Rodriguez regains bantamweight title; early KOs for Russell and Maestre

Emmanuel Rodriguez dropped Melvin Lopez three times in the twelfth and final round at MGM National Harbor in Maryland to seal an emphatic victory and regain the IBF bantamweight title he had lost to Naoya Inoue in 2019. Rodriguez, coming off a career-best tenth round technical decision of Gary Antonio Russell in October, began the fight landing fast combinations to the head of Lopez, whose lack of head movement allowed the Puerto Rican to land with frequency and precision. 

In the second, Rodriguez’s constant rapid-fire combinations rattled Lopez’s head and suggested that Rodriguez (22-2, 13 KOs) might soon be on the verge of a stoppage. Lopez, however, bit down and attempted to force his opponent back with hard punches to the body; even as he did so, however, he left himself open for Rodriguez’s lead right hands. Despite Rodriguez’s precision, his relatively low output allowed Lopez, who was constantly looking for a path of attack, to remain reasonably close in several of the early rounds. Meanwhile, a growing and increasingly grotesque hematoma over Rodriguez's right eye, which the commission ruled was the result of a punch, added an element of jeopardy to proceedings.  

But the second half of the fight fell into a pattern: Rodriguez’s punch output was lower than it had been in the beginning, but his accuracy appeared only to increase as he repeatedly steered Lopez (29-2, 19 KOs) into a corner or against the ropes and landed clean right hands that Lopez seemed unable to avoid. By the start of the championship rounds, it felt almost as if the two men had signed a silent contract: Lopez agreeing to retreat and fight solely to survive, and Rodriguez following him around the ring, backing him into corners and doing enough to win rounds but not enough to come close to stopping him. 

Then, suddenly, in the twelfth, Rodriguez broke through, dropping a tired and defeated Lopez three times; although the Nicaraguan was able to just about beat the count on all three occasions and was saved by the final bell after the third, the knockdowns added a cushion to Rodriguez’s clear advantage on the scorecards, with all three judges seeing Rodriguez the winner by 120-105.

Afterward, Rodriguez announced that he would next like to face Alexandro Santiago, who won the WBC title by outpointing Nonito Donaire on the undercard of Terence Crawford’s win over Errol Spence on July 29th.

“I heard him say in an interview that there was nobody at 118 pounds who could beat him. Well, I’m at 118 pounds and I want that fight.”

The co-main was another Gary Antuanne Russell blowout, the last of the Russell brothers to remain undefeated moving to 17-0 (17) with a first-round knockout of overmatched Kent Cruz in a junior welterweight contest. Cruz simply did not have the skill or strength to keep Russell off him, and he did not help his own cause by looking to referee Bill Clancy for assistance as the southpaw Russell cracked him with a left uppercut. Perhaps Cruz thought the uppercut was a head butt; whatever his reasoning, while Cruz was looking at Clancy, Russell kept punching and dropped Cruz with another left hand. Once the fight resumed, Russell tore into Cruz again, and a digging body shot put down Cruz for the count and dropped his record to 16-1-3 (10). Time of the stoppage was 2:39.

In the opener, Gabriel Maestre remained unbeaten by taking the 0 from Travon Marshall in spectacular fashion, knocking out the youngster in round 2 of a scheduled 10 rounder in the welterweight division. The fight started rapidly and remained at a fast pace for as long as it lasted, until Maestre backed Marshall up and uncorked a right hand that sent Marshall face-down and halfway through the ropes. Somehow, the youngster made it to his feet, but despite attempting alternately to fight back and hold on, he couldn’t keep the 36-year-old double Olympian off him, and another knockdown through the ropes prompted the stoppage at 2:07 of the round. With the win, Maestre improves to 6-0-1 (5) while the 22-year-old Marshall tastes defeat for the first time, falling to 8-1 (7).