"We pushed for Wilson Rodriguez, thinking that would be an easier touch for us." —Pat Lynch
They say it's the punch you don't see coming that hurts the most. Wilson "Black Label" Rodriguez, a 30-year-old who had never fought in America while running up a journeyman's record of 43-7-3 with 24 KOs, was the punch you don't see coming.
Rodriguez had tried for a title belt once before, losing by knockout to John John Molina in 1994. That was the Dominican's only defeat among his previous 27 fights, but good luck recognizing the names of any of the guys he beat during that run. If there was one interesting name on his entire ledger, it was Jose Luis de la Sagras. Rodriguez fought him twice in 1990; by '96, de la Sagras was Rodriguez's co-trainer. Oh, and Rodriguez went 0-1-1 against him.
That "gimme first defense" so many new titlists get? Rodriguez checked all the boxes.
"We battled to get Rodriguez as an opponent," Lynch remembers. "HBO wanted us to fight someone else, and as crazy as it sounds in retrospect, we pushed for Wilson Rodriguez, thinking that would be an easier touch for us."
Lynch and the rest of Gatti's team thought they'd done their due diligence on Rodriguez, and the only worrying element they came across was his level of experience. "I remember being at a prefight press conference, and someone cited a stat that this kid had more 10-round fights than Gatti had ever had fights in his life," Lynch says. "That's when it hit us that we're really in with a seasoned veteran. Arturo didn't have much ring experience outside of going the distance and winning the title against Patterson. Before that, if you look at Arturo's record, he was knocking everybody out. In terms of experience going rounds, we didn't have it.
"Still, I thought we were safe. After all, Rodriguez wasn't really known as a puncher."