Luis Rodrigues fought from 1956 thru 1972 & was a top ranked welterweight & middleweight from 1959 until the end of his illustrious career. In the 14 years that he was world rated, he beat an unbelievable amount of top contenders & world champions. The two main reasons for his present day obscurity are that he only held the welterweight title for a brief 47 days & he had the misfortune to have his career coincide with the equally great Emile Griffith's. They met four times & Griffith won 3 of 4 by razor thin margins. Emile has been quoted in a recent Ring article as saying, " Rodriguez moved a lot. He was always busy, & he threw a lot of combinations. He was more a boxer than a puncher . . . hit & move. He drove me crazy! I guess we got to know each other a little bit. Each time was a war, & I had to make adjustments, always changing my style. Was he an all-time great fighter? I would say so."
Stylistically, Luis was an extremely long- armed pogo stick, bouncing around the ring like a kangaroo throwing blinding combinations in machine gun bursts. How's that for a mixed metaphor! As Griffith said, he was more boxer than puncher, but he had plenty of power attested by his 49 kayo's out of 107 career wins. Keep in mind, many of those kayo's were against the top middleweights of his era. Rodriguez was never really more than a skinny 147 pounder.
The list of champions & top 10 contenders (getting rated in those days really meant something ), near & all-time greats he beat is staggering. Among the champions were Benny "Kid" Paret (twice), Virgil Akins, Emile Griffith, the very under-rated Curtis Cokes & Denny Moyer. Some of the other top welters he beat were Issac Logart, Johnny Gonsalvez, the also under-rated Frederico Thompson, L.C. Morgan, Garland Randall, & Charley Austin. At the same time he campaigned as a welter he'd jump up to 149-150 lb's. & take on & beat top middleweights in his spare time! A partial list of his middleweight victims: Wilbert "Skeeter" McClure (twice), Holly Mims, Percy Manning, Bennie Briscoe (he even beat him in Benny's hometown, Philadelphia, by decision no less!), George Benton, Ernie Buford, Jimmy Lester, Tony Mundine, Vicente Rondon, Gene Armstrong, Tom Bethea, Joey Giambra & Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. Awesome.
Yet, even boasting such a sterling record, Luis Manuel is today relegated to obscurity. As I mentioned before, the short title reign & the crucial crossroads losses to Griffith are the main culprits. Hank Kaplan suggests another; as he describes it: "Rodriguez had a beautiful jab; it was so fluid. & he had this little defensive motion where he made you miss by inches. He fought everybody. . . remember he was beating Nino Benvenuti when he got caught by a left hook & was so unspectacular, that's why I think he's not remembered these days."
The Ol' Spit Bucket respectfully begs to differ. I must have seen Rodriguez fight at least 30 times. Mostly on TV & video tape (I saw him live twice); as he was a regular fixture on the Friday night broadcasts in the early 60's, before Gillette pulled their sponsorship. I found him to be an exciting if highly unorthodox boxer. When he fought the feared Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, he bipped & bopped him into utter bafflement. At one point Carter was so enraged by the futility of trying to nail Rodriguez; he bull rushed him into a corner, picked him up & actually tried to fling him over the ropes!
What most fans remember (if they do at all), are his losses to Emile Griffith. Those two guys were so evenly matched that their fights were boring. In some ways their fights were reminiscent of the Leonard vs. Benitez bout. While highly dramatic & absorbing to aficionados, to the casual fan they were a snore. Luis never went into a fight looking for a knockout. Yet, when he got a fighter hurt, he was as deadly & quick striking as a cobra. Otherwise he was content to go the distance. I never once saw him brawl. Guile not testosterone was his thang ... He was also blessed with an iron mandible. His three kayo losses were all at the tail end of his long career. The opponents were the great Nino Benvenuti & the near-great Curtis Cokes; both who were in their primes. The third was to journeyman banger Rafael Gutierrez, when Luis was on his last legs. . .
It gladden's what's left of the Ol' Spit Bucket's heart to see an article like the Battle of the Legends between Jose Napoles & Luis Manuel Rodriguez in the December '95 issue of Ring Magazine. The three experts chosen to evaluate this particular dream match had peerless credentials. Angelo Dundee (who trained & managed Rodriguez), Emile Griffith (who fought Rodriguez four times & Napoles once) & one of boxing's two foremost historians (the other being Herb Goldman), the esteemed Hank Kaplan. Considering what a great fighter Napoles was, I think it's really telling that all three of the "judges" picked Rodriguez to win handily. Kaplan, actually writes that Rodriguez was probably the most underrated lighter weight fighter of the past half-century! Wow! Hank Kaplan throws undo praise around about as often as Newt Gingrich attends Lollapalooza to mosh in the pit.
Kid Gavilan & Jose Napoles are generally rated as the two greatest Cuban welterweights. But take a good look at Rodriguez's career record & Gavilan's & Napoles' pale in comparison. In fact the Ol' Spit Bucket would put his money on Louis against any welter or jr. middleweight of the past 50 years with the exception of both Sugar Rays' & Emile Griffith, who seemingly had his number. Tommy Hearns & Mike McCallum would be very tough calls ... I can hear the gnashing of teeth & the howls of disdain from readers screaming "Hey you dumb! ##X**#XX! what about Duran! Basilio! Curry! Palomino! Napoles! Benvenuti!" Well, Benvenuti did kayo Luis, very late in his career, when he was way past his prime. Even so, Rodriguez was winning the bout against a peaking Nino Benvenuti, when he was caught with a picture perfect left hook in the 11th round. Nevertheless, I stand firm. I believe he would have found a way to beat any of them.
A footnote to Rodriguez's story: Few are aware of it, but Luis was a huge influence, in & out of the ring on the young, impressionable, Cassius Clay. & Both were trained by the venerable Angelo Dundee. The most obvious influences were the beautiful snake like jabs they both possessed. They also had somewhat similar styles in the ring: The constant peripatetic movement & blazing flurries. They also shared the unusual ability to inflict severe damage while backpedaling. Another was their similar personality's outside the ring. Luis' happy go lucky ways, infectious grin & constant chatter with the press & fans fit right in with young Cassius' modus operandi.
Luis Manuel Rodriguez was an artist of the fistic canvas -- a true master of his chosen craft.
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