By Eric Raskin
It’s a boxing cliché, and often a reach rivaled only by Wladimir Klitschko’s wingspan, to compare any matchup of action fighters to Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. But the spirit of what Gatti and Ward represented when they fought a little more than a decade ago sometimes does apply. Gatti vs. Ward was evidence that boxing is about much more than just proving who the most skilled fighter is. Their fights were proof that putting on a thrilling show and taking a punch to give a punch have real enduring value.
This Saturday night’s main event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn fits that spirit perfectly. David Lemieux and Gabriel Rosado are nobody’s idea of the two best middleweights in the world. They don’t have pound-for-pound skills or perfect records. And it doesn’t matter. Not if they entertain the way we expect them to in what might prove to be a perfect clash of offense-oriented styles, easily located chins, cut-facilitating faces, and desperate desires for victory.
The fighters’ respective needs to win are comparable, though they enter this fight trending in different directions. Lemieux, the handsome 25-year-old from Montreal with the French-Canadian accent and the dialed-in barber, is riding a seven-fight winning streak. But he needs this win because of what happened just before that streak began: back-to-back upset losses to Marco Antonio Rubio (KO by 7) and Joachim Alcine (L 12) in 2011. It’s been a slow crawl back to prominence for Lemieux, peaking with his third-round knockout this past May of Fernando Guerrero, which pushed his record to 32-2 with 30 KOs. Lemieux has yet to face a stiff challenge since he began rebuilding, but that will change on Saturday evening. If he beats Rosado, he’s essentially back to where he left off before the defeats; if he loses, the last three years of hard work get erased.
Rosado, the 28-year-old from Philadelphia with the uncooperative scar tissue and the busy tattoo artist, is looking to end a four-fight winless streak. There are asterisks: His no-contest against J’Leon Love was a split decision loss that probably should have been a win and got thrown out when Love failed his drug test; and his most recent fight, an upset knockout of Brian Vera, didn’t count because it was contested under the rules of BKB (“Big Knockout Boxing”) and not standard boxing governances. Still, Rosado has legit losses to Gennady Golovkin, Peter Quillin, and Jermell Charlo in the past two years, leaving him with a battle-scarred record of 21-8 with 13 KOs and 1 no-contest. He needs to put a “W” on the board because, well, how many guys go two years and five fights without a victory and continue to get high-profile opportunities?
“Records can be deceiving and I believe David Lemieux will learn that firsthand, and I’m hungry to get back in the mix with the best in the middleweight division,” Rosado said. “A fight like me against David Lemieux is what HBO is all about, and the type of fight the boxing world craves.”
Impartial third party Curtis Stevens, a middleweight contender from Brooklyn perhaps best known for his own failed challenge of Golovkin, agrees that the fight appears likely to send fans home happy. “People love to see the killer, not the victim,” Stevens told Inside HBO Boxing. “Lemieux is crowd-friendly, he’s very offensive. Rosado is offensive at times, depending on who he’s fighting. He has an aggressive streak inside of him. I’ve been in camp with [Jean] Pascal a couple times [in Canada], so I’ve seen Lemieux there. He’s an excellent fighter, loves to come forward, throws a lot of punches in bunches. It should be entertaining because they’re coming to fight and not trying to survive.”
Trying to survive is precisely what got Lemieux in trouble against Alcine back on December 10, 2011. He had run out of gas against Rubio eight months earlier, so he tried to pace himself against Alcine and ended up outworked and outpointed. Lemieux isn’t running from his past, though; he acknowledges it at every turn and insists he’s learned from it. “We’ve had some miscalculations and setbacks, but we’re back on track and we’re here to stay on top of the pyramid,” Lemieux told the assembled press when this fight was announced.
Lemieux has always packed a punch (hence 93.75 percent of his wins coming by knockout), but there remain questions about how well he takes one. He insists his conditioning has improved; Rosado seems capable of putting that to the test by taking Lemieux deeper than he’s been at any point on his winning streak. The question is whether Rosado can overcome his own deficiencies sufficiently to hang around. Rosado often exits fights looking like his opponent traded in boxing gloves for Freddy Krueger gloves. His new trainer, veteran cornerman Jesse Reid, is aiming to shore up Rosado’s defense—a defense that allowed his last four opponents to land 49 percent of their power shots against him. Specifically, Reid is looking to keep Rosado’s left hand pinned to his particularly vulnerable left eyelid and to work some shoulder-roll maneuvers into his repertoire.
“Jesse Reid has brought new life to boxing for me,” Rosado said.
“He has tremendous boxing ability and I don’t think that has ever been tapped into, and I have the opportunity to work on these things,” Reid added. Thankfully for fans, Reid is not looking to turn Rosado into a pure slickster. “I first saw Gabe on television and he reminded me of the old-time fighters like Rocky Graziano … The aggressiveness of Gabriel Rosado is what makes boxing worthwhile.”
The same could be said of Lemieux. If you’re into action fights, and not overly concerned about what those fights mean in the grand scheme of boxing’s myriad titles, this Lemieux-Rosado matchup is precisely why we watch the sport. You’re not going to see someone emerge as a threat to Gennady Golovkin. But you are going to see the kind of dramatic, give-and-take action that Golovkin’s fights have yet to provide.