PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – It started with a whisper, a little clandestine aside from a young trainer with old-school sensibilities who saw something in Gabriel Rosado that he didn’t see in himself at the time.
When Rosado first walked into a boxing gym, he had a basketball tucked under his arm. The old man running the place told him he was too old to start boxing. That’s when trainer Billy Briscoe leaned in and told Rosado, “Come back tomorrow.”
Fast forward eight years later. Rosado sits in the corner of the Harrowgate Gym in gritty north side of the city, talking about something not many give him a real chance to do – beating WBA middleweight beltholder Gennady Golovkin at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19. The fight, which is part of an anticipated tripleheader, is the first major HBO show of the year.
Rosado, a huge underdog against the undefeated Kazakh, will be making his HBO debut, but over his left shoulder in the window of the gym hangs a reminder of what can happen when a fighter shakes up the boxing hierarchy: a poster promoting Philadelphian Danny Garcia’s fight against Amir Khan.
Garcia’s shocking upset of the heavily favored Khan is exactly what the 26-year-old junior middleweight contender intends to do on Jan. 19. The interesting twist is unlike his fellow Philly contemporary, Garcia, whose boxing roots come with an extensive amateur background, Rosado reached this lofty status backwards.
“King” had only 11 amateur fights. He began boxing at the relatively late age of 18. He turned pro at 19. His record (21-5, 13 knockouts) isn’t glossy, but he’s on the best run of his career, stopping Jesus Soto Karass, Sechew Powell and Charles Whittaker in his last three fights – all in 2012.
“I was handed nothing,” said Rosado, whose mother, Bonnie Ortiz, is an ordained minister with a doctorate degree in theology. “My mother didn’t like me fighting all of the time when I was growing up. But when I was 18, I was at a point in my life when I began to think I had to do something with myself.
“I was being rebellious at the time. I got kicked out of school and was hanging with the wrong crowd. I was always fighting – the bigger, the better. I was that type of kid. I was never the kid causing trouble. But in this neighborhood, it wasn’t hard to get caught up in the wrong situation.”
What changed everything for Rosado occurred on a night when a fight broke out after a party. “King,” 18 at the time, was challenged.
“I knew the guy had a gun and I was the type who didn’t mess with weapons; he reached and I charged him and gave him a couple of shots, he was disorientedÔÇöand I went running,” Rosado recalled. “At the time, I didn’t feel like my life flashed before my eyes. I ran after I hit him. But I will say this, from then on, it hit me that night that I almost was killed. I had to make a change. That’s when I thought about boxing.”
That’s when Rosado found his way to the Fifth and Allegheny Rec Center, where he came across Briscoe.
“Gaby had that swagger, and the funny thing is, I was about to leave that gym when he came; if not for Gaby, I would have left,” Briscoe said. “He got no soft touches. He came up the hard-school Philadelphia way. Gaby had a lot of heart and a lot of natural fighting instincts. He had all of the tools. He just needed to refine them. I’m a loyal guy. He had some rough times at the start, and a lot of guys might have jumped ship, but I wasn’t about to.”
Rosado’s fifth amateur fight convinced Briscoe that the young street fighter had a future in the sport. Briscoe entered Rosado in the open class of a tournament, scheduled to fight New York amateur standout “Mean” Joe Greene, who had far more experience than Rosado.
“Guys were telling me not to let Gaby fight him, that Greene would tear him up,” Briscoe said. “Gaby was all over him like a cheap suit. He showed me right there that he could be good. Gaby lost that fight, but he showed me he had the goods. He’s really hard on himself. He’s an extremist when it comes to training. Some fighters you have to push, some you hold back. He’s one I have to hold back because I don’t want him overtrained.
“People don’t know about his will to winÔÇöhe won’t get discouraged. He’ll bite down and find a way. He does everything for a reason. His ring IQ is off the charts. His ability to adjust will be the difference against Golovkin.”
Rosado came up through the Philly club circuit making $800-to-$1,000 a fight. He also was working 10-hour shifts doing construction work for a water company. The grind sometimes included working a graveyard shift, from 9 to 6 in the morning, followed by a four-mile run, four hours of sleep, a training session, and then back to work.
He was juggling those grueling hours when he lost to Alfredo Angulo by second-round TKO in 2009.
It was exhausting. There were days when Rosado walked around in a daze, shuffling from one thing to the next.
“I think the fact that I have the luxury to train 24/7 has changed everything, especially against Karass, Powell and Whittaker,” Rosado said. “People don’t realize what I had to go through to get here. It’s something that I’ve had to do most of my career, and it makes me appreciate the opportunity I have now. It makes me much hungrier. But believe me, my body was always sore. I have no formal boxing pedigree. I started with nothing. I learned on the job as a pro. And I wouldn’t have lasted this long without Billy showing me the ropes. Billy is kind of like my boxing dad.”
Against Golovkin, Rosado wants no excuses. When the contract was formalized, Rosado insisted to his adviser, Hall of Famer J Russell Peltz, to nix the 158-pound catchweight. This will be Rosado’s first foray in the middleweight class and he wants to face a 160-pound version of Golovkin.
“I don’t want any excuses when I beat this guy; I don’t want him saying he felt weak making weight,” said Rosado, who walks around at about 168 pounds. “No one thinks I can beat Golovkin. I embrace the fact that people talk and don’t think I’m supposed to win. I’m going to knock him out in the ninth round, because I think he underestimates me. I don’t know why, but I think he is and he’s going to pay for that.
“He’s supposed to be the next great thing. I want to dominate this guy and when I do, people will realize that I had a tough road. It’s why it taken me this long to get here.”
Photos / Decora Michelle