Francisco Rodriguez is far from done in his quest to become a two-division champion.
The former unified WBO/IBF strawweight titlist—now a top junior bantamweight contender—returned to the win column with a seventh-round stoppage of Arnulfo ‘Pacman’ Salvador. Rodriguez dropped Salvador in round three and had his countryman wobbly in the seventh round, forcing an immediate—though unpopular—stoppage in their main event Friday evening at Arena Jose Sulaiman in Rodriguez’s hometown of Monterrey, Mexico.
The fight was the first for Rodriguez since a spirited effort in a twelve-round, unanimous decision defeat to four-division and reigning WBO junior bantamweight titlist Kazuto Ioka last September 1 in Tokyo. Rodriguez had won fifteen in a row prior to that point, though his stock soaring in defeat and his local fans eager for him to return to his hometown for the first time in nearly four years.
Salvador was intent on crashing the homecoming, fighting outside of Tijuana for the first time as a pro . The 24-year-old southpaw from Tijuana boxed with confidence, landing in combination and enjoying a significant edge in speed over his countryman affectionately known as ‘Chihuas.’
Rodriguez struggled to keep pace in round two, with Salvador constantly first to the punch. A flurry by Salvador forced the 29-year-old Rodriguez to go on the defensive, riding out the sequence before measuring up Sa
Rodriguez picked it up a notch in round three. Salvador continued to come forward, only for the former titlist to make his presence felt. Salvador was forced to adjust and was caught with his guard down as Rodriguez crashed home an overhand left for the bout’s lone knockdown.
Salvador tried to cover lost ground in round four, though his aggression proved to be a detriment. Rodriguez was poised under pressure, efficient with his power shots as he allowed his opponent to waste punches to the point of leaving his defense exposed.
Rodriguez closed the show in round seven, though not at all to the liking of his opponent. A flurry by the local hero left Salvador defenseless, with an ensuing combination snapping back the head of the Tijuana native. His body language was not to the liking of the referee who waved off the contest. Salvador (15-2-1, 9KOs) and his corner verbally protested the stoppage, though to no avail as he snaps a ten-fight unbeaten streak.
Rodriguez improves to 35-5-1 (24KOs) with the win, his first since a split decision victory over countryman Martin Tecuapetla last February. Rodriguez once ruled strawweight, though quickly outgrew the division and has since struggled to regain his championship form. A July 2015 lopsided points loss to then-WBO junior flyweight titlist Donnie Nietes was the lone title fight for Rodriguez post-title reign and prior to his valiant challenge of Ioka.
The show aired live as part of ESPN Knockout in Latin America, and also streamed live on Probellum’s website and YouTube channel.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox