There are era-defining fights and fighters. When boxing is at its best, you get a handful of them in the same weight class at the same time, and in a perfect world they all fight each other. Going back nearly a decade, we got just that with the ascendance of all time great Roman “Chocolatitio” Gonzalez. In the process of cleaning out flyweight, Gonzalez met and defeated a young Juan Francisco Estrada in a wonderfully technical 2012 action fight. Not long after, three pounds north at junior bantamweight, Carlos Cuadras and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai fought to a technical decision. An informal round robin had begun that would dominate junior bantamweight for several years, providing more drama along the way than any in recent memory, and putting the diminutive protagonists on the headline of HBO cards.
For a time, Gonzalez seemed unbeatable: an all-time great still in his prime, humiliating those he fought, until a monkey wrench was thrown in the machine by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. In March 2017, the Thai fighter used his thudding power and granite chin to muscle his way to a majority decision win that many (read most) thought that Chocolatito deserved to win. Six months later, in the main event of the first HBO “Superfly” card, Sor Rungvisai let the world know that it wasn’t a fluke by dispatching Gonzalez in four brutal rounds. Having defeated Cuadras, the contest for superiority came down to Estrada and Sor Rungvisai; the pair trading wins in 2018 and 2019, the latter being memorable for Sor Rungvisai electing to fight orthodox, and possibly losing because of it.
Though having been proven beatable, it was clear that anyone wishing to hang a loss on Sor Rungvisai should plan on taking the full 12 rounds and knowing the “Rat King” would be in their grill chunking bricks from any number of angles, your own punching power be damned. He simply wouldn’t be discouraged, and seemingly couldn’t be hurt at the weight.
Time is a funny thing, though. It comes for us all and we never know when that will be or what form it will take. Saturday night on a DAZN televised card from the Tech Port Arena in San Antonio, the Reaper came for the Rat King, and he wore pink.
The Reaper in this case came in the form of Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez (16-0, 11KO). The precocious 22-year-old Texan had flown under many radars, unless you were to take the word of his trainer Robert Garcia, who’s been saying for a couple of years that Bam is the best fighter at his gym. No mean feat. If you didn’t know who he was before, you got a good introduction last February as he jumped up two weight classes on short notice and thoroughly out-fought, out-punched, and outboxed Carlos Cuadras to win a wide decision.
The people who seemed to think he could repeat that dominance against Sor Rungvisai (50-6-1, 43 KO) were his team and the oddsmakers, who installed Rodriguez as a -500 favorite (bet $500 to win $100). And they were right. Rodriguez controlled the fight from the first bell utilizing his greater reach and much greater foot speed to pepper Sor Rungvisai from distance and then hammer him from angles in close. At the close of the 1st round, Rodriguez landed a thudding one-two that snapped Sor Rungvisai’s head back. As he attempted to answer, Rodriguez stepped away from his lunge and dropped a huge right hook on his temple. There seemed to be nothing the Thai could do to stem the tide. You could tell yourself that it was ring rust and a slow start, both being perfectly reasonable explanations, but as the opening rounds turned into the middle, that was clearly wrong. In the 4th Rodriguez dropped a beautiful right hook-overhand left on Sor Rungvisai that bobbed his head around like a Weeble Wobble. When Sor Rungvisai attempted to answer, Rodriguez ducked and detonated a right hook that caused Sor Rungvisai to graze a glove on the canvas to keep his balance.
A punishing jab was Rodriguez’s first line of attack. Straight, hard and very quick, it crunched home seemingly every time he threw it. It was doing damage but it was also stopping Sor Rungvisai in his tracks every time he steamed ahead. Behind the jab were right hooks and left crosses, most often thrown just after Bam had pivoted to either side, effectively ensuring Sor Rungvisai would turn straight into them. Rodriguez was landing over 50% of his punches, and no matter how tough you are, when that happens you’re in deep shit.
By the 7th Sor Rungvisai was beginning to look discouraged. Or, perhaps, he was just looking beaten up, because that’s what was happening to him. The Rat King, the hardest man in the division, was being butchered and everyone, including him, knew it. Indefatigable as always, Sor Rungvisai kept boring inwards, knowing that his only chance was to get close and hurt Rodriguez. With just over two minutes remaining in the round, Rodriguez landed a counter left that sent Sor Rungvisai to all fours. He gamely rose and went back to work but the end was inevitable.
The 8th round would prove to be the last, thankfully. Sor Rungvisai’s head was sent sailing by every landed punch and Rodriguez was closing for the kill. With 90 seconds remaining, a combination sent Sor Rungvisai staggering backward to the ropes. Rodriguez poured on the combinations, each punch more hurtful than the last until referee Mark Calo stepped in to stop the onslaught.
It was a star-making performance for Rodriguez. Every aspect of his craft and talent were on full display, his effortlessly graceful footwork just as dazzling as the crunching combinations. For a 22-year-old with just 16 bouts to his name, Rodriguez showed composure to rival his skill, both of which he’ll need because the only 2 names above his now at junior bantamweight are Gonzalez and lineal champion Estrada. It’s difficult to say who should be the favorites if those fights do come to pass, but there’s no question that Rodriguez is ready for anyone.
(Jesse Rodriguez, left, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, right; photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom)