2022 has been quite the year for WBC flyweight champion Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez (16-0, 11 KOs). What initially started as a standard appearance on an undercard in Arizona turned into a world title opportunity that set a trajectory towards the fighter of the year in motion.
When two-time WBC super flyweight champion Sriskaet Sor Rungvisai pulled out of a rematch with Carlos Cuadras in February of this year, Rodriguez didn't stall at the chance to fight for a world title. Moving up in weight and fighting at super flyweight for the second time in his career, Rodriguez would prove to be more than a late replacement.”When I got the call, I had no hesitation,” Rodriguez stated before stepping in the ring with Cuadras. “This is my moment. San Antonio will have a new champion, and a star will be born.”
The Texas southpaw would score a knockdown in the third round en route to winning a unanimous decision. He would also win the vacant WBC super flyweight championship. Rodriguez, who Robert Garcia trains, put forth a performance reminiscent of a former pupil of Garcia's father Eduardo in Fernando Vargas. Much like Vargas, Rodriguez exhibits a level of maturity in his fights despite his young age and lack of experience.
The victory over Cuadras made Rodriguez the youngest active world champion in boxing at the age of 22. The encore to the win over Cuadras was even more impressive.
Rodriguez made the first defense of his WBC championship against Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in June of this year. Bam put forth arguably the premier performance of 2022 thus far. Using lateral movement to sidestep while continually adjusting positions, Rodriguez befuddled Rungvisai punishing the Thai fighter.
Rodriguez would stop Rungvisai in the eighth round, becoming the first fighter to stop the former two-time champion since the beginning of his career, where he was stopped in his first two professional bouts. The star-making showing from the San Antonio native proved that the win over Cuadras wasn't a fluke. Instead, it was the first step in Rodriguez establishing himself as one of the best fighters below featherweight. With stellar back-to-back dispatching of two former world champions, Rodriguez won the ESPN fighter of the year mid-year award for 2022.
Now, Rodriguez has another opportunity awaiting at his footsteps. This weekend, Rodriguez will make the second defense of his WBC title as the co-main event to the third fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin. The norm in boxing is for the PPV undercard to be an afterthought. However, Rodriguez's opponent Israel Gonzalez (28-4-1, 11 KOs), isn't going to show up on September 17th just to be steamrolled. Gonzalez is a fighter who has only lost to world champions such as Jerwin Ancajas, Khalid Yafai, and Roman Gonzalez and a six-round loss to title challenger Argi Cortes early in his career.
For Rodriguez, it will be another barometer to see how he measures against some of the former titleholders at super flyweight. The major difference will be that Rodriguez won't be a surprise to fans or his opponents. A certain measure of execution is now expected from Rodriguez, and how he wins will now matter almost as much as getting the win itself.
“I don't feel pressure because I feel I was born for this,” stated Rodriguez. “I belong on these big stages; it's where I feel comfortable. Headlining in San Antonio, co-main to Canelo-GGG III, this is where I want to be, it's been part of the plan, and it's great to see it play out. There's an expectation on me, all eyes are on me. I know that I need to perform at my best, but that excites me.”
Rodriguez doesn't seem to be overlooking Gonzalez, but the prospect of future bouts with some of the elite fighters at super flyweight and flyweight is salivating for hardcore boxing enthusiasts. The WBC champion's brother Joshua Franco holds a version of the WBA title at super flyweight, leaving an opportunity for the two brothers to reign in the division similar to the Klitschko brothers at heavyweight.
Several fighters that would still be viable opponents exist at super flyweight and flyweight with a vast amount from Japan, including Kazuto Ioka, Junto Nakatani, and Kosei Tanaka. Rodriguez's performances against Cuadras and Rungvisai give the impression that he could hold multiple titles simultaneously at both flyweight and super flyweight.
“I'm right where I need to be, it's just the beginning, and the sky is the limit for me,” said Rodriguez. “I can't tell you how far I can go because I don't know how to stop. I want to be one of those fighters that 20 years from now people say, ‘remember Bam Rodriguez, he was a bad dude.' One of those legends.”
Certainly, Rodriguez has the ability and, just as necessary, the ambition to one day be considered a truly great fighter. This Saturday against Israel Gonzalez, Rodriguez faces another stop on the road in 2022 that has seen him stand out above most of the boxing world.