The stakes were high in the crossroads match between Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez and the two junior middleweights fought like it in a thrilling 10-round Friday Night Fights main event that ended in a majority draw in New York City.
Wolak, THE RING’s No. 8-rated junior middleweight who rode an eight-bout win streak going into Friday’s fight, was closing in on a high-profile bout, probably on the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito pay-per-view undercard in December.
Rodriguez, a former welterweight contender who had lost three of his last six bouts, was in a must-win situation and the 31-year-old veteran almost got the “W.”
Judge Tom Schreck scored the bout 97-93 for Rodriguez, favoring the Connecticut-based Dominican’s sharp-shooting combinations, but he was overruled by judges Julie Lederman and Steve Weisfeld, who scored the bout 95-95, giving Wolak credit for his usual relentless pressure.
The New Jersey-based Pole’s hard-charging tactics were more impressive in this fight given that his right eye was swollen shut, grotesquely so, from the seventh round on. If anyone questioned Wolak’s right to borrow the great Jake LaMotta’s nickname “Raging Bull” they certainly don’t after watching this fight. The 29-year-old pressure fighter, who averaged a little over 100 punches per round, according to CompuBox, is definitely a “throw-back” in terms of his heart and style.
However, Rodriguez deserves credit for closing Wolak’s eye in the first place by timing his aggressive adversary with accurate left hooks and left uppercuts even as he was pushed back on his heels by the naturally bigger man.
The odds did not favor Rodriguez, who had been inactive for almost one year and was fighting in his first junior middleweight bout. However, it was clear from the onset that the extra weight was good for Rodriguez’s legs and Wolak’s smothering, rough-and-tumble style brought the best out of the 6-foot boxer-puncher.
Rodriguez landed the harder, more accurate punches in the first three rounds, but Wolak’s non-stop pressure and steady offense (including a lot of body shots) began to pay dividends in the middle rounds as he man-handled the sharper puncher inside while bulling him to the ropes.
Both fighters dug deep down the stretch. Rodriguez let his hands go more and utilized lateral movement and angles in close to get off with two- and three-punch combinations. Wolak, despite being partially blind, stepped up his pressure, literally mauling Rodriguez against the ropes every chance he got.
Neither did enough to win the fight but both gave the fans inside the Roseland Ballroom and those watching ESPN2 a reason to cheer.
“It was a tough fight,” said Wolak (29-1-1, 19 KOs). “I give it up to Delvin, he really tested me. My eye started closing and I really couldn’t see much. That’s why I tried to get inside and keep my head in his chest.”
Mission accomplished, but Rodriguez surprised a lot of people with his ability to take Wolak’s heat. Rodriguez was not surprised.
“I had no doubt it was going to be a tough fight but I was ready for it,” said Rodriguez (25-5-2, 14 knockouts). “I’ve been out of the ring for one year and it took me a little bit to warm up, but he never caught me with a clean, hard punches at all. I think I did a great job.”
He did. And so did Wolak.
“I just didn’t want to disappoint my fans,” Wolak said.
He didn’t. Neither did Rodriguez.
In the opening fight of the ESPN2 broadcast, junior welterweight prospect Tito Serrano scored a unanimous decision over Daniel Sostre in an entertaining eight-round bout.
Serrano (16-0, 8 KOs), the busier, more aggressive fighter who landed the harder punches during the fight, won by scores of 77-75 and 78-74 (twice). Sostre (11-4-1, 4 KOs), of New York City by way of Puerto Rico, was game and had his moments but he allowed the Philadelphia native to take the initiative and his technique was not as sharp as the undefeated prospect’s.