PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - December 19, 2015  
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Story by John DiSanto
Photos by Boxing Bob Newman


When boxers step into the ring, in addition to the opponent looking back at them, they often must also face the many expectations placed on them by fans, media, experts and broadcasters. Such was the case for three Philly-area fighters this past weekend at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, NY. Heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings, rising 130-pound prospect Jason Sosa, and fading middleweight warhorse Gabriel Rosado all engaged in important, nationally televised bouts that promised to provide a status report on their individual careers.

The official results were one win (Rosado), one loss (Jennings) and one draw (Sosa). However, when you consider the nagging expectations mounted on each fighter, and where each performance placed that boxer, the official results might be a bit misleading.

Among our three locals, the big winner of the night was clearly Jason Sosa, 18-1-4, 14 KOs. Although he only copped a draw against former champion Nicholas Walters, 26-0-1, 21 KOs, it was Sosa who made the most noise on the jam-packed Verona card.

Other than Sosa’s own entourage, there probably wasn’t a person at the Turning Stone Casino who could imagine the Camden fighter making it to the final bell against one of the most highly regarded boxers in the world. Logic said that Sosa was taking a huge step up in class and that perhaps he had bitten off far more than he could chew. Sosa’s performance against Walters mostly took on this perception.

Jason used the platform of his HBO debut and the foray into the upper echelon of talent to shatter the perception of experts that said he was out of his league and would get knocked out in the fight. His gutsy and skilled effort was the perfect coming out party for Sosa and made the statement that he belonged in the ring with Walters.

The judges’ decision (96-94 Sosa, and 95-95 twice) ignited much controversy. I agreed that Walters won the fight, but the action was so closely fought that it is understandable why the scores ended up so close. Did Sosa win the fight? I don’t think so. Both fighters had their moments, but it was Walters who took most of the rounds and maintained the edge over the course of the fight.

I hate it when the judges get it wrong. It’s not fair. However, even if the officials had awarded the bout to Walters, Sosa would have still won the night. In ten rounds, or 30 minutes of boxing, he transformed himself from a local attraction into a legitimate contender. New fans will want to see him again and more opportunities will come his way, thanks to his performance against Walters. In the end, that's a win in anyone's book.

Gabriel Rosado, 22-9, 13 KOs, went home with a victory (his first since 2012) against former welterweight champ Joshua Clottey, 39-5, 22 KOs. Rosado made good on his “must win” situation. After all, expectations before the fight said that if Rosado didn’t win the bout, it would surely spell the end of his exciting pro career, leaving him nothing but acting and BKB to pursue in the future (not exactly terrible options). Expectations also set Rosado up as a probable knockout winner against the tough-as-can-be Clottey. The Ghanaian was far from a middleweight and he had been so inactive in recent years that when his match with Rosado was announced, many were surprised to hear that Clottey was still fighting.

The pre-fight faceoff also showed the major size advantage for Rosado and further fueled those KO expectations, but a knockout never came.

Rosado scored the win the he needed against Clottey (97-93, 97-93 and 96-94). However, it was far from the dominant win and career reboot that most expected, and in some ways this win even felt like a loss.

For most of the first half of the fight, it was Clottey that was the dominant fighter. He won the first four rounds and appeared to be on the brink of issuing Rosado that career-capper he was trying to avoid. Rosado never used his strength and size advantages. Instead he backed up, counter punched and lost rounds.

However, sometime around round five, Clottey stopped punching and it opened the door for the North Philadelphian. Rosado has always been long on grit and guts. Saturday was no exception. Beginning in the fifth, Rosado worked hard to get back into the fight. He began edging the action and banking rounds.

By the end of the bout, Rosado had done enough to win the decision, and his victory was even comfortable on two of the official cards. But this was a win that fell far short of the pre-fight expectations. Rosado’s performance did little to make one think that he was reborn. Then again, he has always been a fighter who has made the best of what he has, and he’s done quite well with that.

Before (and after) the fight, Rosado said that he should be matched with middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez next. However, his performance against Clottey, and his 1-4, 1 No Decision, record over his last six (non-BKB) starts, would make that fight a very hard sell.

The bottom line is that Rosado won the fight, which is what he HAD to do. Expectations or not, a win is a win and wins keep a fighter moving forward.

Bryant Jennings, 19-2, 10 KOs, coming off an unsuccessful but promising title bid against heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, suffered the first knockout loss of his career, falling to a suddenly buzz-worthy, Miami-based Cuban southpaw, Luis Ortiz, 24-0, 21 KOs, in round seven. The fight itself was scintillating and everything we love in heavyweight encounters.

Despite losing the fight by TKO, Jennings came away in much better shape than the fight’s result might indicate. Expectations for this one were mixed. The fight was considered a high-profile measuring stick for both combatants.

Each entered the ring with a legion of supporters who believed their man was the future of the heavyweight division. Just as many questions surrounded both fighters. Ortiz was more or less an unknown quantity, while Jennings despite his steady climb through the ranks was still be questioned about his level of competency. Twelve rounds (or less) of action between the two would clarify the situation, expectations told us. And these expectations were correct.

Ortiz indeed looked like the real thing. Against Jennings, he was big, powerful, skilled and full of attitude.

Ortiz hurt Jennings in the opening round. The Philadelphian wobbled, but remained on his feet. However, it was immediately clear that Ortiz was dangerous. Jennings survived the storm and rebounded well in round two. He blasted Ortiz with a right uppercut and appeared to be on the brink of turning the fight around.

However, Jennings’ momentum was short-lived. Ortiz struck back in the third and hurt Jennings again. Before the round was over a left uppercut staggered Jennings a second time and foreshadowed exactly where the fight was going.

Ortiz set up his knockout over the next three rounds. He pounded Jennings’ muscular body and couldn’t miss with either his right or left uppercut. Jennings fought back, but he needed a miracle to pull this one out.

That miracle never came. Ortiz kept landing and Jennings began to wear down.

In round seven, another Ortiz right uppercut found its mark. A moment later a crushing left uppercut crashed against Jennings’ chin. The punch was perfectly executed and came with a full 239 pounds of Cuban beef behind it.

Bryant tumbled straight to the canvas, face-first. He rolled over and climbed to his feet, but the round was only about half over, and in heavyweight boxing, that is a death sentence.

Ortiz immediately jumped on Jennings and a solid right had the wounded fighter wobbling against the ropes. Jennings tried to escape but an Ortiz left hand again hurt Bryant and almost returned him to the floor. As Jennings struggled to remain upright, referee Richard Pakozdi moved in to save him. The time was 2:41 of round seven.

A fighter’s first loss by knockout is hardly a time for celebration. Such an event can even ruin a fighter. Jennings, always a person fueled by confidence and true belief in himself, probably took the incident hard. Clearly he has a lot of thinking and much processing to do. But not all was lost in the defeat.

Firstly, Ortiz truly looked like the real deal against Jennings. It’s hard not to place him among today’s very best heavyweights after his performance. Second, Jennings showed a great deal of heart, and despite the TKO, showed a very solid chin. He got up from the knockdown and was even willing to fight on at the end of this lost cause of a fight.

We never really knew for sure if Jennings could take a punch. Now we know. He was stopped because he took too many of them, not because his chin let him down. Jennings couldn’t get out of the way of Ortiz’ uppercuts and so many clean shots take their toll.

In April, Bryant’s inexperience showed some against Klitschko. Like his other fights, Jennings managed to out-work, out-condition and out-will his relative inexperience that time. However against Ortiz, that inexperience finally caught up with him.

Jennings is a cerebral fighter, and I think this loss will make him better in the long run. He took the defeat in stride, and despite the obvious hurt he was feeling after the fight, Bryant was gracious toward Ortiz and honest about his own performance. He made no excuses and credited his opponent for beating him, and that’s a great start to the second chapter of his career. In fact, you could almost call this loss a draw. Jennings will move on and remain a player at the top level.

So, our local fighters went 1-1-1 in Verona after all, but maybe not exactly as the official results indicated.

The remainder of the show was jam-packed with talent. Four additional fights were presented, and all but two were nationally televised. Ortiz-Jennings and Walters-Sosa were broadcast by HBO on the Boxing After Dark series. Rosado-Clottey and two other 10-rounders aired on HBO Latino, delayed until after the two main bouts.

In the HBO Latino main event, LA-based Ukrainian light heavyweight Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, 15-0, 12 KOs, remained undefeated with an entertaining 10-round majority decision over Yuniesky Gonzalez, 16-2, 12 KOs, of Cuba. This was an action-packed fight with both combatants throwing and landing throughout the ten rounds.

Gonzalez was a little slicker, but Shabranskyy landed the more powerful punches and just kept coming and throwing. The fight ended with a tremendous exchange just before the final bell. Both fighters landed, but Shabranskyy got the better of it. After ten rounds of exciting fighting, this exchange was probably the best of the fight.

I scored the fight a draw (95-95), and one official judge agreed with my score. However, the other two saw the fight comfortably for Shabranskyy (98-92 and 97-93).

In a lightweight fight, former featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa, 25-1, 17 KOs, scored a 10-round unanimous decision over Houston’s Hylon Williams, 16-2-1, 3 KOs. Gamboa started quickly, stunning Williams at the end of the first round. However, the Cuban looked rusty after 13 months of inactivity, and his work rate decreased as the bout progressed. Still the Miami-based fighter continued to land the harder punches and remained in control of the bout. Williams came on in the later rounds to make it a bit closer on the scorecards. However, Gamboa led on all three official cards by scores of 98-92, 98-92 and 96-94. I scored it 97-93 for Gamboa.

Steven Martinez, 16-2, 13 KOs, stopped Jorge Melendez, 28-6-1, 26 KOs, at 1:33 of round two in an all-Puerto Rico junior middleweight fight scheduled for ten rounds. The bout opened the show on the off-television portion of the card. Melendez won the first round and then ended the fight mid-way through the second.

In between the HBO Latino and HBO Boxing After Dark bouts, DC’s D’Mitrius Ballard, 11-0, 7 KOs, won a shutout, 6-round decision over LA-based Brazilian Fabiano Pena, 11-4-1, 8 KOs, in a light heavyweight fight. Ballard won every round on my card as well the three official ballots (60-54). 

This card, promoted by Golden Boy in association with Top Rank, Gary Shaw Productions, Star Boxing, Peltz Boxing, and SMS Promotions, was a full slate of good fights that sometimes defied expectations, but still delivered some excellent boxing action.

One more show remains on the 2015 local boxing schedule, Tuesday, December 29th at the Sands in Bethlehem, PA.




John DiSanto - Verona, NY - December 19, 2015