When Corey Rodriguez faces Jamal James in a 152 pound catch weight fight this Saturday at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, MN, Twin Cities boxing fans are going to see an improved fighter. Rodriguez already is accomplished—a three-time Upper Midwest Golden Gloves Champion with a winning professional record (6-3-2, 3 KOs) against opponent’s whose combined record is 48-32 with 29 KOs—and a sure challenge for any boxer who steps into the ring with him. But Jamal James, having a long career as a nationally ranked amateur with height (6’-2’’), reach, balance and speed, has publicly expressed confidence that Rodriguez is overrated and will not win. What will be different in Rodriguez Saturday night is an increased level of speed combined with better balance and punching power he has honed in training. A major contributor to that improvement is Seko Tongola, a long-time boxing and martial arts trainer who has joined Rodriguez’s corner as strength and conditioning trainer.
“Every day when Cory shows up I make sure I stretch him,” says Tongola, explaining the process. “We let the muscle know there’s going to be work [that it will go through].” Then I try to emphasize the strength of the body with the mind. I’m working with him on bouncing spring quads, making sure he can constantly bounce and move without getting tired. It is hard to hit a moving object, and with the quad power he will always have the advantage of the counter.”
With improved strength and endurance, Rodriguez’s foot speed has visibly increased, accentuating his counterpunching power so he can make James pay after making him miss. Rodriguez is traditionally a come forward fighter, but he has also always exhibited good ring movement, which he has increased the use of for this fight. His step is faster and his head movement has improved, making him more elusive as he has increased the frequency of his jab. The work John Rodriguez has done with his son on movement, body punching and combinations from angles have prepared the 5’-8” fighter to neutralize the four inches of height James has on him.
Tongola, originally from Tanzania, came to Minnesota in the early 1990s after spending his life learning different forms of Kung Fu and other martial arts as well as boxing and serving with his country’s Merchant Marines.
“I help a lot of people condition since I come here,” says Tongola, “but my name is just not out there. But, for example, you remember when Phil ‘the Drill’ [Williams] was dropping everybody down? Pete and Chuck [Daskiewicz] were the coaches, but I worked with them for conditioning. I worked with Wilton Hilario in strength and conditioning before he fought at Target Center and beat Alan Litzau.”
Hilario won that fight by 4th round TKO and Williams scored many local knockouts before traveling to fight name opponents.
The Dasciewicz brothers, who were assisted by Jacque Davis, never brought Tongola into the corner and the work Tongola did with the two fighters was initiated by him. It was the first time he attempted to apply his methods to prominent local fighters, but he never got fully incorporated onto their teams. Tongola had been a fixture at Uppercut Gym since its origins on Lake Street in 1996 and he built his reputation as an excellent and popular personal trainer over the years. Joining John Rodriguez in preparing his son to fight James marks the first time he has become a key component in a prominent local fighter’s corner.
“I teach body synchronization, how strength—you can use it and apply it—and I’ll leave technique to some other coach,” Tongola says, deferring strategy to the man who has taught his son to fight since childhood. “Every team has to make sure that everybody takes care of their part. With Corey, I told his dad, John, I’m always honored to get that opportunity because I have a lot of things to offer. It’s just like I have food but I don’t have table to serve. So when they put me in the gym the first thing I told them is I’ll provide all that I know to make sure, if that’s what it takes to win. ”
Jamal James of Minneapolis has a record of 7-0, 5KOs. But he has heretofore fought a lesser caliber of fighter than Rodriguez. His last opponent, Charon Spain, had a record of 0-1,his second opponent was making a pro debut, and four of his wins come against two opponents—Justin Danforth and Hector Orozco—whose combined record is 11-28. Nevertheless, he is ranked on Boxrec.com at 47 of 335 American welterweights and internationally at 222 of 1,663. Rodriguez is ranked 102 of 269 American light middleweights and internationally at 461 of 1,216. Rodriguez reports that the catch weight of 152 is no problem for him to make and he even believes he could fight at welterweight in the future, and the extra five pounds shouldn’t be a major bother for James. Both fighters have many years of amateur experience and the age difference—Rodriguez is 33 and James is 24—is statistically to James’ advantage, although Rodriguez is hardly weathered at this point of his career. With James utilizing his height and movement and Rodriguez bringing the energy of an improved approach along with his usual grit and determination, what is labeled by Sterling Entertainment’s promotion as the “Pound 4 Pound” promises Minnesota a thrilling Saturday night fight.
By Mark Connor
© Copyright 2012, Mark Connor