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The Limits of Heart: Gabriel Rosado, Philadelphia Boy

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Gabriel Rosado has proven his toughness over several losses, but they are losses all the same.

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If you've ever had the luxury of taking a tropical cruise, or (as is my case) of seeing the advertisements for one, perhaps you've witnessed this vision: a vast clear sky reflected in clear water, such that the horizon seems to vanish, lost in boundless blue. We're experiencing a similar phenomenon here in Philadelphia. In these early days of December, sky and land take on a common hue. The color of our sidewalks is not cerulean or lapis lazuli. Stand at high ground, look out across the cityscape, and unfocus your eyes- the whole scene dissolves into a great wash of slate.

Philly is ex-industrial and prototypically East Coast. Gritty is a good word for it. We've got our own thing going on here. Many of us have a chip on our shoulder, but we're candid and hard-working. Decorum is not our strong suit.

I got off the El at 46th and Market the other day, and on my way down to the street level, I spotted a new addition to the urban landscape: a portrait of Joe Frazier painted on one of the columns supporting the train tracks. The city has been good to Smokin' Joe lately. His gym at North Broad and Glenwood was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year. Bernard Hopkins has talked of turning it into a community center. Next year, a 12-foot bronze Frazier statue will go up in the stadium area of South Philly. It will be the second sculpture erected to honor the city's rich pugilistic tradition. The first is the Rocky statue that stands outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Any day of the week, you can see tourists dashing up the steps and turning to be photographed, arms raised and hyperventilating.

Frazier embodied a style and attitude that's come to be associated with Philadelphia, an inexorable I'll-eat-three-of-yours-to-land-mine arch-tough. As with all "regional styles," this is, in great part, a fiction- consider Hopkins- but it certainly comes to mind when considering Philadelphia's Gabriel Rosado.

Rosado's middleweight bout against Montreal's David Lemieux on Saturday night ended in the tenth round, halted at the behest of the ringside doctor, who was concerned in general with the accumulation of hard blows to Rosado's skull and in particular with the left eye, by this time swollen shut.

The 25 year old Lemieux, now 33-2, had entered the slight betting favorite. A power puncher, his strategy was simple: walk down Rosado, land heavy left hooks and straight rights. In the third round, Lemieux dropped Rosado with a pair of left hands, after which the American's oft-injured left eye began to close. Rosado answered the next bell ready to fight, and the fourth round was one of the most intense I've seen this year. Rosado staggered Lemieux with an uppercut, then was staggered himself by a powerful left hook.

There was the sense that as time passed, things might turn in Rosado's favor. Rosado is known as a tough fighter, and he tends to light up as the water gets deeper. Additionally, there was a question as to whether Lemieux's stamina would taper off in the latter half of the fight, as it had in his stoppage loss to Marco Antonio Rubio. If Rosado could withstand the Candian's early assault, the thinking went, he would have a strong shot at taking control in the later rounds.

This narrative may have been influenced by the specter of another bout that seemed to hang over the evening, fought earlier in the year at the same arena. As noted on several occasions by the HBO broadcast team, Chris Algieri defeated Ruslan Provodnikov in June at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. In that fight, the underdog challenger came back from from an early acquaintance with the canvas and a closed eye to outbox a hellacious puncher. As that fight progressed, Algieri kept Provodnikov at a distance with a good jab and movement, sniping from the outside.

It didn't play out that way on Saturday. Rosado's pawing jab is not the most effective distance maker, and Lemieux caught up with him again and again, against the ropes and in the corners. The Philadelphian can box, but he likes to fight as well. Though he did some good work in their exchanges (a number of short left uppercuts in particular), these moments did not favor him. Lemiuex's punches simply did more harm.

And thus to 1:45 in the 10th, referee Steve Willis' arms wrapped around Rosado's waist, steering him away from the action. Follow Rosado's career, and scenes like this become familiar. Flash to Rosado at the end of his fight with Gennady Golovkin (stopped on cuts in the 7th), his face a mask of blood. Flash to the end of the Peter Quillin fight (stopped on cuts in the 10th), Rosado pleading with the referee, "I can see, man. I'm good. Let me finish the fight. Let me get this round in. I worked my whole life for this."

Follow Rosado's career, and you will notice the rhetoric that surrounds him. Rosado is "seasoned." Rosado is "a warrior." Rosado is "a survivor." Says Andre Ward from the commentator's booth, "Sometimes you may have to save a person like Rosado from himself." Says Jim Lampley, "Too much courage for his own good could ultimately be the bottom line on this fight." It is language that indicates a whole boatload of respect but not very much confidence.

Rosado has been swimming around the top of the contenders' pool for a couple years now, but has been unable to cross to the next level, going 0-2 in his attempts at a title. What makes his case unfortunate, to me at least, is that he is so clearly abundant in that most-prized of boxing ineffables, lion-heart valor. The list of opponents he has faced during his campaign at 160 reads like a roll call of middleweight talent: Golovkin, Quillin, Jermall Charlo, J'Leon Love, Bryan Vera (in a Big Knockout Boxing match). It looks particularly complimentary at the end of 2014, a year rife with champions propped up by convenient matchmaking. Yet, while he has been competitive against many of the division's best, most of these fights have been logged in the ‘L' column. His only recent victory, the BKB bout against Vera, is not listed on his official record. He's also had some legitimately bad luck. Had the Quillin fight not been stopped, Rosado may well have taken that match. Many thought he was robbed in the split decision loss to Love (the fight was later ruled a no-contest after Love tested positive for a banned diuretic).

Algieri's victory over Provodnikov in June earned him a shot at Manny Pacquiao. During the promotion for that fight, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum frequently compared Algieri to Rocky. It seemed like a stretch to me (particularly after Arum's initial comparison of Algieri to the great Shakespeare-reading heavyweight Gene Tunney). If you're looking for a tenacious willful underdog who keeps plowing on through hard luck, we have one of those in Philly.

It's difficult, though, to imagine what Rosado's next opportunity for a big upset could be. Rosado is only 28 years old, and there's still time left in his career, but here's where he is today. He hasn't had a win on his official record since 2012. Lemieux has some good things going on- his stamina seems improved and he can definitely punch- but my own sense is that he is kind of monochromatic and that his game is not complex enough at this point to make him a serious threat to a Golovkin or a Miguel Cotto. I get the sense that this is not an uncommon opinion. Rosado gave him a good fight, but not good enough, in my opinion, to raise his stock in any significant way. This ain't the movies. Maybe Rosado has an "I did it!" moment coming, but from here it looks a long way off.

It is what it is. This is boxing.