Photo: Emmanuel "Manny" Rodriguez
Emmanuel “Manny” Rodriguez, the first Puerto Rican to win a gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games, is going strong as a professional just over two years after sustaining burns over half his body in a near-fatal accident.
“I feel well, thank God. I’m well prepared and recovered from the accident. The burns are now 95 percent healed and we’re prepared to get in the ring and fight,” Rodriguez told Efe Friday during a training session in this northern city.
Rodriguez, now 20, entered the history books when on Aug. 25, 2010, he won a gold medal in the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, becoming the first athlete from the U.S. commonwealth to win gold at that sporting event.
He captured top honors in the 51-kilogram weight class by defeating Nauru’s Dj Maaki when the referee stopped the bout in the third round.
Nearly three months later, Rodriguez was trying to repair his car when the engine combusted in an accident triggered by the lighting of a cigarette.
Rodriguez sustained burns over roughly 50 percent of his body and was operated on by burn specialists, who transplanted the skin of his left thigh to his side.
A year later, Rodriguez returned to the ring and won the Puerto Rican boxing championships in the 52-kilogram weight class.
Then, after coming up short in his bid to compete in the 2012 London Olympics, he decided to turn professional.
“My career as an amateur ended with a defeat that led me into the professional ranks and now I want to keep racking up victories,” Rodriguez, who has won his first three bouts as a professional, said.
“After what happened, I never thought I was going to box again, but thank God we recovered well and I decided to become a professional. There’s no turning back,” he added.
Rodriguez’s next bout is scheduled for Feb. 23 in the southern Puerto Rican city of Ponce.