The island of Puerto Rico is only about 96 miles long with a population of only 3.3 million. Despite the small size it has produces countless legends of the sweet science. The likes of Carlos Ortiz, Jose Torres, Wilfredo Vazquez, John John Molina, Ivan Calderon, Felix Trinidad and most recently Miguel Cotto all hail from the Island. With the retirement of Miguel Cotto and the devasting loss of hyped up lightweight prospect Felix Verdejo the proud Island territory has been in need of another megastar that can be the islands poster boy. Search no more, we have found your man. Emmanuel Rodriguez better known as Manny put on an eye-opening performance, on the Haye-Bellew 2 undercard in the 02 Arena in the UK, absolutely destroying and outclassing Paul Butler in his own backyard and capturing the vacant IBF bantamweight title.
Rodriguez became the third Puerto Rican fighter to capture a world title in the last 6 months or so. Joining both Angel Acosta and Alberto Machado to hold crowns. The latter two are excellent fighters but neither have the marketability or skill of Manny. In late 2010, Rodríguez was involved in a truck wreck and suffered second-degree burns over most of his body. Due to the incident, Rodríguez was removed from the sport. Despite the horrific burns, Rodriguez was not to be kept down, just a month later he was already training two to three days per week, while still admitted in the burn unit and still wearing bandages around arms and legs. A unique routine was prepared to work on his footwork, speed, and strength. Rodríguez spent several additional months in recovery and rehab, focused on treatment to avoid re-injuring or infecting the scar tissue on his left arm. Rodriguez returned to the ring in September of 2011, at the V Copa Ángel “Cholo” Espada, fighting at the super flyweight division. He went on to dominate the tournament.
Rodriguez turned pro in 2012, just a year and a half after the horrific accident that almost ended his fighting career. It’s been smooth sailing for the 25-year-old since putting together a perfect record of 18-0 (12) and capturing 118-pound gold. At a time when the sport is looking for its next Puerto Rican star, Rodriguez enters at the perfect fighting in an absolutely loaded weight class. The Puerto ican champ can stay in the UK, where he put on the head-turning display and unify with Ryan Burnett. A mega fight with Luis Neary which would play up the Mexico/Puerto Rico rivalry is a possibility as is a huge showdown with pound for pound stud Naoya Inoue who takes on Jamie McDonnell for a 118-pound strap later this month. The big star-making fights and mega paydays are certainly available for the young champ.
Rodriguez’s performance against a rugged and game Paul Butler was the best performance of 2018 thus far, hands down. Paul Butler not only missed weight, he made no real attempt to make the weight missing it by three pounds. An attempt to gain a size advantage over the speedied more skilled Puerto Rican that proved fruitless. From the opening stanza, this one had mismatch written all over. Rodriguez caught Butler immediately, scoring with a perfectly timed counter left hook that put the Brit on the seat of his pants. Rodriguez going for the jugular jumped and Butler again and dropped him again before the end of the round. Butler was able to hang on and make it through the round. From that point on in was clinic time. Manny operated like a surgeon. Rodriguez stalked Butler around the ring causing him to shell up in a high guard position and when he did attempt to open up Rodriguez would unload his shotgun jab and a barrage of accurately placed power shots. Butler proved game but totally outmatched as his face grow more and more swollen and bloodied throughout the 12 round affair in dropping a lopsided unanimous decision
The style and skill set of Rodriguez reminds one so much of Puerto Rican legend Felix Trinidad. Not a young wild Trinidad but the mature version of Tito who dominated the 154-pound division. From his erect stance, Rodriguez fires an accurate punishing shotgun jab and sharp right hands. He has fundamentally sound slick footwork, sports good speed and holds his hands high in a responsible defensive position, just as Tito did, and just like Tito, as is true with so many Puerto Rican fighters, Rodriguez posses a punishing left hook. A short quick punch that can not only create highlight reel knockouts but carry him not only through the 118-pound division but with decent height can easily carry him up to the featherweight division where he still won’t be short for the weight class. The timing of Rodriguez’s arrival as a world champ, combined with his patently Puerto Rican fighting style, his made for Hollywood story as well as being in the middle of a talent loaded division with multiple mega fights immediately available, is the perfect combination for making him Puerto Rico’s next crossover megastar.