Saul “Neno” Rodriguez: The Road to Mayweather Promotions

SAUL “NENO” RODRIGUEZ JOINS THE MONEY TEAM — Perpetually thinking ahead, Floyd Mayweather signed Saul “Neno” Rodriguez to fight under his Mayweather Promotions banner.

“He’s an exciting fighter,” said Mayweather by phone. “Fans want to see him fight.”

Rodriguez, 23, a super featherweight, fights out of Riverside, California and had previously fought under Top Rank Promotions. When the contract expired in November, he sought a better contract.

We met at a local outdoor mall, the Riverside Plaza, this past Saturday to discuss the new direction Rodriguez was taking after spending five years with Las Vegas-based Top Rank. He also ended his managerial relationship with Cameron Dunkin and Robert Garcia.

Another tie cut was training under Eduardo Garcia, the patriarch of the Garcia family that includes former super featherweight and lightweight champion Mikey Garcia.

“I learned a lot from Mr. (Eduardo) Garcia about boxing,” said Rodriguez as we sat at an outdoor restaurant in the plaza. “I really learned a lot from Mikey too. He taught me a lot about negotiations and what to expect.”

For the past two years the Garcias have made Riverside their home base though still maintaining another boxing camp in Oxnard. It was a little known fact that they had moved. The Robert Garcia Boxing Academy is located on a large hill. It’s the same hill where Rodriguez’s family has lived for most of his life.

Amateur days

Rodriguez was always a knockout puncher, even as an amateur. The first time I saw him fight was in a tournament in Pacoima. Crowds gathered whenever he stepped in the boxing ring.

Like Mayweather said, fans like to see him fight.

Wherever the amateur tournaments took place, Rodriguez was certain to draw a crowd. He had more than 100 amateur bouts, roughly three-quarters of which ended in a stoppage.

“I always had a pro style,” said Rodriguez as a 16-year-old.

Because of that pro style he lost major tournaments to less powerful fighters who merely survived. The amateur boxing game can get quite political with the favorite sons and daughters winning tournaments based on who they know, not for being better boxers. But that’s the amateur world.

When Rodriguez finally turned professional it was almost a relief for the slender slugger. In his opening pro bout that took place at the Commerce Casino in September of 2011, he looked like the most polished fighter on the entire card. He decimated his opponent in 58 seconds, but in that limited time span it was obvious that he had sparkling talent. The crowd murmured to each other about the obvious. Rodriguez was a special fighter.

Of course there were holes in his fight game, especially on defense. It was under Eduardo Garcia that the holes began to close. Offensively, he was a natural killer.

Top Rank

After his pro debut in friendly territory, Rodriguez spent the next five bouts fighting on Las Vegas and Texas boxing cards. All but one of the wins came by knockout. And most of those knockouts were the head-turning, eye-popping variety.

The match-makers for Top Rank, Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman, have always been top notch. They navigated the Riverside fighter’s career through a variety of different styles.

A return to Southern California crowds saw Rodriguez dominate a fighter named Cesar Garcia at the StubHub Center. Though he hurt the opponent the referee erroneously declared it was a head butt that caused damage and not a punch. Garcia knew he was about to get knocked out and told the referee he could not continue so the fight was declared a draw. It’s the only blemish on Rodriguez’s record.

For whatever reason, Top Rank sent Rodriguez to the East Coast for a tickler against a non-aggressive fighter that led to a decision victory. Whether it was for negotiation reasons or to acclimate him to another fighting style, Rodriguez ended winning by decision. Then he was sent to Texas and won another decision. Those fights ended the year 2012.

Felix Verdejo

At the end of 2012, Puerto Rico’s Felix Verdejo, a former Olympian, was signed by Top Rank. The quick-fisted fighter was showcased in the best scenarios under the brightest lights and getting ten times the money as Rodriguez. HBO Latino was televising Verdejo’s fights and he was fighting at Madison Square Garden by his second pro fight.

“They (Top Rank) were telling me he (Verdejo) was an Olympian and that’s why he got more money and attention,” said Rodriguez. “But we’re professionals now. That Olympian stuff doesn’t mean anything now. We’re fighting the same guys and I’m beating them easier than he is.”

Although Rodriguez was fighting on Solo Boxeo instead of HBO, he was gaining a quick following with spectacular knockout wins. From 2013 to 2015, his super featherweight clashes were not only sparking interest from Spanish language viewers, they were also being watched by Box Nation in the United Kingdom.

Most in the U.S. are not aware that England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are boxing crazy countries. The popular Box Nation was subscribing to Solo Boxeo’s telecasts and fans over there were quickly attracted to the slender Riverside fighter who was cracking jaws with left hooks and overhand rights.

Rodriguez was named a prospect to keep an eye on by the Box Nation crew. In the U.S. two of his fights were considered the top knockout wins of the year by Solo Boxeo.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. the crowds watched Verdejo use his talent to continue winning by knockout against solid competition. At first most observers felt Verdejo was further ahead in the game than Rodriguez. But with Eduardo, Mikey and Robert Garcia honing Rodriguez’s skills, by 2015 the gap had narrowed.

On June 2015, Verdejo was matched against San Antonio’s Ivan Najera. He knocked down the Texan in the fifth and 10th rounds and eventually won by unanimous decision.

Najera was then matched against Rodriguez on November 2015 in Las Vegas at the Cosmopolitan. In the audience watching in the first row was Verdejo and Terence Crawford. Both witnessed Rodriguez annihilate Najera within 2:06 to win by devastating knockout. Twice Najera was sent to the canvas and the referee abruptly stopped the fight.

Later that night, Rodriguez (20-0-1, 15 KOs) and Verdejo (22-0, 15 KOs) met face to face in the arena in street clothes and chatted a little. The two 23-year-old baby-faced assassins were amicable and smiling. Even Crawford said hello. It was a moment not lost on many.

Mayweather Promotions

Seven months ago a surprise visit to the Riverside training camp by Mayweather set social media ablaze.

Mikey Garcia was unattached and most saw Mayweather’s visit as the first step to courting the free agent. The retired multi-division champion turned promoter Mayweather met the various fighters at the gym including Rodriguez. Photos were taken and the fighters went back into training.

Later, the Riverside-based fighters would run into Mayweather when traveling to Las Vegas.

Rodriguez had kept negotiations open with Top Rank but was not satisfied with the bonus offer or the back-of-the-line plans for him that included Spanish language television only.

This past November, Rodriguez’s contract expired with Top Rank and he was free to negotiate with anyone. He also ended managerial ties and did not want to sign with a manager either.

“I didn’t want a middle man to talk to a promoter’s middle man,” explained Rodriguez. “I wanted to talk face-to-face with the promoter.”

Promotion companies like Golden Boy Promotions, Top Rank, and others had shown interest. Mayweather Promotions let it be known they were interested too. Many of those companies had sent scouts, matchmakers and others to watch Rodriguez when he last fought on May 14, at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, Calif. against Daulis Prescott. In that fight Rodriguez manhandled Prescott until beating him to submission in the seventh round.

Those watching nodded their heads at the destruction of the Colombian fighter. It was supposed to be a test but instead was an execution.

Two weeks ago the WBC held its annual convention in Miami, Florida. The now free agent Rodriguez traveled to the festivities and met with Mayweather who was also in attendance.

Rodriguez met with Mayweather and an offer was made face-to-face.

“He asked me what I wanted and I told him,” said Rodriguez. “It was an easy contract to make and Floyd made it easy.”

Rodriguez had talked to others and had plans to meet with other promoters but after convening with Mayweather the Riverside prizefighter decided then and there to sign with the Las Vegas-based outfit.

“I had heard other promoters say things to other fighters I knew that they could put them on a Saul “Canelo” Alvarez card,” said Rodriguez. “I don’t want to be on a Canelo card. I want to be the main event.”

Mayweather laid out plans for Rodriguez and what he will do and also the bonus money to sign with Mayweather Promotions. He also gave a Rolex watch to him.

“I didn’t even ask for a watch but he gave it to me,” said Rodriguez. “It’s a pretty impressive watch. I didn’t expect it.”

During our conversation a call to Mayweather was made and the undefeated retired champion answered. The phone was then handed to me and I asked what attracted him to signing Rodriguez.

“He’s a good-looking guy, has charm and he can fight,” said Mayweather. “He’s a hard hitter and fans like to see that.”

Mayweather has plans to showcase Rodriguez on televised cards in 2017 as early as the Spring. He added that the Riverside fighter has other attributes other than fighting.

“He’s humble and knows how to talk,” said Mayweather. “Plus he’s a hard worker.”

The now retired Mayweather, who accumulated more money than any other fighter in history, now is gathering fighters in the Hispanic fight world. Before signing Rodriguez, who is a five-year veteran, he also signed Moreno Valley’s Daniel Gonzalez and Mexico’s Brian Gallegos. Both are young prospects that need a little seasoning before fighting under the spotlight.

Glaring lights is exactly what Rodriguez wants.

“That’s why I signed with Mayweather Promotions,” said Rodriguez. “Who’s better to work with than Floyd Mayweather? He’s a good guy and he’s a former boxer so he knows what I need to be a champion.”

Next step: a world title.

“I hope to get a shot by the end of 2017,” said Rodriguez.

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