Saul Rodriguez in Riverside

Photo by Al Applerose

Saul "Neno" Rodriguez Homecoming Debut Fight Under Mayweather Promotions

By David A. Avila

Since childhood Saul “Neno” Rodriguez has blazed through opponents with a style best described as a speeding bullet.

The target: a world championship.

Rodriguez (20-0-1, 15 Kos) takes the first step toward becoming Riverside’s first male world champion when he faces Chile’s Oscar Bravo (22-6, 10 KOs) on Friday Feb. 24, at Pechanga Resort and Casino. It’s the first contest under his new promoter Mayweather Promotions.

The city of Riverside has been producing talented prizefighters for the past two decades. Riverside’s Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola, Josesito Lopez and Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera came oh so close to grabbing a world title.

Back in March 2014, Herrera lost an inexplicable decision to Danny Garcia in Puerto Rico that still ignites disgust in those reminded of the robbery. That was three years ago and the closest any male fighter from the city known for the Mission Inn has ever come to a world title.

Other nearby cities have been luckier. Moreno Valley has Mikey Garcia and Kaliesha West. Ontario has Paul Banke. Pomona has Shane Mosley, Mike Weaver, Richie Sandoval and Alberto Davila. Corona had Manuel Ortiz in the 1940s. Riverside’s sole champion was female fighter Sindy Amador.

Can Rodriguez be the first Riverside male fighter to finally win a world title?

Ever since he first walked into a boxing ring at the age of eight years old Rodriguez was the skinny boxer with saggy trunks who seemed to have brass knuckles inside the over-sized boxing gloves. He just somehow hit harder than others.

Today, at 23, when you first meet Rodriguez, he looks like one of those Dairy Queen attendants scooping ice cream from a bucket. And when you talk to him there’s no menacing tone or evil glance. He’s simply the guy next door. Until you get him into a boxing ring.

When a mega promoter first saw the former Riverside Poly graduate perform they needed a few times to be convinced of his talent. In his pro debut he blew out the competition so quickly the scouts didn’t have a chance to get to their seats. The next time Rodriguez was taken to Las Vegas where he quickly blew out that town’s local talent in the first round. He was signed by Top Rank.

For the next five years the slender Rodriguez fought in Texas, Nevada, Virginia and Mexico, but the closest he fought near home was at the StubHub Center in Carson. Meanwhile Puerto Rico’s Felix Verdejo, also signed by Top Rank, who is the same age and weight class, fought at home and in Madison Square Garden for much more money, though they fought the same opponents more than once. It’s one reason Rodriguez departed from Top Rank for Mayweather Promotions.

Once more Rodriguez will face someone Verdejo has fought in facing Bravo.

“Oscar Bravo is a pretty tough guy. He has good skills and went the distance with Felix Verdejo,” said Rodriguez. “I’m not going to change what I do. I always go for the knockout.”

Bravo is training in Las Vegas under the tutelage of Luis Tapia.

“I like Saul he’s a good young fighter,” said Tapia. “But Oscar is going to upset him. He knows if he can beat Saul he can make a name for himself.”

Rodriguez doesn’t care who he faces as long as he gets a world title. He loves that his friends and fans can watch him in action. This is the first step toward that championship target.

“It doesn’t make me nervous,” said Rodriguez about the upcoming test.

Bullets don’t get nervous. They simply hit the target.

Doors open at 4:30 p.m. For more information call (877) 711-2946.