Southern California’s Saul “Neno” Rodriguez represents the new wave of prizefighters from the area known as the Inland Empire in the 21st century.
First there was Indio’s Tim Bradley, Josesito Lopez, Chris Arreola and Mauricio Herrera among many. Now, the lithe lightweight from Riverside represents a new wave of Inland Empire fighters just hitting their stride.
Baby-face killer Rodriguez (17-0-1, 13 Kos) travels to Fallon, Nevada to face Ramsey Luna (12-3, 5 Kos) of Corpus Christi, Texas on Saturday Aug. 21.
It’s the main event of a Top Rank fight card. UniMas will televise.
Rodriguez has that rattlesnake quality about him. On first look you may not think much of him. He looks rather harmless as a choir boy on Sunday morning. Nothing seems intimidating including his slender frame and ready smile.
That smile can fool you.
In one of his previous fights one opponent took a look at Rodriguez and visually seemed to size him up as a patsy. Next thing you know that guy was slung across the ropes dangling like cold spaghetti.
Another time a Mexican veteran sneered at him during the introductions confident that his chin and experience would serve him well. Instead, he was turned around by a wicked left hook and sent unceremoniously face first to kiss the canvas.
Those rattlesnakes are poisonous, especially the smaller unimposing ones.
One after another has stepped forward to face Rodriguez and his undefeated record. Before actually meeting him most expect an intimidating, muscle-bound sneer of a man and find instead someone who might work as a host at Disneyland. Boxing can be like that. You never know what kind of power and skill the unassuming possess until the punches are flying.
Rodriguez, he of the cara de inocencia, takes his gloves and wraps to the northern part of Nevada to face Luna in a lightweight clash. Slowly he’s been climbing up that prospect ladder with the sureness of a tightrope walker.
He’s got good teachers for his trek. On one side he has former world champion Robert Garcia, on the other he has Eduardo Garcia. One loves offense, the other loves defense. And inside the ropes he spars regularly with Mikey Garcia, who knows a thing or two about gathering world titles.
Mikey has that old man type experience that has been passed down to him through generational entitlement. He’s a prince of pugilism and has served as mentor for Rodriguez from the beginning. The Riverside prizefighter has thrived under the Garcia family guidance.
One punch can change everything, so Team Garcia teaches this to “Neno” every day and every night.
“Mikey tells me what to expect,” said Rodriguez. “When we spar he shows me how to defend it and we practice the moves.”
Rodriguez, and Mikey Garcia, are the next wave ready to grab the reigns from Bradley, Lopez and the others now winding down the end of their careers.
“I’m the main event this time,” Rodriguez said. “Not the co-main event, but the main event.”
Outside the ring Rodriguez has that calm innocent look about him.
Looks can be deceiving.