They entered Saturday night’s clash at the sold out Theater at Madison Square Garden with a combined 33 knockouts among their 42 wins, with only one each in losses and draws.
It seemed a forgone conclusion that the crowd of 4,671 would witness a bombastic explosion of fists against face.
In the end, however, it was the slightly better boxer, Rodriguez (21-0, 14 knockouts), of Worcester, Mass., using his jab and his movement while occasionally trading with the powerful George (22-2-1, 19 KOs), of Chicago, to earn a unanimous 10-round decision.
Judges Don Ackerman, Woleska Roldan and Glenn Feldman had it for Rodriguez, 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91, respectively. RingTV.com had for Rodriguez, 96-94.
“I feel great. I’m tired but I’m happy. [Trainer Ronnie Shields] gave me a ’10′ tonight,” said Rodriguez, whose victory came on the undercard of a main event featuring RING middleweight champion Sergio Martinez against Matthew Macklin.
“Since I’ve been with Ronnie, we’ve been working on my boxing and my defensive game. I’m showing another dimension. I don’t think that I have to go out there throwing bombs every round. I still have to improve, but overall, I was pleased with my performance.”
George was after his third straight knockout since being dropped and battered en route to a technical decision loss to Francisco Sierra in 2010. Born of a Greek father and an Irish mother, George was 20-0, with 17 knockouts before losing to Sierra.
“He didn’t want to fight me. I tried to catch him, but he was running. He kept running,” said George. “He had a gameplan, and he stuck to it. It was to box, and he did a good job. It was like a track meet, but I came to fight like a tough Irishman.”
George initially circled in the opening round while Rodriguez got off first, landing with both hands but mostly with his jab. Rodriguez remained the busier of the fighters, clinching on occasion to mute George’s offense and prevent him from getting off. Rodriguez fired to the head and also landed rights to the body, giving ground over the round’s final seconds to win it on activity.
Rodriguez continued to work primarily from behind the jab, which had reddened George’s nose by early in the second round. Rodriguez doubled up and even hooked off the jab in retreat, coming with a followup right as well. George continued to stalk while getting beaten to the punch as Rodriguez escaped with another round.
Rodriguez stood his ground more in the third, tagging George with both hands as well as the jab. George landed a long right hand and and then another, but Rodriguez came back with two more of his own before settling in, yet again, behind his jab. Rodriguez appeared to enjoy the most success in the round, all told.
George started strong in the fourth, but Rodriguez regained the momentum with a right followed by a left and two more right hands. Rodriguez was back jabbing again and eluding right hands by George both from close and afar. George landed one of two right hands, with the second being blocked, just before the bell in another round where Rodriguez had the edge.
The fifth began similarly to the previous rounds, until George crouched and Rodriguez caught him with three right uppercuts. George dug a right and a left to the body, but Rodriguez came back with a hook. George briefly stunned Rodriguez with a right hand and then a left, but Rodriguez responded with more jabs. George’s late power appeared to tilt the round in his favor.
George brought the pressure in the sixth, digging to the body and the head before being cornered and taking a right-left from Rodriguez. George got around Rodriguez’s high guard with a right-left combination, then blocked two shots from his opponent. Rodriguez closed with a series of nice blows to the head and body that appeared to steal yet another round.
The jab was back in effect for Rodriguez in the seventh, although George fired and landed a hard right early on. A powerful straight right hand from Rodriguez got the crowd’s attention, and was followed by a clinch. George closed the round by digging to the body and coming up to the head, most notbaly with a right hand that earned him the round.
Rodriguez got off first over the first minute and a half of the eighth behind his jab and rights and lefts to the head and body. George landed a right, left, right to the body, but Rodriguez came back with a right and a left of his own to the head and body. A nice three-punch combination by Rodriguez ended with a long right to the head as he danced away, appearing to take yet another round.
To start the ninth, George hammered home six unanswered punches that were partially blocked by Rodriguez, who continued to land decent shots to the head and body from a distance. A solid left-right combination reached the mark for George, but Rodriguez returned fire with a right, left and long right — all to the head. George dinged Rodriguez with a right to the temple in his own corner, and may have taken the round with that shot.
To start the 10th, the fighters exchanged toe-to-toe for about 20 seconds before Rodriguez pulled out and bgan to box again. Rodriguez swiveled George’s head with a lead right followed by a left that backed his rival up. George dropped his hands and simply swung for the fences over the final minute of the round, with Rodriguez attempting to match him before finally clinching and using his defense. George may have taken the final round on aggression.
In a heavyweight clash, Magomed Abdusalamalov, of Oxnard, Calif., battered Jason Pettaway (11-1, 8 KOs), of Huntington, WVa., over four rounds, dropping him in the final round before a series of blows forced referee David Fields to stop the fight on the advice of a ringside doctor.
The fourth-round technical knockout at 1:20 of the round improved Abdusalamalov to 14-0 with as many stoppages.
Photo by Ed Diller, DiBella Entertainment