3 Things to Look for on SHOWTIME’s Rodriguez vs. Lopez Fight Card Tonight

By Paul Jones - 08/12/2023 - Comments

Plus Russell, Cruz, Marshall, Maestre, Inoue, Photos, More!

By Paul R. Jones!  On Saturday night, SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING® brings us Rodriguez vs. Lopez, a boxing tripleheader that promises to deliver excitement to both seasoned and casual fight fans. The headliner features Puerto Rican standout, Emmanuel Rodriguez (21-2, 13 KOs), who takes on Melvin Lopez (29-1, 19 KOs) for the vacant IBF Bantamweight World Championship at the MGM National Harbor in Maryland.

Although there are many storylines worth following on the Rodriguez vs. Lopez fight card, here are the top 3 things I’ll be looking for:

1.  Will the Third Time be the Charm for Rodriguez?

Rodriguez’s backstory reads like a tale of triumph and setbacks. Back in 2018, Rodriguez soared to stardom after flooring Paul Butler (34-3, 15 KOs) twice en route to UD win that earned Rodriguez his first World title. But Rodriguez would taste defeat shortly thereafter, courtesy of a two-round shellacking dished out by former undisputed Bantamweight World Champ, Naoya Inoue (25-0, 22 KOs).

Rodriguez followed up the Inoue loss with a flat performance against Reymart Gaballo (26-1, 21 KOs) — his second attempt at world title — but Rodriguez rebounded with two notable wins in 2022, including toppling undefeated prospect, Gary Antonio Russell (19-1, 12 KOs).

While Rodriguez has shown grit and resilience in handling his recent ups and downs, 25-year-old Melvin Lopez represents a unique stylistic challenge for Rodriguez. Despite being a prohibitive underdog (e.g., Caesars has Lopez +380, Rodriguez -500), it remains to be seen whether Lopez’s aggressive, pressure style will be enough to (a) force Rodriguez out of his comfort zone, (b) limit Rodriguez’s ability to keep the fight in the center of the ring; and, (c) ultimately, deny Rodriguez of the opportunity to reclaim his IBF strap in his third world title attempt.

In Rodriguez vs. Lopez, I’ll be focused on how good of job Rodriguez does in (a) earning the Nicaraguan’s respect with his punching power, (b) controlling the ring geography, and (c) countering Lopez’s punches.

2. Russell intends to unleash the beast. Can Cruz withstand the heat?

Undefeated contender, Gary Antuanne Russell (16-0, 16 KOs), faces fellow unbeaten Super Lightweight, Kent Cruz (16-0-3, 10 KOs), in the co-main event. By most accounts, this is a mismatch despite their unbeaten ledgers.

Russell, 27, is a bonafide knockout machine riding a 16-fight win streak, which includes impressive back-to-back wins over former World Champs, Rances Barthelemy (30-2-1, 15 KOs) and Viktor Postol (31-5, 12 KOs). And the Marylander’s full-court press style, southpaw stance, and downright filthy right hand have been a nightmare for his foes, most of whom have struggled to reach the 6th round.

3 Things to Look for on SHOWTIME's Rodriguez vs. Lopez Fight Card Tonight

Factor in Russell’s blend of power, speed, volume-punching, and intellect (note. Russell was the valedictorian of his high school class), coupled with his amateur pedigree (including 3 wins over Jaron Ennis) and knack for being his own worst critic, and it’s easy to see why Russell projects to be handful for Cruz.

And, while Cruz is a patient, sharp, and straight puncher, who applies intelligent pressure to force his opponents to fight off their back foot, he’s never fought anyone in the pro ranks with a more complete fight game than Russell.

In Russell vs. Cruz, I’ll be paying close attention to Cruz’s punch resistance and how well the Missouri native responds to Russell’s pressure, especially in the early rounds.

3. What’s More Important in Marshall vs. Maestre: Youthful Spark or Olympic Wisdom?

When emerging prospect, Travon Marshall (8-0, 7 KOs), battles unbeaten Gabriel Maestre (5-0-1, 4 KOs) it will be a classic ‘youth vs. experience’ matchup.

3 Things to Look for on SHOWTIME's Rodriguez vs. Lopez Fight Card Tonight

Despite having only 6 pro fights, Maestre is a decorated amateur, who competed in the Summer Olympics and medaled in the World Championships and Pan Am Game. He’s also been fast-tracked as a pro, including earning a win over faded former World Champ, Devon Alexander. Nevertheless, the 36-year-old Maestre has had some hiccups along the way: none more egregious than the gift decision he was awarded over Mykal Fox (22-4, 5 KOs) back in 2021 — one of the worst decisions of the decade.

What Marshall lacks in experience, he’s makes up for in power and precision, both of which were on full display in Marshall’s jaw-dropping knockout of Justin DeLoach, an obvious 2023 Knockout of the Year candidate.

Though Marshall packs a punch, no doubt, going up against an Olympic veteran like Maestre demands more than power. And, with Marshall’s limited exposure to top-tier competition, it’s unclear whether he and his team can strategize a path to victory against a seasoned fighter like Maestre.

Zooming in on Marshall vs. Maestre, I’ll be focused on how susceptible Marshall is to Maestre’s counterpunching, and how vulnerable Marshall is to being lured into the traps that Maestre is bound set for his young foe.

3 Things to Look for on SHOWTIME's Rodriguez vs. Lopez Fight Card Tonight


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About the Author: 

Paul R. Jones! is a longtime writer and ringside photographer for EAST SIDE BOXING. His articles, photographs, and commentary have appeared in Boxing News 24, Round by Round Boxing, Boxing Insider, Medium.com, and more.

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @boxingepicenter. Email me or send me a secure tip at prjones1@hotmail.com.

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