Unbeaten 118-pound prospect Emmanuel Rodriguez making the most of second lease on life

It was September 2010 when Emmanuel Rodriguez won gold as a Puerto Rican representative at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore—a victory that put him on a path toward earning a berth in the 2012 London Olympics.

Emmanuel Rodriguez and Eliecer Aquino

Emmanuel Rodriguez fires an uppercut at Eliecer Aquino during their 118-pound clash in November. Rodriguez won by seventh-round TKO for his fifth consecutive stoppage victory. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

Two months later, that path got diverted in a very serious way when a teenage 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 of the fuel on himself—accidentally ignited himself. He was rushed to the hospital with second-degree, head-to-toe burns on two-thirds of his body.

“I was young. I made a mistake in trying to damage the car as a joke,” Rodriguez recalls. “Nobody was in the car, [but] it was a life-threatening, career-threatening accident.”

Remarkably, less than two months after the incident, Rodriguez started training a couple of days a week—mostly shadowboxing and light pad work—while still in the burn unit and partially bandaged. However, it would be more than 10 months before he would fight again.

He did eventually put himself back in position for a shot at the London Games, but his bid ended with a loss in the semifinals of the Olympic qualifying tournament.

From there, Rodriguez turned his attention to launching his professional career, doing so in June 2012, and it’s been nothing short of a resounding success: Not only has the 118-pound prospect won his first 14 fights, but he’s knocked out 11 of his opponents, including the last five in a row.

Now 23, Emmanuel Rodriguez will try to run his knockout streak to six in a row Friday night when he faces Mexico’s Alberto Guevara (24-2, 9 KOs) in a 118-pound clash. The scheduled 10-rounder is the co-main event to a 135-pound title bout between champion Rances Barthelemy (24-0, 13 KOs) and former titleholder Mickey Bey (22-1-1, 10 KOs) at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET/PT).

Guevara, who has won his last six fights (with three KOs), is a two-time world title challenger and just the latest in a list of highly accomplished fighters whom Rodriguez has battled in his young career.

In December 2013, Rodriguez scored a unanimous decision over former title challenger and countryman David Quijano, who entered with a record of 15-3-1 and nine KOs. He then went on to score impressive victories over Miguel Cartagena in October 2014, former title challenger Luis Hinojosa in May 2015 and Eliecer Aquino in November.

Those three opponents entered the ring with a combined record of 57-10-1, and Rodriguez wiped out Cartegena in the first round, finished off Hinojosa in the third and stopped Aquino in the seventh.

Now if he can get past Guevara on Friday, Rodriguez—who is in his fifth bout with cornerman Jim Pagan—will inch closer to his ultimate goal.

“I want to challenge all of the bantamweight champions,” he says. “I have displayed more power since I changed my trainer. This is another great test fighting [an opponent] who has faced world champions.”

Indeed, Guevara’s only two losses came to 118-pound champions Leo Santa Cruz (unanimous decision in December 2012) and Shinsuke Yamanaka (ninth-round knockout in November 2013).

Although the 25-year-old from Mazatlán doesn’t possess the knockout numbers that are synonymous with a lot of Mexican fighters, he’s an aggressive boxer like most of his countrymen—something for which Rodriguez is ready.

“I won’t have any problem finding Guevara, because he has the type of style that many Mexican fighters have, and that is to go to war,” Rodriguez said. “That is a style that is most favorable for me to get a knockdown or a knockout.

“If Guevara fights toe-to-toe, like he did against Santa Cruz, the knockout will come easier. It might be harder if he moves around like he did against Yamanaka, but either way, I am going to deliver a knockout.”

Knockout or not, the fact Rodriguez is able to fight—let alone at a high level—is something for which he is grateful given his near-fatal youthful indiscretion some 5½ years ago.

“I’ve mostly left the accident in the past, but it is never far from my thoughts,” he says. “It has motivated me to value and focus on what’s most important in life, which is my family, those who support me and my life in boxing.”

For complete coverage of Friday's card, visit our fight night page.

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