AFTER a huge breakout year in 2022, Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez will kick off his 2023 campaign as a fully-fledged star on Saturday in his hometown of San Antonio. It is not only a return home for the 23-year-old but also a return to his old 112lb division after setting the world alight up at super-flyweight last year.
When 2021 came to an end, Rodriguez was being touted as a hot prospect but not many people would have predicted the impact he would have on the 115lb division over the course of the nine months that followed.
He jumped up in weight as a late stand-in to outpoint the revered Carlos Cuadras in February of last year and then stopped Srisaket Sor Rungvisai inside eight rounds just four months later. His reward was a spot on the Canelo-GGG III card in Las Vegas on Mexican independence weekend and he marked the occasion with a unanimous decision victory over Israel Gonzalez.
Those exploits moved him to third in the world in the division but he has headed back down to flyweight to take on 15-1 (5) Cristian Gonzalez for the vacant WBO title at the Boeing Center at Tech Port, San Antonio. Neither man is currently in the top 10 at the weight.
“This is really important for me because before I won the belt at 115lbs, it was a goal of mine and my team to win belts at multiple weight-classes,” he Rodriguez said. “So to go to 112 is the first step in that direction that we’ve been talking about for years.
“It’s a three-pound difference and I’ve been a lot stricter with my diet in this camp. I haven’t been snacking or messing around with it. I know Christian is taller and has longer reach than me, but I feel that I’m going to be strong at 112, you’re going to see a different Bam.
“It has always been the goal, and the opportunity has come at the perfect time. I want to be remembered as one of the greats, like a Pacquaio or Chocolatito, they won belts across so many weights and that’s my goal, so we’re taking the first step on April 8.”
Although he is the bigger man, Gonzalez has never boxed outside of his native Mexico and has boxed just once in over 18 months, and that was a one-round blowout of Juan Alejo Zuniga in March of last year. He would struggle to hang with Bam at the best of times but with this little momentum he will do well to make it to the halfway point.
In the chief support live on DAZN, super-bantamweight world No. 2 Murodjon ‘MJ’ Akhmadaliev boxes for the first time since June when he takes on Marlon Tapales – ranked sixth – in what looks like a firefight waiting to happen between these two southpaws.
Tapales, 36-3 (19), has not gone the distance for nearly nine years and over the course of that period he’s boxed 11 times, winning by stoppage 10 times and getting stopped in the other. He also tends to start fast, with seven of those 10 wins coming inside the first three rounds.
MJ, meanwhile, is 11-0 (8) and is desperate to prove himself as the No.1 in the division now the clash between Stephen Fulton and Naoya Inoue has been delayed. Winning here won’t quite do that but he can still make a statement. Expect him to close the show between 9-12.
In what could be the fight of the night, Raymond Ford puts his undefeated record on the line in his first 12-rounder against once-beaten Jesse Magdeleno at featherweight.
New Jersey native Ford, who is coming off the back of his eighth-round victory over Sakaria Lukas in November, takes on 31-year-old Magdaleno, 29-1(18), who is on a four-fight winning streak since he lost to Isaac Dogboe in their stunning 2018 battle.
Ford is still only 24 but has been at the heart of the Matchroom USA experiment and, with three wins in 2022, this could be a huge year for him but Magdaleno represents the toughest test of his career to date. Victory here will show he is ready for some of the bigger names in the division. If he can keep it tight he has the tools to outbox Magdaleno and win on points.
In the first televised fight on the card, Thomas Mattice and Ramiro Cesena clash over 10 rounds at super-featherweight. Cleveland man Mattice is coming in off the back of the best win of his career against the previously undefeated Christian Tapia, who was dropped in the second round en route to a comfortable UD for Mattice in November.
Cesena, meanwhile, drew the second fight of his 16-fight career but has won the other 15 with 13 of those ending inside the distance. He can punch at his level but it will be interesting to see how he deals with this step up in class.
There are four fights on the non-televised portion of this card with a number of Matchroom’s rising stars in action. Super-welterweight world No.5, Israel Madrimov, has not boxed since his July clash with Michel Soro at the O2 Arena in London ended in a technical draw after three rounds due to a clash of heads early on. He faces Texan Raphael Igbokwe over 10 rounds as he bids to force his way further up the rankings.
Fresno’s Marc Castro, currently 9-0 (6), will look to maintain his steady progress by seeing off Ricardo Lopez in their eight-round contest after ‘Big Steppa’ Khalil Coe takes on Aaron Casper in a light-heavyweight six-rounder.
In the first fight of the night, 18-year-old Jesus Martinez, from Del Rio, Texas, has his fourth fight since his June debut, and his third consecutive outing in San Antonio, when he faces Jose Lopez over four rounds at super-bantamweight.
THE VERDICT: Some quality matchmaking from Matchroom here.