Several times during his career, Gabriel Rosado has wondered out loud in the media why he hasn’t received the same opportunities as Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. For the better part of a decade, the two have been in the same weight neighborhood, have vied for many of the same fights, and time after time, Chavez Jr. has received them and squandered his opportunity in one way or another while Rosado has received a significantly less desirable assignment and tried to make the best of it.
Rosado must have looked at this past Saturday’s schedule and asked the same question again. In Guadalajara, Mexico, Chavez Jr. faced off against UFC legend Anderson Silva, a gimmicky plum matchup against an aging athlete from a different sport. In El Paso, Texas, Rosado was tasked with facing feared prospect-nearing-contender Bektemir Melikuziev with the presumption that he would be a stepping stone for “Bek The Bully.”
Except this time, the script was torn up. In the afternoon, Rosado scored one of the biggest victories of his career, violently KOing Melikuziev in the third round with a perfect counter right hand. To put in perspective how unexpected the result was, according to Twitter user Fight Ghost (an unofficial chronicler of the sport’s betting lines over the past few years), the bout was not eligible for parlay bets on many offshore sportsbooks.
Later that night, Chavez Jr. suffered a humiliating split decision loss to the 46-year old Silva, one that ought to have been unanimous if not for one bizarre scorecard. Entering the bout, Chavez Jr. was somewhere between a -550 and -700 favorite. At one point during the bout, Chavez Jr.’s corner told him explicitly, “he’s beating you, and he’s terrible.”
There isn’t much mystery as to why Chavez Jr. has received both opportunities and attention beyond his abilities: it’s nepotism. As the son and namesake of one of the sport’s all-time greatest fighters and most universally beloved figures, he has achieved and maintained a level of fame fighters with greater attributes dream about. While Chavez Jr. grew up in the sport and had fought on television before he was out of grade school, Rosado entered a boxing gym for the first time at the age of 18. According to him, the trainer at the gym he went to had no interest in training him, so he packed his gear and was halfway down the street before his soon-to-be mentor Billy Briscoe caught up to him and offered to work with him.
While Chavez Jr. was carefully maneuvered to 46-0-1 and a shot at the legitimate middleweight title, Rosado’s path was anything but aided or careful. As Briscoe wrote in an op-ed for Fighthype in 2013, “(Rosado’s) career was orchestrated whether willing or unwilling. It gave my fighter character. It made him a complete fighter that you can’t drown.”
Briscoe was describing his then-fighter’s courage inside the ring and unwillingness to fold in the midst of circumstances within it. But his analogy could extend to describe Rosado’s overall career plight. Having suffered early career losses, generally in fights he shouldn’t have taken (at least not at the time he took them), he developed a callus that defended him against the idea that losses meant he wasn’t improving, or that he couldn’t improve the next time out.
In the context of the two fighters’ careers, this means that providing his body holds up, Rosado is built to outlast a fighter like Chavez Jr. in the sport on account of pure attrition. Throughout his career, Chavez Jr. has shown a bizarre aversion to the boxing gym. One look at his Instagram page shows him training on a tennis court, an empty room in his house, poolside and at an open general fitness center. Viewers of HBO’s 24/7 series recall him training in his living room and swimming in his pink undies after eating a bowl of cereal as he prepared to face Sergio Martinez.
Rosado, meanwhile, is seldom spotted outside of a boxing gym, because to be outside of it would mean squandering all of his opportunities. He doesn’t always receive full, proper notice for bouts. To hear Rosado tell it, it’s because matchmakers and opponents are scared of what would happen if they gave him advanced notice to fully prepare. There is likely an element of truth to that, but the more practical reason is simply that “they” don’t have to give Rosado notice. It’s been established that he will, or has to, say yes to late offers, and it’s hard to erase that precedent in boxing.
In December of 2019, Chavez Jr. was gifted a near-three million dollar payday and a main event spot on DAZN against Daniel Jacobs, one of the sport’s highest earners and biggest names between 160 and 175. Knowing Chavez Jr.’s checkered history of missing weight and generally erratic behavior, organizers arranged for Rosado to be on standby to replace, ironically, the man he was sharing the gym with at that time given that they were both training under Freddie Roach. If something happened, he would step in and face Jacobs to save the main event, and if nothing happened, he would fight elsewhere on the card anyway.
Something—or some things—did happen, but nothing that resulted in Rosado stepping in. Chavez badly missed weight, causing him to pay $1 million (or, five times what Rosado reportedly made to fight Gennady Golovkin in 2013) to Jacobs as a penalty. Then, after five rounds, Chavez Jr. cited a broken nose and elected not to continue, causing the fans in Phoenix to riot and the Talking Stick Resort Arena to be evacuated. As a result, Rosado’s bout against Humberto Ochoa happened roughly an hour after the main event, in an arena that had been emptied with the exception of DAZN television staff, ushers and arena concession workers who were permitted to stay and watch in what felt like “hazard pay.”
“They should have just given me the fight from the rip,” Rosado told BoxingScene’s Jake Donovan that week.
Rosado did eventually get a Jacobs fight, in yet another empty area, albeit due to the pandemic and not boisterous fans livid with Chavez Jr. Rosado dropped a split decision, though many viewers felt he could have, or should have, been given the decision. But decisions in close fights tend not to go in the favor of fighters like Rosado (they rarely have), the way close fights—or sometimes ones not close at all—tend to be scored for fighters like Chavez Jr.
Saturday night’s results must have felt like vindication for Rosado the indignities suffered in boxing, in shadow of Chavez and fighters like him.
There is a misconception about Rosado, one that paints him as a blood-and-guts warrior whose longevity and success can be attributed to merely toughness. This idea is likely rooted in the images of a bloodied Rosado bravely standing up to Golovkin in 2013, and the scar tissue inherited that night that has caused near every fight of his since to be soaked in blood. But the reality of Rosado as a fighter is that he’s a crafty counterpuncher, taught the foundation by Briscoe which was learned from Wesley Mouzon. It’s a style which relies heavily on slips and rolls, sudden pivots and changing of angles. Rosado, like fighters taught by Briscoe, learned to intelligently fight in a phonebooth by drilling on a “clock” taped on the ring mat, with Briscoe shouting a particular “time” to indicate the pivot or angle he wants from his fighter.
Although Rosado now works with Freddie Roach, his initial mentor Briscoe, whom Rosado remains close with, broke down on social media exactly how the Melikuziev knockout came about.
“He fought a smart fight and made the right adjustments at the right time and sucked his opponent into a well-set trap. You can see him gauging his range with his feet and then step to his opponent to provoke a response and make him commit,” said Briscoe on Instagram in a post edited for clarity. “Gaby made a tactical retreat into the corner to suck his opponent into his trap and then once (Melikuziev tried) to load up with the wide shot Gaby fell in with a well-timed machete and ran Him into the shot and got him up outta there. The old timers used to teach us that great counter punches catch you on the way in which intensifies the shot.”
Being a nuanced counterpuncher who also has a label of “gatekeeper” or “journeyman” tends not to be a winning mixture in boxing, statistically. Coming into the Melikuziev bout, Rosado had scored one stoppage win since 2012. If there’s a fight in which Rosado was given a favorable call by the judges, it sure hasn’t been since he began fighting on television.
On Saturday he managed to take it out of the judges’ and subsequently, the industry’s hands. Less than 24 hours after scoring the knockout, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix reported that Rosado would likely be facing Jaime Munguia this fall, a big payday predated by a full camp.
After losing to an MMA fighter in a bout designed for him to win, it would seem impossible for Chavez Jr.’s image to be rehabilitated or reimagined enough for him to enter the territory of boxing relevance again. Even the designs he may have had for other profitable gimmick fights like facing Jake or Logan Paul were probably torn apart the moment Silva’s hand was raised. But this is boxing, after all, and there will always be opportunities to fight for anyone who wants to, particularly those with a name and a world title on their resume. For Chavez, that would require going down the road Rosado has been travelling, a terrain that demands a specific kind of person to endure it.
The reality is that Rosado and Chavez Jr. are built different. If it wasn’t already, that much should finally be apparent to everyone.
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman.