There’s been a constant pattern throughout Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez’s life of Jesse rejecting the notion that somewhere wasn’t his place or that it wasn’t quite his time. 

As a diminutive child, his dreams of football stardom were short-lived. Fortuitously, as an eight-year old football player, his fellow running back was now-featherweight pro Ricky Medina, who had already started boxing. His brother Joshua Franco, now-WBA super flyweight champion, had picked up the new sport already, one Jesse didn’t really follow or know much about. Jesse followed his brother to the gym for two straight weeks before deciding he would give fighting a shot too.

He didn’t really know what he was doing at first. He still recites the exact day of his first amateur fight, January 30, 2010. He lost that fight, and then the next two as well. That wasn’t enough to discourage him though. He had found a sport he loved where he would be able to grow up and compete against people his own size.

Unfortunately, he was entering a world where fighters of the size he would grow up to be weren’t making fruitful livings, particularly in the United States. As he got older, that changed a little bit, as in his early teenage years, fighters like Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Brian Viloria began popping up on HBO. Rodriguez’s pro ambitions were suddenly more reasonable.

As an amateur, he found himself matched up against a Robert Garcia fighter and, as he told Phil Rogers of Boxing Social in 2020, “put a beating on him.” Garcia already had a relationship with Teiken Promotions, having started his own pro career in Japan. Teiken specialized in maneuvering fighters at lower weight classes, including Chocolatito. They also had just signed Viloria, whom Rodriguez had watched on HBO’s Super Fly events. Garcia laid out his master plan, and told him about how he turned pro at a young age. 

Rodriguez didn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t just do the same. He’d established within his boxing circle that he wasn’t one for “staying in his lane,” so to speak. He was given the nickname “Bambino” by his father at a young age, one that would be shortened to “Bam.” Some in the gym started calling him “Bambi,” but he shot that down quickly and insisted on his own infamous moniker. 

Having just turned 17, Teiken’s newest stable member had his first pro fight at Carpa Astros, a circus and music venue in Mexico City against the 0-2-1 Mauricio Cruz. Rodriguez was hurt in that fight, buzzed by a shot from Cruz, and on one judge’s scorecards won by only a round. The experience would have shattered many fighters’ confidence. Had the fight been televised, it might have dissolved the confidence observers had in him as well.

Rodriguez took a different lesson from it, one that has become somewhat of a mantra for him as he’s risen from the circus ring to boxing’s biggest stages. 

"What more can happen? I already got rocked, so I'm ready for whatever,” Rodriguez told the Ginn Podcast earlier this year. 

Bam has maintained that he’s ready for whatever since then. Earlier this year, when a last-minute replacement was needed to face Carlos Cuadras on DAZN, he effectively stepped up in weight from 108 to 115 and dazzled the super flyweight stalwart to become boxing’s youngest world champion. 

Some observers felt that as impressive as the victory was, it might have been simply an opportune time to have been matched with Cuadras. A lucky piece of matchmaking against a faded star in a weight class, and perhaps at a level Bam might not have been ready for.

Rodriguez saw it as just the first step. In an interview with Liliana Ulloa of Xicana Boxing in March of 2022, a month after his win over Cuadras, Rodriguez volunteered to them that he wanted to face Srisaket Sor Rungvisai next. Ulloa playfully asked if he’d seen what Sor Rungvisai had done to Chocolatito.

"I've seen it, but that was a long time ago. He's probably not the same fighter, and I'm hungrier than ever right now. I know I can beat him,” he said. “It's just gonna be another masterful performance. A lot of people are going to be shocked by what I do to him."

Fast forward to this past Saturday. Rodriguez’s zealous forecast came to fruition.

Rodriguez headlined in his hometown of San Antonio and battered Sor Rungvisai for eight rounds in the main event of a WBC super flyweight title bout aired on DAZN. Bam displayed a brand of power boxing that clearly leaped off the screen to observers. Type the words “Bam Rodriguez” and “star” into a Twitter search and you’ll be scrolling down for a little while. 

Facing the fighter touted as the division’s greatest puncher, one who was once on pound-for-pound lists and whose Hall of Fame possibilities were being debated, Rodriguez not only outboxed but overpowered Sor Rungvisai. After dropping Sor Rungvisai with a flash knockdown in the seventh, Rodriguez returned to his corner to hear Garcia’s advice to keep jabbing and turning. 

But Bam is nothing if not audacious, and midway through the eighth round he simply unleashed the totality of his arsenal on Sor Rungvisai who ultimately melted into the ropes for good. 

Both Rodriguez and Garcia have maintained over the last few months that a return to 108 or 112 is somewhere between a possibility and perhaps a goal. As ridiculous as it may sound to move back down in weight to divisions that are slightly less visible and probably substantially less profitable, at 22 years of age, Rodriguez likely does have a finite window where his body would allow him to move down and collect titles at light flyweight and flyweight before age and genetics get the upper hand. 

It’s important to note that Rodriguez has said in various interviews in the past that one of his goals has always been to increase the visibility and prestige of the sport’s lowest weight classes. On the same night as his win over Sor Rungvisai, 108-pound contender Hekkie Budler scored an upset over Elwin Soto (a fighter Bam called out back in 2020) in Mexicali, Mexico on ESPN+. In 2018, a potential bout between Budler (then the IBF titleholder at 108) and Felix Alvarado went to purse bid and netted a measly $25,000. Rather than fight for a little over 18K, an amount that surely wouldn’t have left him with much after expenses and taxes, Budler vacated the title.

This was the landscape Rodriguez turned pro within, the one he wanted to change. Rodriguez is perhaps the first American-born fighter at 115 or below to be thought of as a featured broadcast star since the days Johnny Tapia and Danny Romero. 

Rodriguez is now in a position to be the A-side that gives other fighters life-changing opportunities. Bam’s intentions aren’t fully charitable, of course, but the byproduct of his ambition to win as many titles in as many weight classes both beneath him and above him as possible can have a significant impact on fighters historically underserved by the western market. 

"I’m a special fighter, not an average fighter,” Rodriguez said after beating Sor Rungvisai on Saturday. “I grew up watching these guys, so being in the ring with them is a privilege in itself. And beating them the way we’ve been beating them, it means everything.”

Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman