PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                  September 21, 2012


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By John DiSanto
Photos by Ray Bailey


Gabriel Rosado became the #1 IBF junior middleweight contender with a gritty 10th round TKO of hard-nosed Charles Whittaker Friday night at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, PA. The scheduled 12-rounder was a title eliminator to determine the mandatory challenger for champion Cornelius "K9" Bundrage.

Rosado displayed power and determination in collecting the win, but the 38 year old Whittaker made it hard for him, fighting his best to keep this, his last option for boxing success open. Whittaker was crafty and leather-tough, but Rosado refused to be denied in the bout. 

As he had done in his two previous fights, Rosado pressured Whittaker for a knockout from the opening bell. Rosado jabbed his way in and fired the right hand. Whittaker, old pro that he is, rolled and slipped and blocked the dangerous shots as the fight unfolded. Whittaker was crafty and he was betting that Rosado could be out hustled by the experience he brought all the way from the Cayman Islands. 

But Rosado kept moving forward, working and waiting for an opening. This was the first time in a long time - if ever - that Rosado faced off with an opponent as tall as he was and with a longer reach. It proved a little tricky, and you could see Gabe's wheels turning as he made the adjustment.

In round two, Rosado landed a straight right hand and it hurt Whittaker. However, instead of getting defensive, Whittaker responded by unleashing his own artillery. After that first Rosado right found it's mark, Whittaker popped him right back hard, and this set the tone of the fight. Rosado would land, Whittaker would fire back, and Gabe would take a moment to think about what had just happened. 

There never seemed to be a question that Rosado was stronger, fresher, or more energetic than Whittaker. Nor was there any real sign that Rosado wouldn't take home this important win. But Whittaker was there to fight, and he tested Rosado's motivation and some of the lessons he'd learned thus far in his career.

In the past, a fighter like Whittaker may have brought out the worst in Rosado. In fact, during the fight there were a few flashes of some of his old bad habits. He posed a bit and hesitated a little, but this was still the new Rosado, and against Whittaker he kept finding a way to break him down instead of allowing all that experience take him off track.

The pattern of the fight continued with Rosado working his way in, landing good shots, and Whittaker firing right back. But in a way, Whittaker's pluckiness played into Rosado's hands.

"He didn't scare me away," Rosado said after the fight. "He's a fighter, he's a warrior, but you see, I'm a warrior too. He was giving me an opportunity to clip him, because if you fire back, you're going to leave yourself open." 

The first big opening came in round five.

After Rosado landed a punch, Whittaker whacked back with a potent left hook. That's when Rosado cracked him with a bolt of a straight right hand that put Whittaker on the canvas. Of course the grizzled vet got up, and even cracked Gabe with another hard left hook, but Rosado ran out of time in the round.

"When I got him with the quick shot and he went down," Rosado said, "I fell in love with my power and was looking for one shot. I was trying to set it up, but I was loading up too much."

Round six proved this, as Rosado attempted to beat down Whittaker. He chased him and let loose a storm of hard punches. Some found their mark, but Whittaker managed to survive the crude onslaught.

"He was a tough vet," Rosado explained. "He knew how to get away from big shots. He was shoulder-riding them."

In the corner before round seven, trainer Billy Briscoe reminded Rosado that their plan was all about the set up. He told Rosado to "steal shots" rather than swing for the fences. Rosado resumed the fight, much calmer and a little less in love with his own power.

In round seven, Rosado worked his way toward Whittaker by staying busy and moving his hands. He then landed a sweeping left hook that dropped Whittaker for the second time. But once again, the cagy old pro survived.

At this point, it seemed  like a matter of time before Rosado would get his KO, but Whittaker was still hanging onto his last chance. He wasn't giving it up easily.

In round nine, Whittaker responded to a Rosado punch with a jarring right of his own. Rosado felt the shot, but by then, he wasn't hesitating after getting hit. He slammed right back with power punches.

In the following round, the tenth, after chipping away at Whittaker's resolve all night, Rosado finally had chipped away enough to finish him. A short left uppercut put Whittaker on the deck. He got up slower this time, but he still had some fight left in him. Rosado landed a right that dropped him again, and referee Steve Smoger stopped the fight immediately. The time was 1:50 of round ten.

The win boosted Rosado to a 21-5 (13 KOs) record, and that coveted #1 ranking. However, with this goal reached, Rosado has expanded the scope of his dream. 

"I'm not going to celebrate like this is the biggest thing," he said. "My goal is to be world champion, and not just to be world champion. I want to conquer the division, wreak havoc through the division, unify the titles. I want it all. I'm here (at the #1 spot), but the job isn't done yet."

Charles Whittaker lost for the first time since 2004, and hinted that he may hang up his gloves for good with a 36-12-2 (21 KOs) record.

"You lose some and you win some," Whittaker said. "I'm not ashamed I worked hard. I got here by being my own promoter and having to do everything to get here, and I think it was a great accomplishment. It's been a good run. Much props to Gabriel Rosado. He's a young, tough kid." 

The victory guarantees Rosado a shot at the IBF title within six months. It's been a long road for Rosado and trainer Billy Briscoe, but they are on the brink of getting  what they've been fighting for.

Local hero, Ronald Cruz, lost for the first time as a professional before his loyal Bethlehem hometown crowd. Cruz came up short against veteran Antwone Smith, who came from Miami to give Cruz an important career lesson. Smith jumped out to an early lead and went on to take a split decision after ten rounds.

Drama swirled at the weigh on Thursday when Smith came in three pounds over the welterweight limit. The overage resulted in the fight being downgraded from a 12-round WBC Continental Americas title bout to a still-intriguing 10-rounder. As it turned out, Cruz could have used the extra two rounds to try to catch his experienced foe.

The simple conclusion is that when Cruz moved forward and brought the fight to the inside, he did well and appeared to be on track to win the fight. However, Smith fought smartly, jabbed from the outside, resisted his well known tendency to battle on the inside himself, and Cruz more or less allowed him to do it.

The fight took Philly boxing fans back a year or two to when Gabriel Rosado at  times fell into similar traps set by more experienced opponents. Sometimes a fighter forgets - or resists - his natural gifts in an attempt to beat a skilled fighter at his own game. It seems to be a rite of passage for rising fighters.

Some boxers need to lose a fight or two this way before getting it through their heads that they have their own way, their own style to carry them. It's how they pick up the critical experience needed to move on to the next level.

Ronald Cruz received  his first major lesson in this point against Smith. Cruz, a sturdy prospect who flourishes when he applies pressure and works the body, seemed consumed with out-boxing the generally slicker Smith instead of using his best weapons. Absent were his usual pressure and body attack.

Smith started the fight with an active jab and some peppy footwork. Cruz remained measured, landing just a few solid shots. The pattern continued over the next two rounds. Smith led while Cruz remained passive.

The hometown crowd got involved late in the third, trying to rev Cruz up a bit. The chants of "Ronald, Ronald" seemed to work for a while. Cruz came out an improved fighter in round four. He won a couple of rounds with some nice body work and a few hard right hands to the chin. For Cruz, it seemed that  the alarm clock had gone off. However in the next round, Ronald hit the "snooze" button. 

In round six, Smith again got busy, and started scoring points again. He jabbed, every one accompanied by a loud grunt, and effectively moved his feet. With Cruz getting passive again, Smith kept the momentum going and started to lock down the decision. After seven completed rounds, Smith led on my scorecard 5-2. He was one round away from accumulating the math needed to secure the victory.

Cruz, knowing he was down on the scores, came out for round eight looking to turn things around. In an attempt to shake things up, Cruz turned southpaw. He'd tried this tactic in several bouts over the last year or so, with limited success. Ironically, the unorthodox stance helped him in this fight.

Cruz was more aggressive as a lefty, and once again brought the fight into closer quarters. He won the eighth round and inspired hope in his nervous fan base. However, in round nine, Smith resumed control and even wobbled Cruz with a hard right hand.

Cruz continued to switch hit and never stopped trying in the bout. He began wrapping his lead arm around Smith's waist in an attempt to pull him into an inside fight, but each time he was unable to capitalize on the tricky move.

In the final round, Cruz needed a knockout to salvage the fight, but wasn't able to find it. He appeared to tire in the last round, while Smith stayed busy enough to capture the round and bring home the decision. 

But the official scores were close. All three judges had the fight 96-94, or 6-4 in rounds. George Hill gave the fight to Cruz, but Dave Braslow and David Greer favored Smith. I had the bout 97-93, 7 rounds to 3 for Smith.

The win improved Smith's record to 22-4-1 with 12 KOs, and snapped Cruz' 17-bout winning streak. Ronald took the loss, and went home 17-1 with 12 KOs.

After the fight Cruz was disappointed. "I thought it could go either way. I thought maybe a draw. I knew it could go either way because I blew the first few rounds," he said.

It was a tough loss for Cruz because it came frosted with the feeling that he could have done better. He could have won this fight.

"I think maybe the inexperience hurt me a little bit," Cruz said.

The experience level was the difference in the fight. Cruz has the tools to beat Smith, but he needs to learn that it is up to him to make the fight go his way. Fighters come into the ring with their own experience, styles, game plans, and abilities. The winners come out because they use all those things to their best advantage.

As much as it hurt, this was an important night for Ronald Cruz. He learned an important lesson, and should become a better fighter because of it.

"(I'll) go back to the gym and keep working on things. Keep getting better. It's only going to make me better."

Just ask Gabriel Rosado. Once he learned this lesson, he became a contender, and is now on the verge of a title shot. Cruz should be able to do the same.

Russian light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev made short work of substitute opponent Lionell Thompson of Buffalo, NY. After winning round one, Kovalev dropped Thompson twice in round two. The first trip to the canvas came from a left, and the second came courtesy of a right. The bell prevented Kovalev from finishing things right then and there, but Thompson wouldn't survive much longer.

When round three began, Kovalev went right at Thompson and clubbed him with a hard right hand. Thompson fell for the third time, and referee Gary Rosato stopped the bout im-mediately. The time was 14 seconds of round three. 

The quick victory raised Kovalev's record to 19-0-1 (15 KOs). Thompson slipped to 12-2 (8 KOs). 

NBC Sports Network televised Rosado-Whittaker, Smith-Cruz and Kovalev-Thompson in the fifth edition of their nationally televised "Fight Night" boxing series.

The supporting card consisted of four additional bouts.

Alex Sanchez, Camden, NJ, scored a sudden KO of Philadelphian, Fitzgerald Johnson in round two. The pair began their scheduled 4-round junior middleweight bout brawling at the opening bell. Both landed punches, but Sanchez' heavier hands won him the round. In the second, a combination ending with a right hand dropped Johnson for the first time. When he got up, Sanchez shifted to a body attack and put Johnson down again with a right hand downstairs. Johnson  went down and failed to beat the count. Sanchez improved to 2-1, 2 KOs; Johnson went to 3-7, 1 KO.

In a 4-round junior welterweight bout, Jerome Rodriguez, Allentown, PA, beat Kywane Hill of Philadelphia by unanimous decision. The bigger and stronger Rodriguez administered a beating, especially in round two, and went on to score a shutout on the official cards. Dave Braslow, David Greer and Kevin Morgan all scored the fight 40-36 for Rodriguez, who won for the first time, 1-0-1. Hill continued his career slide, 1-10, 1 KO.

In a rock-em-sock-em heavyweight 6-rounder, Allentown's William Miranda rumbled to a unanimous decision victory over Pedro Martinez, Philadelphia. It was a bloody brawl of a fight, with Miranda's cut left eye seeping from round three until the end of the bout. However the wound did not stop him from controlling the action. Miranda was credited with a knockdown in round one after a right hand caught an off-balance Rodriguez at the start of the bout. Miranda generally outworked him the rest of the way to nab the points win. All three judges George Hill (59-55), Pierre Benoist (58-55) and David Greer (59-54) scored the fight for Miranda, making him 6-5-1. Martinez lost his third straight fight, and went home  6-7 (3 KOs). 

In the final preliminary bout, Jason Sosa, Camden, NJ, captured a majority decision over Esteban Rodriguez of Lebanon, PA. Just before the first bell, the junior lightweight bout was cut from six rounds to four to accommodate the  TV schedule, which was scheduled to begin at 9PM. Sosa made the best of the abbreviated contest, and came away 5-1-3 (1 KO), after judge George Hill and Kevin Morgan scored the bout 39-37 for Sosa, overruling Dave Braslow's 38-38 tally. Rodriguez slipped to 5-3-1 91 KO). I also scored it 39-37 for Sosa. 

The event attracted a near sellout crowd of more than 1,500.




John DiSanto - Bethlehem, PA - September 21, 2012

Photos by Ray Bailey