the 24-1 super-middleweight/light-heavyweight tweener tells Breitbart Sports. “You don’t go to another gym without a mouthpiece and headgear. It’s not like he didn’t bring it because he forgot. He just didn’t use it.”
Tsarnaev, even had he not made headlines thereafter, would have remained indelibly etched into the memories of Rodriguez and his trainers. He explains, “We always talked about the fact that if there wasn’t another trainer who talked him into putting the headgear on he wouldn’t have.”
The sparring session did not go as well as Tsarnaev had anticipated. Rodriguez, predictably, cut up Tsarnaev’s mouth and did damage to his ribs with body shots. “After the first round,” the lighter man remembers, “he was bleeding. Every time I was hitting him in the ribs, he stepped out.”
Carlos Garcia, who started working with a 13-year-old Rodriguez in the late 1990s, trained Bryan Daniels, the fighter who squared off with Tsarnaev in the 2010 Golden Gloves heavyweight finals. “My guy fought too confident,” he remembers. Tsarnaev took the decision in the marquee amateur tournament against Daniels, the current New England Golden Gloves champion. Garcia labeled Tsarnaev a “decent fighter,” a compliment he quickly follows up with the declaration that he had no hint back then of the fighter’s murderous anti-Americanism.
Edwin Rodriguez agrees with his teacher’s assessment. “He was a pretty good boxer,” Rodriguez told Breitbart Sports. “But he was still an amateur. I’m a professional. I had 15 professional fights back then.”
The next time Rodriguez laid eyes on the bizarre boxer was when he watched television after his wife gave birth. “When I saw him I was actually at the hospital,” he explains. “My son was born April 15th. I said, ‘What the hell!’ I was shocked and devastated for all the families. My prayers and thoughts went out to all those hurt by him.”
Heart, the in-ring attribute observers credit Rodriguez with possessing in abundance, played as the very characteristic his one-time sparring partner could have benefitted from outside of the ring.
For Rodriguez, a longtime resident of the Central New England city forever in Boston’s shadow a short ride away on the Mass Pike, the bombing affected him in the geographic community in which he lives and the boxing community in which he trains. Like the marathon runners, the boxer would rather worry about the challenges of the competition than the dangers lurking in the crowd. Rodriguez, Garcia, and others in Worcester’s boxing subculture didn’t necessarily identify Tsarnaev as evil. They surely pegged him as weird.
“He wasn’t disrespectful,” Rodriguez recalls. “He was cocky before the sparring. After, he was humble. He said something about, ‘I have to go back to the drawing board.’ He was a little arrogant and cocky. I was a lot lighter than him.” Rodriguez insists he didn’t take advantage of Tsarnaev. Does he wish he had? “I’m not going to comment.”
The Pride of Worcester appeared on ESPN in the intervening years; the Disgrace of Cambridge, on CNN. The former achieved fame in the ring; the latter, infamy outside of it. Significantly, the Dominican immigrant says of the Russian immigrant, “He never came back for sparring again.”