PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                             May 31, 2012


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Two of Philly's rising ring stars get to ply their trade tomorrow night, not only to a sold out casino crowd, but also to the coveted platform of a national television audience. Gabriel Rosado and Ronald Cruz will look to seize big career opportunities against challenging opponents with regional title belts on the line, when Main Events brings big time boxing to the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, PA, for the latest installment of their "Fight Night" boxing series on the NBC Sports Network.

Rosado, 19-5 (11 KO), so impressed the network with his January dismantling of rugged Jesus Soto Karass, that they requested an extra TV date to spotlight the crowd-pleasing junior middleweight from North Philly. In that fight, Rosado became the first man to ever stop Karass, and the win, on the inaugural episode of "Fight Night", garnered him the best exposure of his six-year career. Against the Mexican, Rosado had the best night of his professional life in front of his biggest audience to date. He was in the right place at the right time, but it also happened to be the night when King Gaby pulled it all together in the ring as well.

Talented and tough, Rosado had gathered many local boxing fans over the years, despite the fact that each time out he still looked  like a work in progress - a steak on the BBQ that needs just a little more time over the coals. His fans invested in the flashes of excellence that Rosado presented, while tolerating the growing pains that muted many of his performances.

When he was good, Gaby was a gritty pressure fighter who tasted a little leather en route to gaining control of his fights. However, when he was less than that, Rosado was an infuriating Roy Jones Jr. impersonator, trying to swap his God-given (but Billy Briscoe enhanced) natural qualities that were the core of his potential as a fighter, for characteristics that did not fit his true self.

However, slowly but surely, Rosado grew as a fighter and began trusting in what he was. Granted, it is a difficult concept to grasp - stop trying to be Roy Jones Jr. if you ever what to be as good as Roy Jones Jr.. Pretzel-logic to some, but gospel to others, like Joe Frazier who never tried to be Willie Pep. He just settled for his short arms, thick legs, and found that wrecking ball style that made him great.

When Rosado fought Soto Karass, he found the style that represents his chance to move toward a world title shot, and perhaps one of those major belts. Gaby did what he had to do that night, and received 100% positive feedback for it. Hopefully it was the key to his future.

On Friday, Rosado faces tough Sechew Powell of Brooklyn, 26-4 (15 KO), who is coming off back-to-back decision losses to former champ Cory Spinks and current champ Cornelius Bundrage.  That's not exactly slumming. 

Powell is a tricky southpaw who not only brings a solid record and terrific experience into Bethlehem, he has a style that may have been a trap for the "old" Rosado.

In the past, when Gaby faced someone who had good boxing skills, he invariably fell into the bad habit of trying to prove that he could match their strengths, instead of using his own. If that Rosado appears against Powell, he'll have a far more difficult evening than he should.

Rosado's test for this fight will be whether he can use that fully realized ring identity he found in January, and successfully avoid slipping into bad habits of the past. If he can be smart and aggressive against Powell, he should manage to outwork, and perhaps even overwhelm him and shut him down. 

Rosado and Powell fight for the vacant WBO Intercontinental junior middleweight title over 12 scheduled rounds.  The winner gets the belt and a top-10 ranking by the WBO.  Rosado is already ranked #5 by the IBF and #9 by the WBC. Powell holds the #9 spot in the IBF ratings.  If Gaby can deliver another impressive win on national TV, and I think he will, he will be on the brink of very big things.

Like Rosado, Bethlehem's Ronald Cruz has something to prove on Friday night as well. Cruz, 16-0 (12 KO), is a welterweight on the move and will face a potentially stiff test when he clashes with Cleveland's Prenice Brewer, 16-1-1 (6 KO), at the Sands, in a 12-rounder for the WBC Continental Americas title.

Since his pro debut in 2009, Cruz was a model young prospect, devouring one opponent after another, with a mix of skills that hinted he might have real potential.

Early on, Cruz overcame a bloody clash of heads in his fourth bout to beat Lashannon Hill on points at the Blue Horizon, and two fights later, halted a then-never stopped Julius Edmonds. Back at the Blue, Cruz blasted out wily vet trial horse Martinus Clay with a booming body attack.

With a perfect 9-0 (6 KO) record, Cruz stepped up to face a 14-1 Jeremy Bryan in a battle of young prospects. With more pro fights and a far-deeper amateur background, Bryan was a true test for Cruz. But the Bethlehem boxer had too much power for Bryan, dropping him three times and stopping him in six rounds.

From that moment on, Cruz was a real prospect. He pushed his record to 13-0 (10 KO) with a hometown stoppage of upset specialist Doel Carrasquillo at the last Sands boxing event, almost one year ago. Once again, Cruz' body attack was the deciding factor. By round six, Carrasquillo had had enough. Cruz looked like the perfect student.

However, in September 2011, Cruz started showing some growing pains himself. Against Chris Fernandez, Cruz introduced a switch-hitting style that produced mixed results. Oh, he won the fight handily, stopping Fernandez after six rounds in South Philly. But it was a strange performance by Cruz. When he turned southpaw, his effectiveness decidedly decreased, yet he continued using the tactic. After the bout, Cruz said that the stylistic switch was premeditated and intended to deepen his toolbox of fighting skills.

At the time, I wrote it off as a cute experiment. But when a switch-hitting Cruz showed up to fight seasoned vet Anges Adjaho two months later, it wasn't cute anymore. Cruz struggled in the bout - especially when fighting left handed - but still managed a 5th round TKO of Adjaho to extend his KO streak to eight bouts and raise his overall record to 15-0.

In his first fight this year, the switch-hitting Cruz was back again. Ronald beat the dangerous Allen Conyers by comfortable 10-round decision, but again he swam upstream most of the way, insisting on a left handed stroke. Like Rosado before him, Cruz was not being true to his natural ability, and was being pulled down by those nagging growing pains. Ronald was thinking too much, focusing on the wrong things, and spinning his wheels instead of shifting his career into overdrive.

Friday night, Cruz gets a chance to put everything together before a live national TV audience, and perhaps more importantly to him, a packed hometown crowd at the new Sands event center. Hopefully, Cruz will make the necessary adjustment, trust himself, and have a breakout performance the way Rosado did against Soto Karass.

Cruz has the skills to win and the power to turn heads. Top that off with his knack for body punching, and even we boxing dinosaurs can be made happy by the undefeated boxer.

To win his first belt, Cruz will have to get past Prenice Brewer, who although similar to Ronald in professional experience, brings a far better amateur pedigree into the fight.  But in many ways, this is Cruz' show and his night to prove himself. 

Brewer does not possess much punching power. It's been almost four years since his last knockout, and that was against a fighter with only 4 wins in 24 bouts.  So unless Brewer lives up to his nickname of "Greatness", Cruz should have plenty of time to wear him down and take him out.  But he'll have to bring ring maturity in with him to really excel.  Let's see which Ronald Cruz shows up.  I have a feeling it's going to be the tiger. The right handed tiger.

So the stage is set. Two of the area's favorite sons take the next step in their closely-watched careers. Both have the chance to bring home a regional championship belt, impress their supporters, win some new fans, and prove that they have what it takes to step up into the big time.

Rosado is getting awfully close to a world title fight, and Cruz can show that he is heading in the same direction. Friday night is "Fight Night", and this is why we love this sport.

The first bell rings at 7:00.  TV starts at 9:00. 




John DiSanto - News & Notes - May 31, 2012