Story and photos by John DiSanto – Philly Boxing History (.com)
This past January, North Philly junior middleweight Gabriel Rosado seemed to turn a corner in his career development. All of a sudden, he was a killer in the ring and looked like sure bet to become a champion. The new plateau came in his head-turning knockout performance against battle-tough Jesus Soto Karass on January 21st. Rosado became the first man to halt the durable Mexican, and he did it before a cheering hometown crowd at ringside and a national television audience watching at home on the NBC Sports Network.
The Gabriel Rosado who bullied and disposed of Soto Karass in just five rounds that night was clearly a new version of the popular Philly fighter. Rosado had shown glimpses of real promise over the prior six years of his professional boxing career, but nothing like this. He was suddenly a bona fide contender.
“He had a habit (before) of pausing and posing for long periods of time,” said Billy Briscoe, Rosado’s trainer from day one. “Now he got away from that. He found his ring identity.”
That identity is a dangerous pressuring force to be reckoned with. Against Soto Karass, there was certainly no pausing or posing. Rosado used his size, strength, power, and constant pressure to steamroll Karass and register the best win of his then 19-5 career.
Rosado followed the victory with an even tougher assignment on June 1st, back on NBC, against slick and seasoned southpaw Sechew Powell. Rosado’s ninth round TKO of Powell before a wild Bethlehem, PA crowd was even more impressive than his prior fight, and proved that the “new” Rosado was no fluke.
“Tough guy,” Briscoe said of Powell. “Big. Southpaw. Experienced. Extensive amateur background. Only lost to top opposition. What he did was broke him down slowly. Gaby picked his spots. Showed him different looks until we found the opening he needed. Then he closed the distance, got in the pocket, and BANG!”
It was another emphatic win. Rosado was careful and smart in his approach, but he never took his eye off his ultimate goals – to score a knockout and make a statement to the boxing world.
“That fight,” Rosado said. “I told Billy, ‘We definitely have to knock this guy out’. And you know, we did it little by little. Once we started landing those body shots and we started getting those hooks in, he slowed down. Once we put on the pressure, it was a wrap.”
But this measurable improvement was a long time coming for Rosado. With only a brief amateur career as a base, Rosado was forced to learn on the job in the professional ranks. Some frustrating losses came his way. However, Billy Briscoe nurtured his fighter’s obvious skills and patiently worked on smoothing out his rough spots.
“Experience,” Briscoe said. “All the tough fights he’s been in. He finally realized that when he starts walking these guys down, they start acting different. When he boxes, he lets you live, but when he’s coming forward, he’s murder.”
“Now when I look at every fight, my game plan is backing the guy up,” Rosado added. “I’m not thinking about being on my toes or anything like that. I can beat these guys on the inside. And in boxing right now, guys don’t even understand the inside game. And I think that’s the advantage we have.”
Clearly it is something that is working for Rosado.
“He’s starting to come into his own now,” Briscoe said. “He’s starting to find himself.”
“It’s something that we practiced so long, and I finally got it,” said the fighter. “It takes a while. Now that we got it down pat, I feel like we’ll beat any guy.”
Embracing this new philosophy was one thing, but having the physicality to pull it off – in the rigorous jungle that is the boxing ring – was something else. To get to the next level, Team Rosado needed some help.
Boxing people, especially trainers, are generally a suspicious and even paranoid bunch. I guess you can’t really blame them. Trainers are gurus of a lost art and speak in terms that few beside their own kind can understand. Most of them, the good ones at least, usually believe in the old rules of boxing, including ancient secrets and beliefs that have long since been dismissed by most modern thinkers.
Billy Briscoe is one of those old-school guys. He was trained to be a trainer by one of Philly’s legends, the late, great Wesley Mouzon. Mouzon was a wunderkind teenage lightweight boxer in the 1940s, and a revered boxing teacher until his death in 2003.
“Every day I think about Mr. Wes,” Briscoe said. “If it wasn’t for Wes, I’d probably be dead or in jail somewhere… and that’s the truth. He took me under his wing.”
Briscoe believes in the old ways that Mouzon preached. He quotes the long forgotten phrases and conventions of the sport and believes in their relevance today, no matter how dusty they may sound. It’s one of the many contradictions that strike you about Briscoe. He’s still under 40 years of age, but talks like he’s been transported right from the golden era. He’s probably the oldest young man I’ve ever met.
But Billy Briscoe can surprise you. His methods are not solely based on the old school. He is open to the modern approach, as long as it makes sense and doesn’t work against any of his well-learned golden rules from the Mouzon school.
To round out Rosado’s skill set and to provide him with the physical tools necessary to implement the style that would make him a contender, Team Rosado brought a new member into the circle.
Enter strength and conditioning coach Jason Sargus of Philadelphia’s Brazen Boxing & MMA. Sargus is a former college wrestler who runs the Center City gym where Rosado and Briscoe have been doing their strength training since late last year. Sargus is from the new school when it comes to training ring warriors. Although his typical client is usually of the MMA breed, Sargus believes his methods make better fighters, period.
“I knew we could make Gaby stronger, longer,” Sargus said. “A lot of boxing trainers are a little hesitant to add some of the weight training exercises we’ve added. Billy is an old school boxing mind who embraces some new school and some cutting edge possibilities and philosophies. To embrace a guy coming from a wrestling background – to embrace that philosophy and to be open minded and give me a chance to work with Gabriel, I have to give a lot of credit to Billy Briscoe.”
But Billy didn’t just take these new philosophies at face value and run with them.
“We discussed some things – the “hows” and “whys” of the protocols I intended to implement,” Sargus said. “He listened and he asked about the science. I think he did some fact checking, and when everything came back okay, we agreed on how we were going to train Gabriel. And the results have been what you’ve seen in the last two fights against Soto Karass and Powell.”
“It’s added a lot to our game,” Rosado said. “I’m much stronger. When I get in that ring, I feel stronger than those guys. I feel like I can back them up, put on pressure, and finally do what Billy’s been trying to get me to do the whole time – impose my strength on these guys.”
“We can have him fight at a pretty amazing pace by adding and supplementing (traditional boxing training) with the strength and conditioning we do here,” Sargus said.
The results speak for themselves. Rosado has been able to execute like never before.
“He can put his foot on the gas anytime he chooses,” Sargus said. He can come forward when he wants to. He can pressure the fighter when he wants to, especially when his opponent is looking to take 15-20 seconds off to regroup and refocus. He can put them out of that comfort zone.”
And that seems to be exactly what Rosado has been doing. He has been relentless in his last two fights, and it has made all the difference in the world. Watching Rosado being so consistent and seeing him doing things that produce knockouts, has been exciting. Although he was popular before, Rosado is quickly becoming the fighter everyone is talking about in Philadelphia. However the Rosado conversation may just getting started.
On September 21, Rosado, 20-5 (12 KO) takes on Charles Whittaker, 38-12-2 (23 KO), in a 12-round eliminator for the IBF 154-pound title. The fight is back at the Sands Resort Casino in Bethlehem, and once again on NBC Sports Network’s Fight Night TV series. If the #3 ranked Rosado can beat the #2 ranked Whittaker, he becomes the mandatory #1 rated contender to IBF champion Cornelius “K9” Bundrage.
“One fight away, man,” Rosado said. “It feels good. It’s definitely driving me to do good.”
“We’re getting close,” Briscoe said. “All the hard work is starting to pay off. We’re starting to get in the spot we need to be in to win the world title.”
“This fight with Whittaker, I’m not going to take him lightly,” Rosado said. “I want to blow him out. I want to make another statement.”
At 38 years old and with 52 fights to his credit, Whittaker brings experience far deeper than Rosado’s into the ring. It is certain that he too sees the fight as an important opportunity.
“He’s basically in a situation where he has to win because of his age,” Rosado said of Whittaker. “He can’t afford to lose; he’s going to bring his “A” game. So I can’t sleep on him. Anything can happen in boxing.”
Rosado is familiar with bumps in the road. The early part of his career was marked by inconsistency. Excellent victories against Kasim Ouma, Saul Roman, James Moore and Latif Mundy, were muted by stumbles against Alfredo Angulo, Fernando Guerrero and Derek Ennis.
Ennis was the last man to beat Rosado, in a close 12-round decision for the USBA title more than two years ago. The setback was heartbreaking for Gabriel, who thought that regional title shot was his gateway to the next level, and a do or die opportunity for him.
“I was younger, a little immature,” Rosado said of that period of his career. “Now I’ve been through the hard times. I’m older, more mature, and I know what it takes.”
Rosado has won six straight bouts since losing to Ennis, and perhaps more importantly, has learned that things happen in their own time.
“I think if I had won against Ennis, I think it wouldn’t have been my time,” Rosado said. “I think now is the perfect time. Me and Billy are on the same page, and now we have Jason Sargus of Brazen Boxing involved. We have the whole package together. So now we’re good.”
Having the whole package has led Rosado to a world title elimination fight. That means he’s one victory away from a guaranteed title shot, and everything he and Briscoe have been working for since day one.
“A fight away from the world title,” Briscoe said thoughtfully. “I been paying my dues since I was 15 years old. I carried buckets. I learned my craft.”
And what would old Wesley Mouzon tell Briscoe now, as he guides Rosado closer and closer toward the top?
“He’d tell me what he told me before he passed away, may God rest his soul,” Briscoe remembered. “He’d say, ‘Billy you’re ready, you just need that guy who will get you there’. Mr. Wes. He was the man. He forgot more about boxing than most people know. He used to tell me, ‘You need that horse, that horse you can ride’.”
Rosado is that horse, a junior middleweight thoroughbred. And he is just one fight away.