Four fighters entered Saturday night's Boxing After Dark tripleheader with undefeated records. Only Edwin Rodriguez escaped with his intact.
When earlier in the day Rodriguez's twins Edwin Jr. and Serena blew out the candles on their sixth birthday cake, they must have closed their eyes and wished for an easy night's work for their dad at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Connecticut. Though opponent Jason Escalera entered the ring with a zero at the end of his record just like Rodriguez, his perfection was an illusion born of soft matchmaking. "La Bomba's" superior pedigree showed from the start of the scheduled 10-round super middleweight bout, and though he didn't produce the quick knockout he hinted at during a lopsided opening round, Rodriguez gave the supportive New England crowd what they came to see when he compelled referee Steve Smoger to stop the contest 12 seconds into the eighth round.
In so doing, Rodriguez avoided the fate that befell previously unbeaten welterweight Alex Perez and junior feather Luis Orlando Del Valle earlier in the evening.
First up was Perez (16-1, 9 KOs) of Newark, New Jersey, who found himself dismantled by Montreal's Antonin Decarie (27-1, 8 KOs) en route to a sixth-round knockout. The relatively untested southpaw Perez could never get his offense in gear, and his defense was nonexistent. Decarie used clever movement and a heat-seeking right hand to sweep the first five rounds, then unleashed the power in the sixth. A sweeping left hand made Perez's knees dip and a follow-up right sent him to the canvas with about 30 seconds left on the clock. Perez beat the count, but the Canadian continued rocking him with right hands and combinations until referee Danny Schiavone called a well-timed halt at the 2:54 mark.
In the next fight, two-division former titlist Vic Darchinyan (38-5-1, 27 KOs) moved up to 122 pounds and tripped up Puerto Rican prospect Del Valle (16-1, 11 KOs), winning a unanimous decision at the conclusion of 10 engaging rounds of action. As awkwardly effective as ever, Darchinyan feinted his way into position to land his southpaw bombs and appeared in complete control through eight rounds. But Del Valle, despite having stepped up too far too soon, never stopped trying and put a scare into "The Raging Bull" by hurting him with a left hand in round nine. Darchinyan survived, however, and the 36-year-old returned to relevance by scores of 99-91 from both Glenn Feldman and Julie Lederman and a surprisingly close 96-94 from Clark Sammartino.
So by the time Rodriguez and Escalera climbed through the ropes, the theme of perfect records becoming imperfect was clearly established. All that remained was the question of which undefeated fighter would join the trend and which would buck it. And it didn't take long to get our answer.
Rodriguez (22-0, 16 KOs) began bombing away midway through the opening round, causing the much slower Escalera (13-1-1, 12 KOs) to lose his mouthpiece twice. An overhand right wobbled the underdog from Union City, New Jersey, and though Escalera appeared clear-eyed in the face of Rodriguez's onslaught, his legs couldn't keep up their end of the façade. He staggered all about the ring but, to his enormous credit, did not go down. Escalera made it to the bell, even if the smart money seemed to be on him not being able to say that a second time in this fight.
But Rodriguez, a promising if somewhat inconsistent prospect from Worcester, Massachusetts, eased up in round two, looking like he was in no rush to finish Escalera off. Escalera had a few good moments in round three, weathered an excellent left hook early in the fourth, and demonstrated that he had no intention of lying down when he landed a solid right hand of his own moments later. After Rodriguez received a warning from Smoger for a low blow (which replays showed was actually on the beltline), Escalera finished the fourth round with his best punch of the fight, a left hook that prompted Rodriguez to hold.
It was all La Bomba from there, however. In the fifth, a corking right hand hurt Escalera badly, and Rodriguez paused for a moment, as if to give Escalera's corner an opportunity to throw in the towel. When they didn't, Rodriguez pounced. But he couldn't come up with the finisher.
He finally found what he and the crowd were looking for in the eighth. With Smoger in one-more-wobble-and-it's-over mode since the fifth-round scare, Rodriguez scored with a left to the ear that discombobulated Escalera. As blood began to spurt from Escalera's right ear, the highly respected veteran ref immediately stepped in and waved the fight off.
The CompuBox stats accurately reflected Rodriguez's dominance, as he was credited with outlanding Escalera 231-95 and nearly doubling his opponent's connect rate, 43% to 22%.
"I feel like I'm ready [for the big names]," Rodriguez said immediately following the fight. "Today I wanted to send a message. I think that I did. We want Kelly Pavlik. [Jean] Pascal is a good friend, but if he wants to get it on, I'm down for it also."
Rodriguez would be wise to watch the fight that preceded his and consider what happened to Del Valle when he attempted too great a leap in quality of opposition against Darchinyan. Rodriguez is still more prospect than contender, and there are definite risks attached to a prospect targeting a former lineal world champion not far removed from his title reign. It's refreshing to hear Rodriguez say he's willing to assume those risks. But another incremental step or two first might make sense if he wants to remain among the ranks of the undefeated.