By Diego Morilla
This coming Saturday, October 18th, the undivided attention of the boxing world will be centered on the fight between its fastest rising star, Gennady Golovkin, and Mexico’s Marco Antonio Rubio at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. Beyond that, it'll be focused on the co-featured bout in which one-time pound-for-pound entrant Nonito Donaire takes on unbeaten titlist Nicholas Walters. Both fights will be on HBO, beginning at 10 PM ET/PT.
But the undercard of that event will feature two separate fights in which prominent Latino contenders will be aiming to prove they belong alongside those in the top portion of the bill, as Dominican-born Edwin "La Bomba" Rodriguez and Mexico's Marcos "Dorado" Reyes meet separate challenges – against Azea Augustama and Abie Han respectively – which will be shown on HBO Latino starting at 12:15 am ET/PT (on tape delay).
And both fighters have reason to be ambitious. Any card featuring four combatants with only one defeat each, all of whom boast a KO percentage well above .500, could be considered as a main event in its own right.
Rodriguez's history is a classic tale of immigrant struggle and hard work. After arriving in Worcester, Mass., where his father had been working hard to support him from a distance, Rodriguez was attracted to boxing at an early age. Under the guidance of respected trainer Peter Manfredo, he racked up a number of accomplishments in the amateur ranks – including a national Golden Gloves title and many international appearances with the US national team.
Upon turning professional, he rose through the ranks at a good pace, and soon enough made a name for himself with upset wins against a promising group of contenders, many of whom had boxing royalty in their blood. James McGirt, Aaron Pryor Jr. and the highly regarded and then-unbeaten Jason Escalera fell in rapid succession under the power of Rodriguez's fists.
At this point, Rodriguez acquired the services of world-class trainer Ronnie Shields, whom he credits for a change of style that improved his defense and turned him into a more complete fighter. Soon enough, the new and improved "Bomba" would make the biggest explosion in his career when he won the "Million Dollar Super Four" tournament in Monte Carlo, Monaco, beating Ezequiel Maderna and Denis Grachev to grab a prize that provided the financial stability his own father had only dreamed of when he arrived in the States in search of a better future for his family.
This impressive performance earned him a shot against one of the best fighters in the world in former Olympian and super middleweight titlist Andre Ward, a fight that proved to be too much too soon for Rodriguez. But the experience of that first defeat, along with the realization that he had already outgrown the 168-pound division, led him to rethink his career and his approach to his craft. Now he is returning to the ring after almost a full year of inactivity, a full blown light heavyweight, looking to continue the building of his legacy.
For this long-awaited comeback, Rodriguez (24-1, 16 KOs) will be facing a former neighbor of his old island country in Haiti's Augustama (17-1, 9 KO), an upset-minded, fast-rising, once-beaten Caribbean fighter with whom Rodriguez can relate.
Living in Florida since he represented his country at the 2008 Olympics, Augustama is a skilled, quick-handed fighter who is facing a radically different weight situation: he has been working his way down from the heavyweight division as an amateur to his current fighting weight of 175 pounds as a pro. And although he may not have been able to translate this into a superior punching power, he certainly represents a major threat to Rodriguez.
Augustama is quite a dangerous choice of foe for a debut in a new division. But Team Rodriguez should be encouraged by the fact that his lone defeat came at the hands of Rodriguez's most notable victim in Russia’s Dennis Grachev (controversial though it may have been).
Rodriguez is not the only one searching for redemption after a career-redefining loss. In the first fight of the delayed telecast, Reyes (32-1, 24 KOs) will travel from Chihuahua, Mexico to take his current four-year, 19-0 streak a step further when he clashes with his winningest foe to date in Texas fighter Abraham "Abie" Han (22-1, 14 KOs), in a classic early crossroads fight for two hungry young contenders.
Reyes was widely considered one of Mexico's most promising fighters, but he had an early setback in his 14th professional bout when he faced rugged Argentine trial horse Amilcar Funes Melian.
Reyes was probably encouraged to take the fight against a talented and tough fringe contender after earning solid wins over Saul Duran and Luis Ramon Campas earlier in his career, but Funes Melian proved to be a much hungrier and more determined opponent. The doubts about Reyes' ability to take his act to the next level have not disappeared since then.
Even so, Reyes' wins against fighters such as Jose Luis Zertuche and Rogelio Medina, as well as a decisive win in a rematch against Funes Melian right after back-to-back wins over another rugged veteran in Julio Cesar Garcia, have done much in reestablishing his reputation. But he will now face yet another upset-minded young contender in Han, whose only loss came against highly regarded contender Glen Tapia, and who is coming off a victory over the experienced fighter JC Candelo to cap a 3-fight winning streak.
With their fan-friendly styles, compelling personal stories, and bilingual appeal, both Rodriguez and Reyes appear to be on a path to bigger and better challenges, and headed towards claiming a larger share of the spotlight now reserved for the biggest names in the division.
And with Golovkin's difficulty landing willing opponents in the 160 and 168-pound divisions, both Rodriguez and Reyes may one day find themselves across the ring from the fearsome "Triple G" in the not-too-distant future.