By Matthew Hurley; He was blessed with smooth boxing skills and crunching power in both hands. But his inner demons led him down a self-destructive path that robbed him of his career, his family and his sense of self-worth. When he rallied, pulling himself together with the help of treatment and a return to the ring, the damage already done to his body over those years of abuse conspired against him and left him dead at the age of thirty-four in parents’ home.
There was a time when Edwin Rosario was touted as the next great Puerto Rican fighter, and some even made comparisons to Roberto Duran. His popularity grew exponentially over a short period of time and by 1983, at the age of twenty, he became the WBC lightweight champion with a unanimous decision victory over future hall of fame inductee Jose Luis Ramirez.
His star on the rise, he then knocked out Roberto Elizondo in one round and then engaged in a dramatic twelve round give-and-take with 1976 Olympic gold medalist Howard Davis Jr. Trailing the crafty boxer on the scorecards Rosario, always dangerous, dropped his rival flat on his back with only seconds remaining in the final round to hang on to his title by split decision. It was the type of victory that propelled him to the upper echelon of boxing’s biggest television stars and onto many a pound-for-pound best list.
And then things would never be quite the same.
A rematch with Ramirez produced the kind of fireworks fans crave and it garnered fight of the year honors. But there was no comeback in this return match for Edwin. Despite flooring Ramirez twice, in the first and second rounds, Rosario fell apart in the fourth, crashing into the turnbuckle after a relentless Ramirez assault forcing referee Steve Crosson to stop the fight.
Edwin Rosario was born in Ingenio, a rough barrio of Toa Baja in Puerto Rico. As a youngster he was nicknamed ’Chapo’ by playmates – a condensed version of chaparrito meaning “little man”.
According to Rosario at around the age of eight or nine he discovered the Lecittown Gym and decided to see what it was all about. The smell of the gym, the rat-a-tat-tat of the speed bags and the machismo of the fighters in training captivated little Edwin and trainer Manny Sciaca would later say the kid was a natural. His innate ability was pulled out of him easily and Rosario had the look early on of a future world champion.
There was another inspiration for ’Chapo’ as well – his older brother ’Papa’ Rosario who had become enamored with boxing a few years earlier and was in the beginning stages of a promising career. In a foreshadowing of what would happen to their younger son that would leave any parent stricken with grief, ’Papa’ succumbed to the often tragic lure of the streets and all the dark shadows therein. He would die in a drug related incident. Edwin, only two years into his career, was devastated and would dedicate all his future hard work in the ring to his older brother.
When the title shot eventually came against Ramirez, Edwin was ready but his older opponent was more experienced. In a close fight, Rosario came out on top but suffered a severe setback when he injured his right wrist. The subsequent surgery left him on the sidelines for an extended period of time. Edwin always felt the procedure done on his wrist, which would become an intermittent hindrance throughout his career, never took or healed properly.
“That first operation was not a success,” he lamented. “They wanted to do another one, with a bone graft. But if they had I don’t think I would have been able to fight again. It was a real tough time. I was worried about the future of my career.”
Rosario opted for acupuncture instead and moved on until the loss against Ramirez in the rematch. He was convinced the wrist hadn’t properly healed, or it simply played on his mind making him more tentative to throw the right hand. This lapse would often plague some of his performances. He would often start strong, looking for the early knockout, as he did against Howard Davis Jr. If it didn’t come his punch rate would drop alarmingly. Sometimes he seemed to sleepwalk through rounds. But then, more often than not and with the prodding of his corner men, the fire would return and something dramatic would happen.
He would move on from the Ramirez defeat amidst whispers that he was never quite as good as everyone initially thought. Those criticisms bothered him to no end. One loss, in the fight of the year no less, should not have dissuaded fans and the press of his abilities. According to Edwin it was simply a bad night.
“I took a chance on knocking him out early,” he said later. “I lost. That’s part of boxing.”
No other explanation should have been necessary. Undefeated records in boxing are rare and in most cases the result of a fighter avoiding top competition. Still, to this day, a zero in a fighter’s loss column seems to hold some significance with some people and it is utter nonsense. But it did get under Rosario’s skin making him ask the same questions of himself as others were lobbing at him.
Oddly, after a few comeback victories including one over future Julio Cesar Chavez conqueror Frankie Randall, it would be another loss that revived his career and put him back on center stage.
In June of 1986, as a significant underdog, he faced off against one of the biggest names in the sport, Hector ’Macho’ Camacho. In a fight many thought would be a walkover for the streaking Camacho, Rosario badly staggered his cocky foe in the fifth round with a perfectly timed left hook. With the rounds tightly contested the big fifth seemed to turn the crowd in Rosario’s favor. He did it again in the eleventh with another short left hook that had Camacho back peddling and holding on for the remainder of the fight.
Then, when the judges scorecards were read, the split decision went to Hector. Edwin appeared shell-shocked at the announcement but it was the crowd’s reaction that boosted his spirits.
“I was down when the decision was announced,” he said, “but the people started to boo him and cheer for me.”
In hopes of a rematch that would never come – Camacho, for all his braggadocio, never wanted to tangle with Rosario again – the WBA elevated ’Chapo’ in its rankings, forcing a showdown with champion Livingstone Bramble.
Once again a huge underdog Rosario entered the ring poised, confident and unusually calm. It was all over in the second round when a right hand exploded on Bramble’s usually reliable chin and ended matters.
Rosario immediately called out Camacho, who fought to a tedious decision victory in the main event on the same card against an aging Cornelius Boza-Edwards. But Hector waved a rematch off. Many believe those two near knockdowns he suffered through against Edwin broke his fighting spirit. He was never the same fighter again.