Saturday's middleweight fight between French Canadian David Lemieux and Philadelphian Gabe Rosado produced a sublime fourth round that was easily one of the best three minutes of boxing in 2014. Throughout the first three rounds, Lemieux was getting the best of the action, landing thudding right hands and left hooks and consistently backing up Rosado. In the third, Lemieux sent Rosado to the canvas with two vicious left hooks. The fourth started out as more of the same, with Lemieux pressing forward behind power shots. However, Rosado then decided to stand his ground and fire, landing short, clipping counter right hands. These punches made Lemieux reconsider his unfettered offense. Rosado took charge and moved the action back to the center of the ring. As the round progressed, Lemieux again reclaimed dominance with his heavy hands, only to eat a couple of solid rights as the round closed. It was thrilling stuff and confirmed the promise of this matchup when the fight was announced.
The conventional wisdom going into Lemieux-Rosado was that Lemieux, the bigger puncher, would be dangerous early but Rosado, if he could keep his wits about him, could have some success in the later rounds. Lemieux had fallen apart in 2011 against Marco Antonio Rubio after leading early and was ineffectual in dropping a decision to Joachim Alcine later that year. Those were the only two fights against world-class opposition where he was pushed into the second half, and he folded. However, Rosado had his own issues late in fights, mainly the scar tissue above his left eyelid, which seemingly could open up from a strong gust of wind, not to mention from the blows of a strong middleweight puncher.
One part of the pre-fight narrative held up, which is that Rosado's eye didn't. By the third round, his left eye was a mess and started to swell (after the fight it was revealed that in addition to the cut he had suffered a broken orbital bone). With each passing round the eye looked worse and worse. Before the eighth, ninth and tenth, the doctors examined the eye and although Rosado was allowed to continue each time, he was absorbing huge shots in the ring. As the 10th progressed, one of the ring doctors ascended the ring apron and signaled to stop the fight. Similar to his bout with middleweight killer Gennady Golovkin, Rosado ended the fight on his feet but lost as a result of a good stoppage. Eventually, a fighter has to be protected from himself and in my opinion the New York State Athletic Commission acted appropriately in calling off the action.
But the ultimate story of the fight was Lemieux's improvement. Although he certainly was going for the knockout in the early rounds, he did a much better job than he had previously in pacing himself throughout his attack and not punching himself out. When the early stoppage didn't come, he didn't get forlorn. He pressed on with imposing himself in the ring and winning rounds. He survived some adversity in the fourth, kept his composure and continued with the task at hand.
Significant credit for Lemieux's performance must be given to trainer Marc Ramsay, who has had success guiding the career of Jean Pascal, another fighter who can be fragile and/or fade in fights. Lemieux never lost confidence on Saturday despite taking some decent shots. The fighter was prepared physically and mentally to go 12 rounds if needed.
Lemieux is already in the second phase of his boxing career but it's worth remembering that he's only 25, which is still just the early prime for most fighters. As a point of comparison, Golovkin was fighting only eight-rounders in Germany at the same age. I won't tell you that Lemieux will one day become a pound-for-pound talent like Golovkin, but he still has room to grow.
Looking through his early development opponents, there was a real dearth of crafty B- and C-fighters to help him gain the valuable experience needed to box at the championship level. He still has some technical flaws, mainly cocking his right hand back to such an extreme that half of his body is left unprotected. He leaves ample opportunities for jabs or lead left hooks to find their targets on his right side. He is also very susceptible to a counter left uppercut. In addition, Lemieux could further fill out his arsenal by using his jab strategically (not just as a show punch) and incorporating some uppercuts into his attack.
Nevertheless, Lemieux has placed himself back into the middleweight conversation. With his last two showings, he has now made an impressive statement on each U.S. boxing network. His popularity in his home market of Montreal and his promotional arrangement, which is removed from the HBO/Haymon/Top Rank cold war, should leave him with plenty of options. Natural fights against Peter Quillin or Jermain Taylor could occur next year. He still has some things to learn in the gym but there's no reason why he couldn't have a title belt at this time next year.
Rosado's situation reminds me of the career of another Philadelphian, former Olympian and world champion David Reid. Both fighters never reached their full potential in the ring because of an uncooperative eye. Just over a year ago, Rosado was coming on strong in a world title fight against Peter Quillin. That bout was also stopped in the 10th because of his eye (ignore the scores, Rosado was getting the best of the action when the match was halted). If Rosado's eye was 100%, he very well could have been a middleweight titleholder.
However, let's not blame Rosado's losses just on his eye. There were multiple occasions on Saturday where he didn't follow his corner's advice to get off first. He also failed to press Lemieux as actively as trainer Jesse Reid would have liked him to. In the Quillin fight, he decided to engage in a boxing match early in the fight when a ragged affair was what was needed for that opponent. There were also some bad career moves mixed in, such as dropping back down to junior middleweight to get outboxed by Jermell Charlo, an absolutely horrible matchup for him that helped to deflate his stock.
At his best, Rosado was an excellent TV fighter, one who was tough and won over boxing fans and television executives with his gutsy ring performances. Sure, if things broke better for him, he could have gotten a title belt and the opportunities afforded by such a trinket. However, that story isn't unique in boxing; many have the potential to get to the top only to fall short. At least for Rosado, he made his mark on boxing, just as boxing made its mark on his eye. He had two world title fights and appeared on HBO or Showtime five times (including a PPV undercard bout). Not too many 21-9 fighters can say that. So he certainly had a spark in the ring and connected with audiences. That's an impressive feat in it of itself.
In a perfect world, Rosado will retire. He just doesn't have the physical health needed to compete at the top level of the sport and his eye problems could very well intensify with each passing fight. At 28, it seems awfully young to call it a career but he has a young daughter whom he loves very dearly. Trade-offs can really hurt.
The most interesting fight of Saturday's card was the junior welterweight opener between Thomas Dulorme and Hank Lundy. Similar to the main event, this was a crossroads battle between a former hot prospect whose rapid ascent was derailed (Dulorme) and a tough Philadelphian who hadn't been able to get over the hump (Lundy). The final result of a Dulorme split decision win may not have been surprising but round-by-round, this fight was pretty damn compelling.
From the opening bell, Dulorme used distance and his reach advantage to land his jab and right hand. Lundy, the smaller fighter, also decided to work off his jab. Both had moments in the first but a looping right hand from Dulorme put Lundy on the canvas at the end of the round; the fight's opening salvo was fired.
The next few rounds featured a similar style clash, with Dulorme and Lundy boxing from mid-range. Lundy got in some jabs and right hands while Dulorme featured the more consistent offensive output and eye-catching power shots.
By the fourth round, Lundy switched almost exclusively to southpaw and dispensed with any notion of boxing. Defensively, he was in a better position as a lefty to neutralize Dulorme's looping right hands and jabs. On offense, Lundy started to walk Dulorme down. Firing wide left hands to the body, uppercuts and right hooks, Lundy worked his way into the fight. By the sixth round, Dulorme was visibly uncomfortable in the ring and started to lose his composure. He was throwing shots not necessarily to win exchanges but to keep Lundy off of him; he was in self-protection mode.
In the seventh, Dulorme switched to southpaw himself. In that stance, he threw meek right jabs and the occasional left cross. Although he wasn't getting the better of the action, he made Lundy recalibrate. Instead of rummaging forward recklessly, Lundy now was more hesitant with his offense. By the eighth round, Lundy reemerged in a conventional stance and the fight reverted to the pattern of the early rounds, where Dulorme, back as a right-hander, won with superior boxing. (Even though the HBO broadcast crew bestowed plaudits on Lundy's trainer, Barry Hunter, throughout the match, it's interesting to note that Hunter didn't implore Lundy to remain as a southpaw in the fight's later rounds, in my opinion a big tactical mistake).
Only in the 10th and final round did Lundy return to southpaw and he had a big closing frame. Dulorme looked unsteady on his feet and was more concerned with surviving the final round that winning it.
It was a close contest, with scores 97-92 and 96-93 for Dulorme and 96-93 for Lundy (I had it 96-93 Dulorme). In the end, the decision was reasonable.
This fight perfectly illustrated the relative strengths and weaknesses of each boxer. Against an opponent who wanted to box, Dulorme could look quite strong. He has impressive technique and understands distance very well. However, once the match turned into a brawl, panic seemed to overcome him, much as it did in his knockout loss to Luis Carlos Abregu in 2012. He lacked the weapons for inside fighting and when under duress, his answer was to disengage in almost a perpetual state of retreat. Switching to southpaw may have won Dulorme this fight, but it wasn't as if he dominated the action as a lefty, such as Terence Crawford does when he switches. Dulorme was able to survive on Saturday, but again, he survived against Hank Lundy, not a top-five guy at 140 lbs.
Lundy demonstrated that he is tough and has a tremendous amount of pride. He scrapped his unsuccessful "Plan A" and was able to find a style that worked. He had several rounds where he imposed his will on the bigger fighter. However, he also showed that he could be out-thought and is capable of beating himself in the ring. Lundy was flummoxed by Dulorme's move to southpaw. He essentially let Dulorme gain the strategic advantage in rounds eight and nine by abandoning what was working for him. In the 10th, he fought his heart out, but it was too late on the scorecards.
Lundy's losses don't paint a rosy picture of his ring intelligence. He was up big against John Molina, got careless and was knocked out. He let a plodding and methodical Ray Beltran outwork him and now he has been out-thought by Dulorme. (He also did lose a spirited contest to Viktor Postol). Lundy's a high-level gatekeeper who can beat some guys on a good night but he's not disciplined enough in the ring against top fighters. And he certainly doesn't have the type of power that can erase mistakes.
Dulorme barely passed his test this weekend and the fight showed that he most likely won't be a serious player at 140 pounds. The top level of that division (like Danny Garcia and Lucas Matthysse) would pick him apart with clean counters and/or pressure. Even guys like Viktor Postol and Ruslan Provodnikov could have their way with him. Maybe Dulorme could win a jabbing contest against Chris Algieri, but again, we're not talking about a truly elite fighter here. Dulorme will lose badly soon; it's just a question of which top junior welterweight will have the honors of obtaining his scalp.
In another undercard fight, middleweight prospect Hugo Centeno Jr. made a stunning HBO debut, knocking out fringe contender James De la Rosa with a beautiful straight left hand, sending him head first to the canvas. What made the knockout even more impressive is that Centeno is a natural orthodox fighter and scored the knockout out of a southpaw stance, displaying creativity, dexterity and surprising power. Centeno also did good things in the opening round of the fight, where he scored a sweet knockdown with a powerful jab, a rare occurrence in the sport, but always a fun one.
The crafty De La Rosa had some success with using angles and landing shots in close range during rounds two, three and four. However, Centeno made an adjustment that De la Rosa wasn't prepared for, and that was the fight. Centeno's performance guarantees that he will find his way back on HBO or another premium network very shortly.
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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