WORCESTER, MA–“Courage,” trainer Carlos Garcia says of what separates light heavyweight Edwin Rodriguez from his peers. “He doesn’t give up. He has what you call the ‘cojones.'”
A year after taking a beating in a decision loss to Andre Ward, the super-middleweight champion many believe to be the best fighter in the world, Rodriguez and his cajones return at 175 pounds to take on Azea Augustama on the undercard of the Gennady Golovkin-Marco Antonio Rubio bout (now a nontitle tilt after Rubio failed to make the middleweight limit). La Bomba’s match with the 17-1 Haitian, airing on HBO Latino late Saturday night, takes place at the StubHub Center in Carson, California.
That’s a long way from the ancient cold-storage warehouse in Worcester, Massachusetts, where Breitbart Sports recently caught up with the 24-1 fighter. In the brick building where workman once refrigerated meat in the days before kitchen refrigerators, Rodriguez shadow boxes, bangs the heavy bag, hits mitts, and times the double-end bag in a steamy setting resembling anything but an oversized icebox. The rap music blares with the dull thud of leather on leather periodically stepping on the sound. A century ago, like today, men work here.
Edwin Rodriguez is a lot like his hometown gym. “He’s dedicated,” Garcia says of Rodriguez. “He likes the gym. He’s here no matter what.” The quiet pugilist lacks the trash-talking gift of gab bestowed upon Adrien Broner and Floyd Mayweather. He makes up for the lack of talking by doing. Like boxing and the brick warehouse he trains in that has somehow managed to dodge the wrecking ball, Edwin Rodriguez is old school.
Garcia, a former professional boxer, first encountered Rodriguez as a committed 13-year-old at the local Boys and Girls Club. “He would come at 3:30-4 and he’d stay until 9 o’clock,” Garcia says of his late-1990s encounters with Rodriguez. “He was the last one to leave the gym. He still hasn’t gone home.”
But when Rodriguez tried out his newly-acquired skills on his older brother at home, he stayed away from the gym for several years. “My brother was two years older than me,” Rodriguez tells Breitbart Sports. “I beat him up pretty good.” His father, who owned a local store, punished the younger brother by keeping him out of his home away from home at the gym. “I got to come back to boxing after I was in high school and Carlos came to talk at the school. I told him why I stopped going, and a few days later Carlos came to my father’s market.” Rodriguez soon returned to Carlos’s workplace. “And the rest is history.”
The Dominican has fought in Madison Square Garden, in an HBO main event, and in the Monte Carlo Million-Dollar Super Four, a tournament which he won in 2013. But his most memorable fight took place before a handful of spectators at Camp Get-Right, the hot gym in that cold-storage building evoking Rocky minus the hanging slabs of meat. In 2010, Rodriguez sparred with Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The boxer-turned-terrorist behaved bizarrely, initially refusing to wear headgear and eventually fighting without a mouthpiece. “After the first round,” Rodriguez says of his cocky sparring partner, “he was bleeding. Every time I was hitting him in the ribs, he stepped out.” A humbled Tsarnaev never returned to the gym, and the next time Rodriguez saw him was on television.
Whereas Tsarnaev brought disgrace to the local boxing community, Rodriguez’s success in the ring brings pride to Worcester and the kids training at his home gym. “It’s big,” Kendrick Ball, owner of Camp Get-Right, tells Breitbart Sports. “It lets [local kids] know the sky’s the limit. When it’s a guy in your gym, it pushes these guys harder. You see where you can go.”
Tonight, on HBO Latino, Rodriguez goes up against a Haitian looking to put a second loss on his record. Tomorrow, Rodriguez hopes for a payday with Bernard Hopkins, Adonis Stevenson, Sergey Kovalev, or another top-tier talent. “My goal for light heavyweight is to fight someone that’s top ten and then go for a title.”
That will happen under the TV lights in Las Vegas, Ledyard, or some other glitzy boxing mecca. Edwin Rodriguez will make it happen in a grittier, grimier place.