By Jason Pribilla at ringside: Gabriel Rosado (21-5, 12KOs) continued his impressive run and stopped veteran Charles Whittaker (36-13-2, 21KO) in a bout contested to determine the number one challenger to “K9” Bundrage’s IBF junior middleweight title. Rosado overcame a slow start to notch his seventh straight victory, including an impressive third straight knockout under the lights of NBC SportsNetwork.
This bout did not have a home when the purse bid was won by Main Events’ Kathy Duva. Soon it was slated to open up the telecast on Friday Night at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, USA. This was a natural fit since Rosado fought in the same ring in front of the same fans on June 1. The original main event was supposed to be a light heavyweight battle between highly rated Spaniard Gabriel Campillo and undefeated Russian prospect, Sergey Kovalev. When Campillo was scratched due to a back injury, Rosado found himself in the main event.
The biggest question Rosado faced was whether or not he would be able to stop his ancient foe from the Cayman Island. This bout was also a clear illustration of why title eliminators work, and why they are a joke. A guy like Rosado gets passed over by premium cable networks because he has a crooked number in his loss column. The fact he suffered losses early in his career while being matched tough somehow disqualifies him from title contention. Opposing fighters and promoters could see his improvement and dismiss him as too much risk vs. little reward. Fortunately, there is an opportunity to eventually earn a title shot by winning a title eliminator.
On the other hand, you have a fighter like Whittaker who has padded his record by facing limited competition in fights he would also often times promote in his homeland. Sure he kept winning, but he would not rank in the Top 20 of any independent poll. But, because the IBF penciled him in as their top contender, he was a win away from fighting for a title.
The fight started slow as Rosado was taking the scenic route in an attempt to get inside of Whittaker’s long jab. The 38-year old used subtle movement to remain out of harm’s way, as Rosado’s right crosses continually fell short.
Rosado closed the distance in round five, and found Whittaker’s chin at the end of one of his right hands. Whittaker hit the canvas, but bounced back up on steady legs as the bout continued. When Rosado rushed in to continue his attack he was greeted by a counter left hook that stopped him in his tracks.
The bout continued, but Whittaker never again seemed to have his legs completely under him. His most effective weapon was dipping his shoulder and fore-arm into Rosado’s chest in an effort to push him away. It’s not a foul if it isn’t called a foul by the referee.
Rosado scored another knockdown in the seventh, and entered the tenth frame determined to make it the evening’s last. A right hand cracked the side of Whittaker’s head and again sent him to the canvas. Whittaker rose and let his hands go. Unfortunately his will was out-gunned by Rosado’s skills and when another right hand knocked him down, referee Steve Smoger waived off the bout without a count at the 1:50 mark.
With the victory Gabriel Rosado is in position to eventually challenge for the IBF-crown. That may take a while as there are rumors that HBO is in negotiations for a Bundrage – Andre Berto bout in December.
Sergey Kovalev (19-0-1, 15 KOs) had the difficult task of taking the ring right after the crowd learned that their hometown fighter, Ronald Cruz, came up short on the scorecards, and suffered his first professional loss. The mood of the crowd and the fact he was facing late-replacement, Lionell Thompson (12-2, 8KOs) did not dampen Kovalev’s fighting spirit. Rather, he used the opportunity to emphatically lift the crowds’ spirits.
Kovalev entered the ring in front of the same faces that he impressed by disposing of Darnell Boone in two frames in June. On this night he would have every physical advantage over Thompson, and it was soon apparent he held a considerable edge in the skills department.
Kovalev moved forward with a jab and right cross. Thompson did his best to create space, but Kovalev had little trouble cutting off the ring. A booming right hand ended the first round with an exclamation point.
By the second round Thompson was so conscious of the right hand that he would bail to his left when Kovalev would draw it back. Kovalev adjusted by flinching and then deliver a perfectly placed left hand that wobbled Thompson. Kovalev landed another big right hand at the end of the round that sent Thompson to the canvas. Controversy ensued when the fighters were ordered to continue. Kovalev approached Thompson as the bell rang. Kovalev’s right hand landed moments after the bell drawing the ire of Thompson’s corner. Referee Gary Rosado cleared Thompson’s corner and began to give Thompson a count, signaling that he ruled Kovalev’s punch as a legal knockdown. Thompson was able to continue and the round was finally over.
This is a case where the referee regained control of the situation and used good judgment in allowing the fight to continue. Had he gone by the letter of the law, he could have disqualified Thompson because his corner climbed up on the apron. This would have robbed Kovalev and the crowd of a decisive ending by KO.
As round three began, Kovalev landed another right hand that sent Thompson back to the canvas. This time Rosado had seen enough and waved the bout off without a count. The official time was 0:14.
When the Kovalev-Campillo bout was signed, I felt that Kovalev would be out-classed. Now, I’m not so sure. Kovalev is still a work in progress, and the verdict is out as to how he will handle adversity, but his offensive output should make him a nice dance partner with anyone in the division.
The Russian born Kovalev is currently fighting out of Florida. After two impressive performance at the Sands Events Center, it is safe to say he has a home in Bethlehem.
Jason Pribila is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He could be reached for questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org followed on twitter @PribsBoxing.