PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                        February 25, 2011


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In the good old days of Philly boxing, things would have been different for the Gabriel Rosado vs. Jamaal Davis fight. If the two junior middleweights had been around in the 1940s they'd be fighting at the Arena, an old West Philly landmark that would have served up a little home-field advantage for Jamaal Davis, who hails from the left-side. If they had fought in the 1950s, perhaps they would have squared off in the neutral territory of South Philly's Toppi Stadium, the outdoor wet dream of local boxing fans. In the 1960's Rosado and Davis would have packed North Philly's Blue Horizon, and there wouldn't be a spare ticket in sight. In the 1970's this would have been another natural cross-town Spectrum clash that contributed to that legendary venue's storied history.

But alas, these are not the good old days of local boxing. These aren't even the not-so-bad-days of Summer 2010 - when Derek Ennis and Gabriel Rosado waged the most memorable all-Philly war in recent memory. That excellent fight night was not the revival of local boxing that we hoped it would be. Let's hope it wasn't the swan song.

No, these are not the good old days. These are the days that fill the local wasteland of 2011. So Rosado vs. Davis, that all-Philly 12-round battle for a regional title belt will happen in Atlantic City.

These days our fighters are busy, and many of Philly's top guys are heading into critical career tests. But without exception, all these key matches will play out someplace else. Jones just shined in Vegas - understandable given his world ranking and position in the welterweight division. Cunningham just defended his cruiserweight crown in Germany - but the champ is always so desperate for a fight we should be happy he doesn't have to fight on the moon. Eddie Chambers rebounded from last year's tough trip to Germany with an AC fight a couple of weeks ago. Derek Ennis, Farah Ennis, Hank Lundy, Danny Garcia, Yusaf Mack, Demetrius Hopkins, Dhafir Smith, Garrett Wilson, and Teon Kennedy all have upcoming fights outside Philly in the next two months or so. Add Rosado and Davis to that list.

Hey, Atlantic City isn't so bad. But some fights just belong in the City of Brotherly Love. Rosado-Davis is one of them.

The two fighters know each other well. They've sparred on numerous occasions - although not recently. And both view this fight as an important crossroad.

Davis is coming off a 10-round loss to Joel Julio, the most experienced man he ever faced. Davis took his lumps in that one but proved his toughness by lasting a full ten rounds with the seasoned contender. That he lasted wasn't such a surprise, but Jamaal's competitiveness through the first half of the fight was. For a moment there, it looked like he might have a shot at an upset - something few believed going in.

Rosado is still shaking off that "close but no cigar" majority decision loss to Pooh Ennis for the USBA title. That was a great night and Rosado's terrific effort just fell short. He rebounded nicely with an 8-round victory over Jose "Stinger" Medina last December, but he's anxious to get back into the thick of the real junior middleweight action.

Enter tomorrow's fight. Davis and Rosado will fight for the Vacant Interim NABA belt. That tongue twister of a title is really just an added incentive for the fighters. The real NABA 154-pound title is currently held by Rogerio Pereira, a Brazilian who just happened beat Carson Jones for the belt last September. But given that Brazil is a little south of North America, Pereira's title is up in the air. Presumably he'll be stripped soon and the Interim champ crowned tomorrow will rise to the top spot. All this drama isn't so important. But winning the fight is. Besides bringing home a bauble for the trophy case, NABA champions get an entry-level WBA world ranking. And in the good old days, the winner would return with Philadelphia bragging rights. 

The Philly fighters these days have an aversion to facing each other. They don't see the point in it unless there is something at stake. Why beat up your buddy when you can fight a non-Philadelphian instead? I understand the sentiment, but one only needs to look back at Ennis-Rosado for the answer. These fights are special. The added pressure of fighting a cross-town rival (even a friendly one) adds to the luster of the fight. I don't care what these guys say - and they all say they would rather NOT fight each other - none of these proud boxers want to be the second best from their city.

Philly-Philly fights bring out the true competitor in a boxer. If a fighter is destined for big things, he should begin by proving he's the best at home. A good match like this far outweighs sparring for dollars with an out-of-town set up. Further,  for some local boxers, a high-profile hometown fight may be the most memorable night of their career once it's all over. Not everyone gets to the world stage. Some get there but might want to forget what happened. These local match ups are career milestones that may just turn out great. Look at Ennis-Rosado, and all those that came before.

Rosado and Davis should wage a pretty nice war. Their styles appear to promise some real action. Both are fighters who have faced whatever hurdle has been put before them. Both have taken the hard road throughout their entire careers. They have worked hard to advance, and have not been given a single thing.

Rosado works out of North Philly's Rivera Rec with his trainer Billy Briscoe. They are outsiders in a way. Their heads are down as they grind forward trying to prove themselves. Rosado is his own manager. Briscoe the trainer and wise old boxing salt is the single most compelling figure in the local scene today. Part old school master, part modern scientist, Briscoe approaches the sport from every conceivable angle. He's been in the sport for a lifetime and he's not even 40 yet. Some think he is crazy, and it gives him more to prove than any fighter I've met. He longs for his first champion, the validation of the world of knowledge given to him by his mentor, "the late great Mr. Wesley Mouzon", as Briscoe would say. He wants a champion as much to honor Mouzon's memory as he does for his own success. It's important to him to prove that the old-school methods are the more correct ones, although he'll tell you that there is more than one way to do it.

Rosado is a talented boxer with a willingness to battle any fighter. He's confident in his abilities, but if you ask me, he's a little suspicious of fate. It's never the fighter in front of him that he worries about. He always believes he'll come out on top, but is forever watching over his shoulder for the unknown forces that may derail him. He is a young father who wants to get where he's going. He seems more than eager to arrive. Impatient really - anxious to rise before one of those intangible forces takes it away. Rosado and Briscoe fuel each other's anxiety - training quietly, almost secretly. You think it would be nerve-racking, but they are good together. They trust each other completely. 

Jamaal Davis trains in the middle of the hustle and bustle of West Philly's Shuler Gym. Go into the gym on any given day and you'll get yourself one of the last tastes (or smells) of how it must have been in the old legendary gyms of the past. Top fighters are everywhere. Everyone is nice and approachable, but still there is an edge to the place that is palpable. Davis is trained by Sharron Baker, presumably the only female trainer in the City. She is tough and serious when working, but she has a motherly vibe as well. Clearly her and Jamaal are family. There is a closeness between them and they share a quiet non-verbal shorthand. Not far from wherever Davis is, are his two oldest children - playing in the corner of the gym, running around among the other fighters. Only occasionally does he have to yell at them. I told you the Shuler Gym was busy.

Davis brings his unusual personal story into the gym - and the fight - with him. His first wife passed away a while back - a victim of breast cancer. Jamaal kept himself together - with help from his boxing family. He made it through, and continues to fight on, working toward his ring goals. He always remains positive, and doesn't seeth with so much to prove. He's tackled bigger things than boxing, and he brings a maturity and a hopefulness to his endeavor. 

Being the only woman doing her job, Baker has something to prove. But she does her job dutifully. She's one of the tough guys of the gym and doesn't acknowledge the pressure she feels. But ask her about it and the smile and laugh say it all. She's experienced a lot of shit and has had to fight her way through it.

The four players in this fight - Rosado, Davis, Briscoe and Baker - are what make this one so interesting. Of course the ring action will be honest and heated, but the stories that surround the fight is where the drama is.

A win for Rosado will push him a little closer to the top, but a loss might undo his belief system.

A resounding loss for Davis may forever trap him in club fighter status, but an upset win could be exactly the break he's been working for. 

Sharron Baker needs this win to raise her stock and to add more swagger to her style, which already sends the message that she knows what she's doing. But a little proof - like a victory over Rosado - would help. 

Billy Briscoe has been waiting for a long time. But win or lose, he'll be back in the Rivera Rec on Monday. Life will go on either way - because that is all he knows and that is what he is all about. The hard knocks he's experienced keep pushing him to continue. But it's been a long plateau. Briscoe needs the win as much as anyone. And Rosado is his thoroughbred. He's the one really good fighter he's raised from scratch.  And that NABA belt wouldn't feel bad either - be it interim or anything else. 

They always say that styles make fights. Of course that's true. But just as true is the fact that the cast of characters and the stakes of the meeting are just as important - maybe more. The only missing piece is that all this drama will play out about 60 miles too far east. In any case, I wouldn't miss it for the world. 




John DiSanto - News & Notes - February 25, 2011