Emmanuel Rodriguez excited to fight in front of Puerto Rican fans tomorrow night in Florida

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IBF bantamweight champion defends his title for first time against fellow unbeaten Jason Moloney.

IBF bantamweight champ Emmanuel Rodriguez defends his title for the first time tomorrow night when he faces fellow unbeaten Jason Moloney in Orlando, Florida.

Emmanuel Rodriguez was a prohibitive underdog entering his bantamweight IBF title bout against Britain’s Paul Butler at the O2 Arena in London in May.

Despite being out-weighed by four pounds, Rodriguez, whose nickname is “The Baby-Faced Assassin,” dropped Butler twice and nearly stopped him in the first round. He went on to score a near shutout unanimous decision for the 118-pound title. Butler wasn’t eligible to win the belt because he came in overweight.

Rodriguez (18-0, 12 KOs) was so dominant, winning by scores of 118-108, and 120-106 and 120-106, that he lost a combined two rounds on the judges’ scorecards.

“I didn’t fear Butler or the crowd because I was so motivated to get that victory,” said Rodriguez, who had stopped seven of his previous eight opponents before Butler.

“It was in the back of my mind that Butler was bigger than me, weight-wise, but it didn’t matter because I had trained so hard and I was extremely focused for that fight. After I dropped him with that left hook in the first round, I tried to finish him off because I knew that he was in bad shape. But even though I didn’t get the knockout, I dominated that fight so much that, in my opinion, I didn’t even lose one round.”

The 26-year-old Rodriguez makes his first defense of this title tomorrow night when he faces Australia’s Jason Moloney (17-0, 14 KOs) at the CFE Arena in Orlando, Florida.

“I know Moloney is fighting outside of his country for the first time, but I’m not underestimating him at all,” said Rodriguez of Moloney, who is coming off a sixth-round stoppage of Kohei Kono in May.

“I know that Moloney’s a tough fighter who is going to be in great shape, but I’m prepared to win by knockout if it presents itself, and, if not, by going the distance.”

If he wins, Rodriguez could face Japan’s Naoya Inouie (17-0, 15 KOs), who holds a version of the same title Rodriguez has.

Adversity is nothing new to Rodriguez, a winner of gold and silver medals in the Youth Olympic Games and Youth World Championships in 2010. He missed the 2012 London Olympics after a loss in the semifinals of the Olympic qualifying tournament.

As a teenager, Rodriguez paid the price when a prank went horribly wrong. While he and a friend attempted to light a car on fire after dousing it with gasoline, Rodriguez—unaware that he had spilled some fuel—accidentally ignited himself. He was rushed to the hospital with second-degree burns over two-thirds of his body.

“Nobody was in the car, (but) it was a life-threatening, career-threatening accident,” said Rodriguez, who returned to shadowboxing and light pad work two months later but would not fight for another 10 months.

“I was young. I made a mistake in trying to damage the car as a joke. To this day, I remember everything that happened, and it was a big lesson for me that made me stronger. I feel blessed.”

Rodriguez expects a large contingent of Puerto Ricans to turn out for his fight against Moloney.

“I anticipate that there will be a big crowd of Puerto Ricans there to support me,” said Rodriguez. “I’m extremely honored and motivated to be fighting for my people.”

For a closer look at Emmanuel Rodriguez, check out his fighter page.

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