Ryan Songalia

Inexperienced Escalera confident he will defeat Rodriguez in HBO debut

If you don’t know who Jason Escalera is, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The unbeaten super middleweight prospect from Union City, N.J. is stepping out from the New York metropolitan area club scene into the bright lights of HBO this Saturday against the more known Edwin Rodriguez.

The Boxing After Dark broadcast from the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Conn., begins at 9:30 p.m. (EST).

There’s no other way to say it; the 27-year-old Escalera (13-0-1, 12 knockouts) is taking a massive step-up in competition against Rodriguez (21-0, 14 KOs), of Worcester, Mass., who is rated no. 9 by THE RING at 168 pounds. Rodriguez has faced and beaten far better opposition on bigger stages in his career so far, including prospects Donovan George and Will Rosinsky on HBO and Showtime respectively. Rodriguez, who is also 27, has also defeated experienced pros James McGirt Jr. and Aaron Pryor Jr.

By contrast, Escalera, known as “Monstruo,” has never headlined an ESPN card and hasn’t faced any recognizable names. His toughest test was Nick Brinson in his last assignment in May, a Friday Night Fights co-featured bout that ended in a disappointing draw.

It was not the impressive performance he wanted to show in his national television debut. Because of it, many believe he is in over his head against Rodriguez.

“I don’t think that my manager [and trainer Joe Botti] and [promoter] Joe DeGuardia are rushing me,” said Escalera, who works days unloading delivery trucks for the meat department of Food Basics supermarket in Union City. “I think this is the right time and I deserve this.”

What Escalera does possess is power, and lots of it. It’s the type that has frequently bailed him out in instances where his lack of experience could have been his downfall.

Though Escalera wasn’t a highly-touted amateur, having just 25 unpaid bouts under his belt by the time he turned pro in early 2008, it was one of those bouts that changed the way he was perceived as a boxer forever. Heading into a Newark gymnasium in a N.J. Golden Gloves preliminary bout in 2007 against two-time 178-pound national champion Alan Lawrence, the unheralded Escalera looked like prime pickings.

Midway through the first round, Escalera dropped Lawrence with a left hook. Then, in the second stanza, an Escalera overhand right knocked Lawrence out for good, rendering him unconscious for four minutes. So unforeseen was the upset that then-N.J. boxing commissioner Larry Hazzard Sr. ordered an investigation into whether Escalera’s gloves had been tampered with.

“They should have checked Jason’s fists,” said Botti, a recently-promoted lieutenant in the Union City Police Department.

Lawrence never fought again. Escalera would win the Golden Gloves tournament but fall short in the Nationals.

Still, with experience comes poise, and his lack of it has caused him some uneven performances. The bout with Brinson showed much of the rawness in Escalera’s game, as he failed at times to cut off the ring against the mobile Brinson and often whiffed awkwardly when loading up on heavy blows. Remarked ESPN2 boxing commentator Teddy Atlas during the telecast: “Escalera never saw a wide punch that he didn’t like.”

Escalera’s team says that making the 160-pound limit for the first time affected him; this bout will be fought at a catch-weight of 166 pounds. Saturday’s bout will be Escalera’s first fight scheduled for 10-rounds. Rodriguez has been at the 10-round level for his last six bouts.

“If people are underestimating me because of that fight, they’ll be surprised on fight night,” said Escalera, who has fought as high as 173 pounds. “That wasn’t even half of what Jason is.

“To be honest that was probably 85 percent of Jason.”

Botti too feels that Escalera has more than he showed against Brinson: “I know they are looking at that fight and they are thinking that is the Jason they are getting. Big mistake.

“What gives us the biggest advantage is the fact that no one is taking Jason seriously, especially Edwin. Some of his comments, like Jason’s power comes more from pressure than punching power and that Jason has no experience and doesn’t hit as hard as Don George. I hope they keep thinking that.”

The last four months have essentially been a crash course in improvement on their last performance, as to their estimation they have sparred 140 rounds in total against an eclectic array of styles offered fromDanny Jacobs, Glen Tapia, Joe Smith Jr., Seanie Monaghan,Demetrius Hopkins, Curtis Stevens andJesse Hart, as well as 2012 Olympian Marcus Browne. When the opportunity to fight Rodriguez came about, Botti says they jumped.

“It’s a great matchup technically, that’s why I took the fight,” said Botti. “When I approved the match after DeGuardia offered it I had many boxing people who are not experienced call me and say ‘Are you crazy?’ That was all because they were looking at the amount of fights Edwin has. All of the experienced boxing insiders called and told me it was a great match. Edwin is being built up very carefully. They just turned down a title eliminator fight with [Adonis] Stevenson, what kind of confidence is that in your fighter?”

Speaking with THE RING earlier in the week, Rodriguez’s manager Larry Army Jr. said that they turned down the IBF eliminator with Stevenson because they already had an HBO date lined up and didn’t want to fight in Canada.

In analyzing Escalera, Rodriguez’s trainer Ronnie Shields has noted Escalera’s wider punches and implored his ward not to exchange punches “because this guy cannot outbox” Rodriguez.

When asked about Rodriguez’s recent fights, Botti responds: “If you look at Edwin’s last two fights, he looked average. I thought the Rosinsky fight was a draw. That was a terrible decision. I fell asleep watching the George fight it was so boring. I think Edwin should have taken up long distance running instead of boxing. I haven’t seen less contact in a fight in years.”

“I’ve seen a lot of his videos and I think he makes mistakes,” said Escalera. “I’ve studied his mistakes and there’s going to be a lot of counter punching in that fight. I’vegot a lot of respect for him because he knows the fight isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be brutal, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be one of those boring fights.”

With a win, Escalera’s decision to take this risky fight would look genius, while a loss would suggest he was rushed against too much too soon. At Thursday’s final press conference, Escalera had a chance to confront both Rodriguez and the New England fighter’s promoter Lou DiBella. In parting, he let the public know what kind of decision he thinks he made. 

“Lou, I’m going to disappoint you. I gotta do what I gotta do.”



Photos / Ed Diller-Star Boxing/DiBella Entertainment, Star Boxing

Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel and can be reached at ryan@ryansongalia.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.

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