By Mike Indri
Retired Boxers Foundation
Most sports fans would not be able to tell you the three boxers that hold portions of the world heavyweight crown these days…that question might even stump the Schwab! It takes a real boxing fan to rattle off Ruslan Chagaev (WBA), Sam Peter (WBC) and Wladimir Klitschko (WBO & IBF) as the current kings of all the heavyweights. So you can imagine the relative obscurity that so many young and talented, yet vastly underexposed fighters are plagued with, while also battling to survive in the most physically demanding, viciously dangerous and financially difficult sport for any aspiring athlete.
This past Thursday night (April 3) Isaac Rodrigues took a major step towards achieving his dream of becoming a world champion when he battled ten long, hard rounds against a truly formidable opponent, earning a unanimous decision victory and becoming the World Boxing Organization’s “Latino” middleweight champion.
The result of this fight, which was held in Brazil, was not broadcast on an ESPN sports program, or any sports news program. The news didn’t even make it onto any boxing website. I was informed by the proud trainer of Isaac Rodrigues - Oscar Saurez, one of the premier trainers and finest people in all of boxing.
Best known for his handling of now retired world champions Prince Naseem Hamed and Acelino Freitas, as well as Paterson native Omar Sheika (who is slated to take on Elvir Muriqi next month in Atlantic City), Saurez has trained the best in boxing and is excited in what he sees with Rodrigues.
“He (Rodrigues) has got what it takes, and works real hard,” exclaimed Saurez, “it was a very evenly matched fight, very competitive. Isaac’s boxer/puncher style and his landing many combinations late in the fight was the difference.”
According to Saurez the bout was even going into the later rounds. Pitted against the very tough and dangerous Pablo Nieva, who was 16-2, with 14 knockouts, coming into this fringe title match, Rodrigues caught his strong foe with a lethal combination that hurt and dropped Nieva to the canvas in round eight. Obviously damaged, only the bell was able to save the gutsy slugger.
From that point on the Belen do Para fighter took control of the ten round bout and in front of his hometown Brazilian fans pelted Nieva with both hands. With the impressive win Rodrigues stays perfect and improved to 13-0 (9 KO’s).
The new WBO Latino middleweight champion hopes this big win, albeit not witnessed by anyone outside of his native country, along with his new title and championship belt can muster up some attention to his legitimacy as a bona fide challenger to any of the world champions.
Building champions is nothing new to Saurez who boasted about Jose “El Gallo” Reyes, a stable mate of Rodrigues, who won the WBO Latino lightweight title last week with a destructive fourth round knockout win against the usually granite chinned Mexican Ivan Valle, seen by many on Telemundo.
Valle, who had only been stopped once before in his career, against the heavy-handed Humberto Soto (08/12/2006 TKO 4), fell to 26-7-1, while the new champ improved to 22-4. The big knockout was the Puerto Rican fighter’s ninth in his stellar career.
Extremely proud, but earning that right by truly caring about his fighters, as well as teaching them to fight to their highest level, Saurez beamed “Jose (Reyes) knocked him out. Soto stopped him (Valle) - but we knocked him out cold!”
Growing up I was able to watch boxing regularly on national television. We saw talented prospects develop into great fighters, BEFORE they were champions.
We were treated to the greatness of Ali-Frazier-Foreman and Holmes, when being the world heavyweight champion was the biggest honor in all of sport.
Any Saturday afternoon it might be Ron Lyle-Renaldo Snipes-Bob Foster-Duran-Arguello-Sugar Ray-Mancini or Marvelous Marvin, and it didn’t cost us $54.99.
Boxing is still great, and while the upstart MMA may now be slightly ahead on the scorecards, by the twelve and final round boxing will prevail - while MMA may yet tap out. Let’s just try to respect our sport’s two greatest assets: the fighters and the fans. Then maybe we will get to see the up and coming future, like an Isaac Rodrigues, and follow him and root for him on his demanding, difficult and dangerous journey to greatness.
Mike Indri can be reached at: BFNJMIKE@aol.com