Redemption arcs are one of mankind’s favorite forms of entertainment. Our daring protagonist has to rebuild after enduring a devastating early setback. We become emotionally attached to their struggle because it fills some deep-seated belief that with a little luck, we too can come back from failure. In boxing, often these two waves of redemption meet, and then things get interesting.
Last year, junior lightweight Andrew Cancio stormed back from irrelevance by stopping heralded prospect Alberto Machado not once but twice. He then had the misfortune of facing Rene Alvarado in November. After several losses, Alvarado was on his own mission to fulfill his potential. That night, the surging Alvarado caught a sleepwalking Cancio and battered him from pillar to post to collect his scalp and straps in the process, sending Cancio back into rebuild mode.
Saturday night, at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia on Fox, Dominican junior middleweight Jeison Rosario found himself in a similar position to Alvarado. An early career knockout loss had derailed him, and after several wins against marginal competition, he became the mandatory challenger to unified titlist Julian Williams. Williams’s own career redemption arc had seen him knocked slap the fuck out in 2016 by Jermall Charlo, but he had climbed back into contention and won his belts from Jarrett Hurd in an absolute thriller in May 2019. Hurd declining an immediate rematch is the only reason Rosario found himself in this position, as he was not in any top 10 except for those made by the professional extortionists.
Rosario (20-1, 14 KO) opened the bout with a thudding jab, but by the middle of round 1, Williams was countering it effectively with his right hand and popping his own jab. This pattern continued into the 2nd round until a heavy jab from Rosario opened a cut dead in the center of Williams’s left eyelid. Williams immediately began to paw at the cut, clearly distracted by the blood and his inability to properly open his eye. By the end of the round, Rosario had taken control and was landing hurtful shots with both hands.
Williams (27-2-1, 16 KO) opened the 3rd boxing defensively. Rosario adjusted to this by fighting tall and using his length. With just over a minute to go, Williams landed a booming right-hand counter that stunned Rosario, who fought patiently for the rest of the round. The 4th round saw increased trading, but it was Rosario landing the heavier blows. Williams pawed at his left eye ceaselessly and appeared tense. Both fighters seemed to take a breather the last minute of the round.
A minute into the 5th round, Rosario badly hurt Williams with a crunching left hook. Williams stumbled and desperately tried to clinch, but Rosario let his hands go in earnest, knocking Williams all over the ring. After several heavy shots, Williams reached forward to wrap up again, but Rosario backed out of it, and Williams was sent sprawling forward onto the canvas and then to his back. Referee Benjy Estevez Jr. rightly ruled it a slip. Williams rolled first from his back to all fours, and then to a knee as Estevez beckoned him to stand. A first attempt to rise resulted in Williams having to use a glove to steady himself from pitching forward, but after several seconds and another attempt, Williams made it to his feet. He was wobbly as the fight commenced again, and immediately Rosario jumped him, pushing Williams back to a corner. An enormous right uppercut landed flush and sent Williams’s head screeching skyward like a defective Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot, both eyes rolling back into his head. A follow up left hook crashed into the defenseless Williams’s cheek and he lurched leftward along the ropes. Estevez rightly jumped in and waved the bout off at 1:37 of round 5 to protect Williams from any more punishment. Rosario openly wept, while a clearly concussed Williams took a stool for several minutes until he regained his equilibrium.
Williams is contractually entitled to a rematch, and both fighters indicated that would be their next move. So, instead of a lucrative rematch with Hurd, Williams must rebuild again. If you’re a fan of linear narratives or Williams, this is a bitter disappointment, but if you’re a fan of chaotic, competitive divisions, junior middleweight just got significantly more interesting.
(Photo by Stephanie Trapp/TrappFotos)