Edwin Rodriguez is talking about the psyche of an undefeated fighter: It’s a thing devoid of horizons and limits, ceilings and borders, a great expanse of even greater expectations where a man looks in the mirror and sees a lion. And that’s where Rodriguez comes in, to make his fists the fence posts that corral all those dreams.
When Edwin Rodriguez (27-1, 18 KOs) enters the ring against Michael Seals (19-0, 14 KOs), he will once again be facing a fighter with a professional record as shiny and unblemished as Mr. Clean’s gleaming forehead.
He’s done so four times previously, as Chris Baker, Ezequiel Maderna, Jason Escalera and Will Rosinky all still had their "0” before taking on Rodriguez.
Rodriguez handed each man his first loss. Tonight in Biloxi, Mississippi, he intends to do it again.
To this end, the 30-year-old knows he’ll have to target Seals’ mind as much as his face, the tact a boxer must take when dealing with an opponent who’s never lost.
“You’ve got to give them doubts right away, because they’ve never been defeated before,” Rodriguez says. "You can’t let them get comfortable. You’ve got to get them out of the groove early on in the fight, let them know that you’re in charge and take [away] that confidence that an undefeated fighter brings to the table.”
While Seals is undefeated, he’s also untested: It’s been five fights and nearly three years since he faced someone with a winning record.
In Rodriguez, he’ll be fighting a former 168-pound contender whose only loss came against division world-beater Andre Ward.
But even though Seals has been in soft of late, Rodriguez still expects him to be a hard out.
“It doesn’t matter who you’ve fought and the type of experience the other guy has. If you’re undefeated, you have that undefeated mentality—and that’s a good thing,” he says. “I must take that away.”
Seals does have an impressive knockout rate of 74 percent, having stopped 14 of his 19 opponents, but those numbers could be misleading considering the quality of his competition.
“He looks like he’s a good puncher,” Rodriguez says, “but I’m not sure if it’s the type of opposition [he’s faced] or if it’s actually power. Everybody in the pros with small gloves is a puncher.”
At 6-foot-3, Seals also has a two-inch height advantage against Rodriguez. The obvious game plan for Seals would be to attempt to control the range and box the come-forward Rodriguez from the outside, picking his opponent apart with his jab.
Good luck with that, says Rodriguez, who on Thursday weighed in for the fight at 175.4 pounds while his opponent came in at 174.4.
“I don’t think he has that type of skill to see him do that, but I could see him trying,” he notes. “I think he’s more of a boxer-puncher.”
Earlier in his career, Rodriguez was the opposite of that kind of fighter, an excitable, kinetic presence who thrilled at bringing the gasoline to a firefight. Enticing him to brawl was like enticing a wolf to devour a chicken: All he needed was to be presented the opportunity.
“I’m an emotional type of fighter and sometimes when I get hit, it brings that emotion out and I want to get even,” Rodriguez says. “I want to get him back right away, which is a strength, but at the same time it’s a weakness, because now you might get a little bit stupid, you might get hit with another good shot.
“Knowing that that’s my personality, I have been able to keep it cool and calm it down. Now, I’m kind of like, ‘All right, you got me; I’m going to get you back, but I’m going to get my head clear, I’m going to do it intelligently.”
That’s not all Rodriguez has been working on in recent years with trainer Ronnie Shields. He’s also focused on sharpening his defensive acumen and being more judicious with his punches.
“My defense is at a whole different point, my counterpunching,” he says. “I’m always putting myself in position to come back with the next shot, whereas before I was really energetic and put myself at a defensive disadvantage by jumping into shots, stuff like that.
"Those are things that I’ve been able to improve, all thanks to working with Ronnie Shields, who taught me a lot. He felt like I was a fighter who overcommitted on my punches and left myself open a bit. I think I’ve come a long way.”
Rodriguez's words are underscored by his origins.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Rodriguez relocated to Worcester, Massachusetts, with his family when he was 13. He learned English by manning the cash register at his father’s convenience store. And although he didn’t start fighting until he was 17, just three years later, he was a national Golden Gloves champion.
As a kid, he had designs on being a professional athlete in a different sport.
“I was going to be in the MLB, playing for the Red Sox,” he says with a chuckle. “Boxing is my American dream.”
Now, his focus is on disrupting the dreams of Michael Seals.
“You’ve got to train these guys that it’s OK to lose, basically,” he says of going up against an undefeated foe. “Not that it’s really OK to lose, but get in his head.”
And his grill.
For full coverage of Rodriguez vs Seals, visit our fight page.