Gabriel Rosado has one more step before a world title shot. (Photo by Chris Toney)
In the age of fighters with the most pristine records receiving television dates, Philadelphia's Gabriel Rosado has defied the odds. And he did it the hard way. On September 21, Rosado has his third fight this year, and the last one he needs before an IBF world title shot. The current IBF champion is Cornelius "K9" Bundrage. All that stands in Rosado's way now is Charles Whittaker, who happens to be on a 14 fight winning streak.
Unfortunately for Whittaker those 14 fights took place over eight years, leaving him at the ripe age of 38 going into his clash with Rosado. But, after coming off what is arguably a career best win against Giorbis Barthelemy, who had just dispensed with Derek Ennis in less than 2 rounds, I'm sure Whittaker is more than optimistic about his chances. Whittaker effectively beat a man who beat man who beat Rosado. Nonetheless Whittaker remains the underdog, and rightfully so. Rosado is 12 years younger and simultaneously more seasoned against quality opposition. But how did Rosado manage so many quality opponents in only a 25 fight career? Let's start from the beginning.
After commencing his career with a modest 9-2 record against relatively unknown opponents, Rosado upset amateur standout and undefeated professional James Moore on ESPN's Wednesday Night Fights (RIP). Rosado dropped Moore in the 5th of the scheduled 8 rounder and emerged with a unanimous decision victory. But as is often the case in boxing, no good deed goes unpunished. Rosado followed his Moore victory with 8 months of inactivity then a middleweight bout against an even tougher unbeaten opponent, Fernando Guerrero.
While Guerrero barely may have lacked the professional experience of Rosado, he made up for it with a 129 amateur fight advantage (Guerrero's 140 to Rosado's 11). Furthermore Guerrero was naturally a weight division larger and did not meet the agreed upon catchweight. Yet, Rosado still managed to drop Guerrero in the 3rd, but was ultimately unable to put him away and lost a unanimous decision.
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Despite the setback, it didn't take long for Rosado to rebound as he defeated former world champion Kassim Ouma just 2 fights later. Unfortunately, once again Rosado immediately followed a career best win with an even more daunting task, this time Alfredo Angulo. Angulo, healthy and extremely motivated coming off his loss to Kermit Cintron, entered the fight as a 13-2 favorite. Angulo's 2 round destruction of Rosado justified the odds. But as far as Rosado is concerned, he's improved considerably since then. In his eyes, the experience of such a devastating defeat has only made him better. In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, "that which does not kill us makes us stronger." But one does have to question the management of Rosado's career up to this point. Would this have happened if he was signed with a promoter? And why is he still without one?
According to Rosado, it's all about getting what's fair. And why bother now? He's fighting for the #1 IBF contender spot against Whittaker. Once he wins, nearly a forgone conclusion in his mind, he doesn't need anyone to help him get an IBF title fight. He will have earned it himself. All that's left is for the IBF to live up to their word, which I expect them to do. After all, Rosado has been fighting on NBC Sports regularly lately and the network is hoping to pick up his first chance at a world title. So unless there's some kind of lucrative deal, Rosado isn't interested in signing with anyone. Rosado has been approached by both Top Rank and Golden Boy, but right now he's just focused on Whitaker.
"Sometimes, you know, you need a promoter when you want to work your way to the top...in the rankings and things like that. But you know, me and my team pretty much, you know, just did it all from hustle, you know, grindin' hard and winning fights that people didn't expect us to win. ...If any of those promoters want to offer us a deal it's definitely got to be something worth my while. ...Now, you know, I'm in a different situation. I'm really not desperate or anything. I'm in a good spot."
And there you have it, authentically from the mouth of a North Philadelphian. It's not the "Show me the money" speech from Jerry Maguire, but it gets the message across.
Two fights after Angulo things slowly turned around for Rosado. First he narrowly out boxed perennial contender Saul Roman in an exciting come from behind dustup. Then, like two times before, Rosado followed a significant win with a loss. However, this time the loss was questionable and earned the Briscoe Award for 2010's Philadelphia fight of the year. The Briscoe Awards honor the now deceased, former human highlight reel, "Bad" Bennie Briscoe (no relation to Rosado's trainer Billy Briscoe). Bennie and Billy just happened to live in the same city, share the same last name, and love boxing... Anyways, although I felt Derek Ennis deservedly out pointed Rosado by a slim margin, I also felt there were many swing rounds during the bout. One could argue that Rosado won rounds 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 11, and the epic 12th round. The crowd was split as to who won the fight, and one judge ruled it a draw. No one ever went down but both fighters were stunned multiple times. In a fight as good as Ennis-Rosado, there are no real losers. People left the arena wanting to see both warriors again. And as fate would have it, only Rosado, "the loser", would go on to take advantage of the performance. While Ennis has only fought twice since, going 1-1, Rosado has been on a 6 fight winning streak, four of which were televised with the other two streamed live over the internet on GFL.TV.
Some fighters focus on training hard, pushing their bodies to the limits, and rely on their coaches to fabricate the technical aspects necessary to improve their game. Boxers, like soldiers, need to be good at taking orders. That said, some boxers are also students of the fight game (not with Jim Lampley). Thanks to YouTube, Rosado finds himself watching fights online all the time, whether it's of potential/future opponents or simply fighters he admires. Some of Gabriel's favorite fighters to watch include Pernell Whitaker, James Toney, Bernard Hopkins, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Roberto Duran. He loves to watch old school fights. He studies how they set up shots, work on the inside, and whatever else he can learn from them. When looking at footage of opponents, Rosado specifically studies their flaws and is less concerned with the things they do well. For Charles Whittaker, Rosado studied the fight with Chad Greenleaf. Rosado and Briscoe are confident they can take advantage of what they've seen.
Often the case with the best fighter-trainer relationships, the bond between Gabriel and Billy extends beyond the gym. They consider each other family. Billy and Gabriel were actually hanging out in the car together when I interviewed Gabriel for this piece over the phone, unbeknownst to me until nearly 9 minutes in. Billy just sat there quietly and let Gabriel do all the talking. I finally found out he was there when I asked Gabriel about their relationship. They appear to have a very good chemistry. As Gabriel would say, their styles mesh. For Gabriel, winning a world title isn't even about him. He's doing it for Billy, for his family. He wants to improve their lives. Failure is not an option.
Since Rosado's last defeat he's picked up notable victories over the likes of Jose Medina, Jamaal Davis, Ayi Bruce, Jesus Soto Karass, and Sechew Powell. But out of all of Rosado's wins, none felt sweeter than his demolition of Soto Karass. Many predicted Karass would apply pressure and systematically break Rosado down and Gabriel completely flipped the script. The fight played out exactly as Gabriel and Billy expected. Pulling it off on the first nationally televised NBC Sports card made it even better.
For a fighter with only 25 pro fights Gabriel Rosado is already a veteran, and that's not common in boxing today. Plenty of fighters manage to go unbeaten in their first 25 bouts, but only the Floyd Mayweathers of the world do it against the level of competition that Rosado has faced. So who cares that Rosado has five losses?
Referring to the opponents that beat him, Rosado said, "Look at where they're at right now and look at me. I'm ahead of them. Angulo is not relevant right now. Derek Ennis is not relevant right now. You know, I've definitely become a better fighter. I've advanced my career." If you tune in Friday, September 21st on NBC Sports after 9 PM EDT, expect to watch him advance it again.
Should all go as planned, Rosado eyes an IBF title shot with Bundrage, if he's still champion at the time. K9 is rumored to have an HBO date with Andre Berto on November 24th , but win or lose Rosado is not concerned. Gabriel just wants a world title and has no particular preference between fighting K9 or Berto to get it. However, I would assume Rosado takes home a larger purse against Berto. The question is how long would Rosado have to wait to take that purse home? If his mandatory shot at the title doesn't come in a timely fashion, Rosado does not want to sit around. He feels it's important to keep busy in order to stay sharp.
Nevertheless, Plan B for Rosado comes down to dollars and sense. Risk vs reward will be evaluated and if a tough fight doesn't make dollars, it doesn't make sense. Obviously Rosado would jump at the opportunity to fight someone like Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, which to me is a fight that makes perfect sense. Alvarez has yet to face a rated, full sized junior middleweight in his prime. Then again, Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, and Sergio Martinez are all past their prime and at least one of them is undersized (Mayweather). Alvarez bypassing fighters like Rosado for them is perfectly understandable. But if those fights aren't next for Canelo, let's hope Gabriel Rosado is. He's earned it.