Sunday, June 30, 2024

Opinions and Observations: Estrada-Rodriguez

We all know what utilizing angles in boxing means, or, at least we think we do. This is often defined as not coming straight in against an opponent, entering the pocket off a little bit to the side. A fighter who can do this on a consistent basis can have significant advantages over more stationary opponents. 

However, there is an even more advanced level to using angles, the ability to create additional punching opportunities at close range with subtle movement. This is far more than being clever on the way in. This is mastering body positioning while in an opponent's firing range. And there is no better fighter in boxing today than Jesse "Bam" Rodriguez with this skill. 

At just 24, Rodriguez has now beaten a Hall of Famer in Juan Francisco Estrada, an excellent champion in Sunny Edwards, and decorated former champions Carlos Cuadras and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. More than his youth or power or boxing fundamentals, Bam's X-Factor is this mastery of angles in close quarters. Simply put, he can do things at an expert level that even great fighters can't do. 

Estrada (right) on his way to the canvas
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Matchroom

So, when watching Rodriguez against Estrada, who himself had some of the best movement in the sport over the last decade, I was immediately struck by Bam's quick pivots, subtle weight shifts, and resets in the pocket. In these instances, he created angles to land and executed on his punches before Estrada could defend them. More than anything else, this was the clear skill gap to me between the two. And Estrada was a fighter who sat comfortably on the sport's pound-for-pound list for many years; Bam was often dominating an elite opponent. 

It's worth mentioning that Bam had sparred with Roman Gonzalez in preparation for this fight. The great Chocolatito had a legendary three-fight series with Estrada. And Gonzalez had a similar advantage over Estrada with his ability in close quarters. Bam has picked up a lot from Chocolatito over the years and as fluid as Chocalitito was in close range, I don't think that he had Bam's athleticism. So, while Chocalitito understood all the angles and body positioning, he couldn't move as fast as Bam. Bam gets where he needs to go faster.  

Estrada-Rodriguez will be remembered for the three knockdowns in the fight, a perfect three-punch combination by Bam in the 4th, Estrada with his own three-punch combo in the sixth, and Bam with the uppercut to the body detonation in the seventh. It was a fight that had indelible moments. But in addition to those sequences, I will remember Bam bossing Estrada in the pocket, dominating many of the exchanges and hurting Estrada often with punches that Estrada couldn't see coming or didn't have the ability to react to them. 

After the fight, Estrada spoke about exercising his rematch clause. He repeatedly beat himself up about mistakes he made during the fight. I'm sure that there was a large dose of pride in his sentiments; it can be tough to admit a fighter's best is now in the past and to concede that an opponent is simply better. 

I will grant Estrada this, however: I think that he did fall victim to his success toward the end of the fight. The beginning of the sixth round was masterful stuff from the old warrior. Poking and prodding with one-twos, you could see Estrada gaining confidence with his ability to land. 

And then, he changed the sequence. He threw a double jab, one to the head and one below Bam's right arm, and then followed up with a straight right hand. The jab to body threw off Bam's defense, leaving an opening up top. In that sequence, Estrada showed Bam and the boxing world at large that he could still get one over on the young phenom. 

But then consider where Estrada was at the conclusion of the fight...losing an exchange of bombs at close range. Essentially, Estrada got sucked into Bam's fight. He was playing hero ball instead of conceding that his opponent had superior power at that range. It was a battle of machismo that Estrada lost. 

Rodriguez raises his hands after the final knockdown
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Matchroom

At his best Estrada had always mixed in significant stretches of movement outside the pocket to go along with his power punching. Now it's possible at 34 that he can't move like he once did, but he didn't even really use his legs in the fight. He was either so shook by Bam's power early in the fight that it took him out of his game plan, or he stayed in close trying to prove a point. That Estrada referenced his "mistakes" so often in the post-fight interview indicates that he believes that he could have boxed more intelligently. Maybe so. 

I wouldn't like Estrada' chances in a rematch. He will only have gotten older. Historically, 34 is ancient for the 115-lb. division, recent exceptions aside. And Bam most likely will continue to get better. 

As terrific as Bam's performance was, I hope that the sequence that led to him getting knocked down will be a point of emphasis for his next camp with trainer Robert Garcia. It's not that Bam got hit with a shot, that happens of course, but that sequence showed that he was outthought, that he was too exuberant. With one subtle change by Estrada, Bam lost defensive responsibility. And that's not a trivial matter. Estrada didn't land something outlandish for the knockdown. It was a simple double jab/right hand, the kind of combination that Bam has seen thousands of times before. But yet, in that moment, under the bright lights, with all the adrenaline flowing, Bam lost his defense.  

To the positive, Bam recovered very well after getting dropped. He continued to press Estrada and connect with his power punches. His final left uppercut in the seventh round might become the signature moment of his career highlight reel. 

If I'm being completely honest, I think that Bam's biggest weakness right now might also be one of his strengths. He's almost always around his opponent ready to pounce. This constant aggression makes him a beast to deal with, but it does make him hittable. Estrada is a solid puncher, with a respectable knockout percentage, but he's not a lights-out, one-shot guy. Bam is fortunate that he wasn't dropped by a harder hitter. 

Bam fights in a way that gives opponents opportunities. I think that a final step in his development will be to learn when to back off, to pace a fight a little better, to win slow rounds. He doesn't need to be full throttle as much as he is. His current style makes for truly captivating television, but he needs to exert a little bit more control. He has the aptitude, physical dimensions and technical skills to win rounds at all ranges.  

For the moment, the boxing world is Bam's oyster. Despite fighting at 115 lbs., he has already become a legitimate attraction in the U.S. boxing market. His fights are easy on the eyes and boxing fans don't need to be sold on his talent; it's obvious for everyone to see. 

Let's hope that he enjoys the ride and continues to make strides in the ring. The physical tools are all there. His boxing skills are sublime, but it's that final part of his development that needs a bit more refining. Brawls are fun, but dominating an opponent mentally, not just physically, is the final step. Estrada still fancies his chances in a rematch. He had enough success to believe that the rematch could be different. Bam left a little too much of himself on the table. He didn't remove hope. If he can reach that next precipice, there could be no stopping him. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Panel, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and the Boxing Writers Association of America.
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