Jeison Rosario proved to be a true “Banana” peel matchup for Julian Williams on Saturday night in Philadelphia, ripping the WBA and IBF junior middleweight titles away from “J Rock” in Williams’ hometown, the first big upset of the new year in boxing.
Rosario (20-1-1, 14 KO) now joins a cast of 154-pound fighters who make for a deep division with no clear top guy, no dominant name, let alone names.
In last week’s BLH rankings, I had Williams No. 1, followed by Jarrett Hurd, Erislandy Lara, Brian Castano, and Jermell Charlo in the top five. Rosario now obviously shoots onto the list in a top five spot (I’ll later finalize rankings for Tuesday’s update). But look at those six guys, all of whom are PBC-affiliated, which is nice because it means they can make fights together — and they have.
Rosario has beaten Williams, who beat Hurd, who beat Lara, who drew with Castano. Charlo hasn’t faced any of them, but the WBC titleholder recently regained that belt from Tony Harrison (last week’s No. 6) in a rematch of a fight where most thought Charlo deserved a decision that went to Harrison.
Williams (27-2-1, 16 KO) is promising to come back stronger than ever, and he said immediately after the fight that he plans to exercise his contractual rematch clause and face the 24-year-old Dominican again.
Williams may very well do that. He’s a competitor and at 29 he’s not old or past his prime or anything, but he’s also not getting any younger, and perhaps not looking to go back to the drawing board. But just because he says he will and it seems like a reasonable decision to make, get right back to a title fight and try to take back what was once yours, that doesn’t mean it will actually happen.
Williams’ team may steer him away from Rosario, but if they do, what would they steer him toward? The other PBC guys we just named can all fight, too. Nobody in that group is an easy out. Moving up to 160 gets him, what, a rematch with Jermall Charlo, who stopped Williams in 2016? PBC is otherwise pretty barren at middleweight.
If Williams does exercise the clause as he says, then obviously Rosario will fight Williams again. If not, Rosario becomes a potentially attractive option for all those other PBC names, especially because he has two world title belts now. A three-belt unification with Charlo (33-1, 17 KO) is probably something the 29-year-oid Charlo would love to get done. Rosario is clearly no joke, but he’s still a guy who was stopped in six rounds by Nathaniel Gallimore, an also-ran in the division, in 2017, and hasn’t exactly been flawless in some other outings. He’s a vulnerable titleholder on paper.
And if Williams doesn’t do the rematch right away, Rosario has two belts and thus will have mandatory challengers to deal with sooner than later. Bakhram Murtazaliev (17-0, 13 KO) won an IBF eliminator in November over Jorge Fortea to become the mandatory there. Hurd is the WBA’s No. 1-ranked contender, and he returns this coming Saturday against Francisco Santana.
My bet right now would be that Williams will, indeed, take the immediate rematch. I’m guessing this is, frankly, a little embarrassing for him, and that he’s going to want to seek his revenge and try to get those belts right back, the same way we saw Anthony Joshua do with Andy Ruiz Jr last year. But it’s certainly not a 100 percent guarantee.