Mike Coppinger

Rodriguez’s violation a symptom of a heavier problem

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Once again, a fighter has missed weight for a notable fight.

This has happened time and again in boxing, and yet fighters and their teams never learn.

Edwin Rodriguez signed a contract to fight Andre Ward on Saturday for the RING super middleweight championship of the world, to be televised on HBO from the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif.

After Rodriguez came in two pounds over the 168-pound limit at Friday’s weigh-in, he can now kiss his title shot goodbye as well as a sizeable amount of money (20 percent of his $1 million purse, with $100,000 going to Ward and the same amount to the commission).

And that’s if the fight even takes places.

Rodriguez (24-0, 16 knockouts) will have to weigh in again Saturday morning and must be under 180 pounds.

The 28-year-old Rodriguez is facing by far the biggest fight of his professional career, going against one of the pound-for-pound best in the spot. So why couldn’t he make weight and fulfill his contractual obligation?

altAside from losing the title shot and taking the hit to his wallet, Rodriguez can expect plenty of criticism in the public forum. Much of Saturday’s HBO broadcast will surely center around his failure to make weight and the repercussions.

But there will be those who defend Rodriguez.

“He outgrew the weight class,” they’ll say, as trainer Ronnie Shields said Friday.

“Rodriguez sacrificed, he had nothing left to lose,” others might muse.

And those things might very well be true.

But let’s call it what it is – unprofessionalism. The onus is on the fighter and his team to know what weight the boxer can comfortably make. After all, the fighters are making a great deal of money for HBO main events and have the means to hire strength and conditioning coaches and a nutritionist.

In fact, Rodriguez enlisted nutritional guru Victor Conte of BALCO fame to help him get in shape for the title opportunity.

So what went wrong here? Who’s to blame?

It might just be the system.

Boxing used to employ same-day weigh-ins, but too many fighters were exhausted from making weight. To fix that problem, fighters were required to step on the scale the day before the fight, giving the athletes more than 24 hours to replenish fluids and hydrate.

It’s not uncommon for a boxer to gain more than 20 pounds by the time the opening bell tolls, making for many unfair – and unsafe – fights.

And most top fighters today aren’t fighting close to their “walk around weight.” How did we come to such a term? Pugilists often weigh up to 30 pounds more than their fighting weight between bouts. It’s a dangerous and unhealthy practice.

altAnd Rodriguez is no exception when it comes to guys fighting in the wrong weight class (Ricky Hatton and Arturo Gatti are just two of the names notorious for that practice.) “La Bomba” is a big man with broad shoulders who stands tall at six feet. Rodriguez’s last bout, a one-round knockout of Denis Grachev, was contested at a catchweight of 171.5. It’s certainly possible he had no more weight to lose and trained his hardest for Ward. But why take the fight then? One boxing trainer has a good idea.

“He probably was stuck at 170 for a day or two,” said Vincent Parra, trainer of Rolly Lunas and Maurice Hooker. “They knew on Monday he was probably 175, then he dried to 170 and hoped he could dry the last two, but nothing left. Deal with it; pay the 20 percent of $1 million and he still makes a career-best $800,000.

“F— the belt. A win over Ward and he’s set up big at 175,” Parra added. “It’s always about the money. Somehow guys think a big fight will motivate you and your body to do what it can’t. With $1 million waiting, nobody talks about not making weight – cross the bridge when it comes. 20 percent fine? We still get $800,000. It’s all about the payday.”

Rodriguez’s promoter, Lou DiBella, for his part didn’t offer any alibis for his fighter missing weight.

“I don’t want to make any excuses. I’m not the fighter who is making weight, but I want to apologize to Andre Ward, Virgil Hunter, HBO and everybody involved because there is no excuse,” DiBella told Rick Reeno of BoxingScene.com. “It is unprofessional. Even if you are unable to do it anymore, you have to say that you are unable to do it anymore and come clean with that fact. To have a world title fight and be in this situation is unacceptable.

So what’s the solution for boxing? It could be stricter penalties for missing weight. Raise the fine from 20 percent to 50 percent, and boxers are thinking twice before signing up for a fight in a weight class where they don’t belong. Or, the solution could be to switch weigh-ins back to the day of the fight.

Whatever the case may be, boxing needs a solution.

In the meantime, Rodriguez can kiss his title shot good-bye. He can say sayonara to $200,000 dollars that his team worked hard to earn for him. And he likely weight-drained himself, costing himself the best opportunity to win the fight.

But the show must go on, weight limits and rules be damned.

 

Photos by Alexis Cuarezma-Getty Images

Follow Mike Coppinger on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger

 

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