“Remember where we come from. We don't want to go back there,” is what Lemuel “Indio” Rodriguez tells his son Jonathan Rodriguez in the corner to remind him of how far he has come and that the journey to becoming a world champion isn't complete.
It was a journey that started when Jonathan Rodriguez (15-1-1, 6 KOs) stepped into Indio’s gym when he was twelve years old.
The 24-year-old bantamweight prospect recently talked to NYFights on a Zoom call about his boxing career and what we can expect from him as he pursues his dreams of becoming a world champion.
Jonathan Rodriguez was born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, and moved to Bethlehem, PA, when his mother dropped him and his brother off at the home of his estranged father.
His mother left without any explanation and never returned to get them.
Rodriguez often expressed himself with his fists, trying to adapt to his new surroundings.
His stepmother noticed and dropped him off at a local boxing gym so Jonathan could positively channel that aggression. That's where he met his trainer and future parents.
Jonathan took to boxing quickly, and although he thrived at the gym, life at home with his biological father was turbulent.
Jonathan Rodriguez On Turbulent Home Life
“He used to beat us when he was drunk,” said Jonathan about his father. “That was something I always held in, but my brother couldn't hold it anymore. He told Indio, and then from there, Indio took action.”
Indio acted and immediately took the Rodriguez brothers into his home without telling his wife.
After a few months of living with his trainer, Indio asked the boys if they wanted to live with him permanently. “We told him yes. He went to court and legally adopted us,” said Rodriguez to NYFights.
The new living arrangements took some time, but the Rodriguez brothers eventually bonded with their new family.
Now in a more stable home, Jonathan Rodriguez would flourish as a boxer, and his relationship with his trainer, now father, became stronger.
Jonathan would change his last name to Rodriguez and describes Indio as his coach, father, mentor, and best friend.
Rodriguez would fight fifty-eight times as an amateur, winning fifty-three of those bouts.
Along the way, Jonathan competed in the Junior Olympics and national tournaments and won his state's golden gloves tournament.
In 2018, Rodriguez, 18 years old, made his pro-debut against Steven Lopez. Before a sold-out crowd in his hometown in Bethlehem, PA, the Puerto Rican won his pro debut.
In his ninth outing as a professional, Jonathan Rodriguez would make his television debut.
On a Top Rank card live on ESPN from The Bubble at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Rodriguez would square off against California native Manuel Flores, who was undefeated also.
It was a step-up fight for both fighters, and it wasn't long before both pugilists would start trading heavy shots. Flores was the harder puncher, but Jonathan Rodriguez was the better boxer.
After a close first round, Rodriguez would find his comfort zone and beat Flores to the punch in exchanges. Suddenly, Flores dropped Rodriguez in the third round.
Rodriguez shook off the knockdown and continued to outbox Flores winning the fourth round on the judges’ cards.
In the fifth round, Jonathan Rodriguez was stunned by Flores, and the referee quickly jumped in to stop the fight. Shocked by the stoppage, Rodriguez pleaded to the referee, “What? Are you serious? I’m good! Come on now!”
The protest fell on deaf ears, and Rodriguez suffered the first loss of his professional career.
I asked Jonathan Rodriguez to explain what happened during that moment and how he has been a different fighter since that loss.
“It all goes back to that saying, ‘If it ain't broke, don't fix it.’ I was boxing. I was winning the fight. The boxing was working beautifully.
“I don't know what got into me; I tried to sit there and fight instead of box. And then I got caught with a shot. I stumbled back, but it was too early to stop it, but it happened, and I learned from it.
“But basically me changing the game plan when I should have stuck to the one we had,” said Rodriguez recounting that fight.
What did Indio say to his son after the fight? “He wasn't mad about the stoppage because it was better to stop it soon than too late.
“He was telling me he was proud of me, that it happens. He knew it was my first time on the big stage, so he wasn’t mad. But he told me that next time stick to the game plan.
“He told me he was proud of my progress and that it was a little slip-up, and we definitely learned from it,” said Jonathan Rodriguez.
And they have stuck to the game plan because Team Rodriguez hasn't lost a fight since Flores.
Rodriguez has won seven of his last eight contests, and one was declared a draw. In his previous outing, Rodriguez knocked his opponent out in the second round and won the WBC USA Silver Bantamweight title.
What is team Rodriguez's plan to elevate his stock within the bantamweight division? I asked.
“I trust my team. Whatever they think is best for me. I'm a fighter; I'm ready to fight whenever. I want to stay busy and keep building my record and going up in the rankings,” said Jonathan Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is scheduled to fight Friday, August 4th, against veteran Marvin Solano (24-9, 3 KOs) of Nicaragua, at the Wind Creek Event Center in Bethlehem, PA.
Rodriguez will be heading the prelims portion on the card, and the fight is expected to be televised on Showtime's boxing series “New Generation.”
My Take: Jonathan Rodriguez is a solid boxer who can make some noise in the bantamweight rankings.
His passion to succeed is fueled by wanting to give back to his adoptive family, who have given him so much.
He is the humblest boxer I've interviewed so far.
When asked what sets him apart from other fighters, he said, “I don't know, honestly. I don't really talk about myself. There's not much to say. I'm laid back-I don't like talking – I just let my hands do the talking.”
Jonathan Rodriguez spends time with his family or is at church when he is not boxing.
Don’t let his passive demeanor fool you. As he told me during our interview, “It's the quiet ones you got to watch out for.”
He aims to contend for a world title in the next two years.
Jonathan Rodriguez is skilled, focused, and has the full support of his family.
With Indio on his side, it seems that Rodriguez has all the necessary tools to achieve his goal of contending for a world title in a few years.