Despite testing positive for coronavirus at the end of the year Elvis Rodriguez finished 2020 as one of the sport’s leading prospects, writes Phil Rogers
WEARING his jet black quiff like a crown he curled his lip and stared down from the wall at the family’s latest addition. It suddenly dawned on the patriarch what to call their baby son. “My dad is a big fan of Elvis. He speaks English very well so he was always listening to rock n roll music,” Elvis Rodriguez tells Boxing News about his earliest days. “When I was about to be born he had a big painting of Elvis in the living room, and when I was born one of my older brothers asked him, ‘What are you going to call the baby?’ And my other brother said, ‘Hey, why don’t you call him Elvis like the guy in the painting’?”
On December 12, a positive COVID test denied Rodriguez his sixth fight of 2020. Such a relentless level of activity would be an impressive feat in any year, but it’s particularly remarkable given the pandemic’s restrictions. And while some fighters’ performances have struggled to catch fire without the roar of a crowd Rodriguez looked utterly assured.
“The thing is, I feel the support. The support is there, and I’m going to keep putting on good performances and working hard because I want to keep doing bigger and bigger things. I’m an aggressive fighter because that’s what I like to do. I like to pressure the fight, look for the fight. But at the same time I can box because I have the amateur pedigree. I have a lot of boxing skill in my repertoire but at the same time I can do both. I’m a very dynamic fighter, I can fight moving forward, going backwards, or in the pocket or at distance. I can do everything.”
Rodriguez’s first introduction to sport came not through the noble art but via the country’s love affair with baseball. It was a pastime he excelled at, yet his wild nature and natural inquisitiveness quickly led to him being ushered into his local gym by his boxing-mad father.
“Even when I was a little kid I remember my dad was always a big fan of boxing and always watching fights. But my experience didn’t just come from there, I also had something that I wanted to achieve in the sport. Whenever I saw a pair of gloves I’d put them on, and when I was a kid I was always getting into fights. Then I wanted to compete so little by little I started to do more and more. When I started boxing Félix Días won the Olympic gold medal [at the 2008 Games in Beijing], and that was a big inspiration for me and motivated me even more. In the Dominican Republic there’s always been exciting fighters.”
A successful amateur career saw him represent his country at the Pan American and Central American Games. At 22, however, he was ready to turn pro, stepping into the famous Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood to begin working with revered trainer, Freddie Roach. So spectacular has his start to prize fighting been that many are now declaring Rodriguez to be the future of Roach’s stable.
“I’ve been in the Wild Card for two years and with all the hard work that I’ve put in the change has been from heaven to earth. The relationship with Freddie is also great. We have good chemistry and we have connected because he sees that I take my work very seriously, and he has seen that we train two times a day from Monday to Saturday. Since I was young I always knew that I had a lot of power in my hands but we’re developing even more now with all of the work we’re putting in in the gym.”
From a fan’s perspective Elvis’ emergence in the 140lbs division couldn’t have come at a better time. With hugely talented prospects such as Brandun Lee and Ruben Torres making a name for themselves, established stars such as Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis continuing to impress, and Teofimo Lopez ready to step up from 135lbs, a special era could be upon us. The potential for fireworks is not lost on Rodriguez, who’s targeting world titles in three weight classes before his career is over.
“Super-lightweight is a very hot division right now, it’s a very competitive division. I’m going to keep working hard and I’ll be ready to face those big names. We’re ready for a title shot in a little bit and I’m going to show the world that I’m ready for those big moments. By this time next year I’d like to be among the top ranked fighters in the 140lbs division and possibly fighting for a world title. Right now I’m making the weight pretty good. I don’t have a problem making the weight. I have to work a little bit but I think I’ll be here for another year, it’s not like I’m beating myself to death. Then after I can move up to 147lbs, see how I do there, and then eventually 154lbs.”
With COVID denying him another scalp, Rodriguez’s record remains at 10-0-1, the only blemish being a technical draw as a result of a first round clash of heads in his third professional contest. Every other opponent has been emphatically knocked out, a fact not lost on Top Rank’s matchmakers as they endeavour to find willing competitors to stretch him in his professional development. For the young southpaw, however, this journey is less about his own notoriety as a ruthless finisher and more about altering how his fellow countrymen are viewed in the sport.
“I feel very proud representing my country. But at the same time I really want to change the perception that some people have that Dominican fighters are undisciplined or a little bit lazy. I want to show that we can work hard and that we can be good fighters. Not only me, there’s a new breed of Dominican fighters that are working hard to change the perception. I want to be the fighter that changed the perception that people have of us.”