Edwin Rodriguez hoped to alter the boxing world's lofty pound-for-pound rankings for Andre Ward and deprive the Oakland fighter of his world super-middleweight belt in the process.
But Rodriguez couldn't make the required 168-pound limit Friday, so the challenger suffered a costly defeat without a punch being thrown.
Rodriguez, 28, weighed in initially at 170 pounds, and two hours later again failed to make the weight limit for his Saturday night bout at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario for Ward's World Boxing Assn. title.
The fight will go ahead, but it will be a nontitle bout. In addition, Rodriguez must pay a $200,000 fine — $100,000 each to Ward and the California State Athletic Commission.
Ward (26-0, 14 KOs) told Rodriguez he was free to rehydrate overnight. But Rodriguez faces another weigh-in at 9 a.m. Saturday — with a 180-pound limit — for their bout Saturday night.
Still, the episode undermines Ward's effort to build on his reputation as the world's second-best pound-for-pound boxer after Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Ward has faced various contractual problems with promoter Dan Goossen, and this is his first fight after a 14-month layoff due to shoulder surgery.
Nevertheless, HBO will televise the fight, giving Rodriguez (24-0, 16 knockouts) the opportunity to make a name for himself despite being a 20-to-1 underdog in some sports books.
Rodriguez is used to long odds. He has three children, a baby boy born in April, and a twin boy and girl, ages 7, who were so premature at birth doctors said stopping life support might be the best option. Rodriguez rejected it, giving them a fighting chance.
"Edwin's been an underdog his whole life and made it, so he knew his kids would too," Rodriguez's promoter, Lou DiBella, says. "His son has cerebral palsy and autism, but is walking and talking and his daughter's in regular school."
Rodriguez is from the Dominican Republic and aspired to be a switch-hitting shortstop in the major leagues before his father, Octavio, brought him and his five brothers to Worcester, Mass., where he started a convenience store.
Year-round baseball was not an option in the Northeast, so by 14 Rodriguez turned to boxing. By 19, Edwin was a U.S. citizen and a national champion.
He recalls meeting Ward in 2005, after Rodriguez lost an amateur decision in Nevada. Ward, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist, expressed regret, and Rodriguez became a fan, describing Ward as "a nice, genuine guy."
That stance has changed, in part because Rodriguez hoped one day to beat Ward.
"It's not going to be easy," Rodriguez admitted. "I'm ready for a fight that's physical and mental. … I'm going to make it a fight, but I'm not going to be stupid."
With the help of powerful manager Al Haymon, Rodriguez will get an $800,000 purse for the bout — four months after winning a super-middleweight tournament in Monaco with a first-round knockout of Russian Denis Grachev.
"He's got a chance — strong, offensive-minded," DiBella says of Rodriguez.
Ward says of Rodriguez, "His greatest strength is his eagerness and his willingness to fight, but that's also going to be his downfall. He doesn't always mind his defense."
Rodriguez says, "If I get hit, I'm coming right back at you. I'm known for taking more chances than I'm supposed to. I've tweaked my style to be more aggressive. It makes fans come back and watch me again. I'm willing to risk to put on a good performance. We all want that Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti [action] fight.
"Well, most of us do. Ward's just not one of them."