Sunday, January 19, 2020

Opinions and Observations: Williams-Rosario

You could hear the thud. 

Jeison Rosario's shots echoed through the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia on Saturday. His opponent, Julian "J-Rock" Williams, had the pedigree, the shiny belts and a great performance in his last fight against champ Jarrett Hurd, but all of that proved to be inconsequential when the two fighters stepped into the ring. By the end of the second round, Rosario had established with a number of counter right hands that he had the power advantage in the fight. As the bout continued, Rosario unleashed more of his arsenal, and was able to hurt Williams in the fourth round. 

Rosario (left) commanding the center of the ring
Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Trapp

By the fifth, Williams, the hometown fighter and proud champion, was in bad shape. Rosario peppered the champ with power punches and with Williams badly hurt against the ropes, ref Benjy Esteves stopped the fight. In one night Rosario went from a relatively anonymous fighter from the Dominican Republic to the unified champ at 154 lbs. Overall it was a stunning upset, but it was one that was well deserved.  

J-Rock had a solid first round, where he quickly showed the timing and punch variety that led to his championship effort against Hurd. He landed a number of eye-catching counter right hands and used his jab to good effect. Rosario announced his presence in the fight with those menacing counter rights at the end of the second round. Those shots helped open up a cut, which would trouble the champ at periods of the fight. Rosario also featured an impressive arsenal of punches. He had success with jabs, right crosses (both lead and counter), right uppercuts and left hooks. 

In speaking with Williams prior to the fight, he wasn't taking Rosario lightly. He knew that Rosario had impressive victories as the B-side against Justin DeLoach and Jamontay Clark. He had watched tape on Rosario and knew that he had legitimate pop in his punches. Saturday's fight wasn't the case of the champ failing to take a challenger seriously; sometimes it's the challenger's day.  

Rosario didn't necessarily dazzle with hand speed or athleticism. But what he did well illustrated a central truth about boxing successfully at the highest levels: he threw the right punch at the right time. He countered Williams's jab with the straight right hand. When Williams missed with two lead uppercuts from distance, Rosario made him pay with two crushing right hands. Sensing his power advantage as the fight progressed, Rosario hooked when Williams hooked, and Rosario got the better of those exchanges. After Williams was hurt in the fifth round, he started to lean forward, and Rosario pulverized him with a right uppercut. And it was that punch that truly was the beginning of the end for Williams.

Having the perfect combination of preparation, technical ability and self-belief to pull off the victory, Rosario's win was well-earned. Many fighters would be over-awed coming into a champ's hometown. However, Rosario outwardly displayed few nerves or signs of hesitancy. He fought as if he had a right to be in that ring. In addition, he didn't let the high-profile opportunity take him out of his game plan. He didn't try to force the action or make daring forays that could lead to mistakes. He stayed within himself and stuck to his strengths. And furthermore, he understood where he would have chances to land his best shots. Williams likes to sit in the pocket and he's not one to necessarily get in and get out, which does allow an opponent to return fire. 

The trajectory of Saturday's fight changed quickly. Williams was up either 3-0 or 2-1 after three rounds. He was able to land some excellent straight right hands. But when Rosario connected, the challenger's punches seemed to have more of an effect. There were few opportunities for Williams to change course. By the end of the fourth, he had already eaten several big shots. 

Maybe at that moment, entering the fifth, Williams and trainer Stephen "Breadman" Edwards had their one chance to make an adjustment. By that point it had become clear that in the pocket Rosario was the more successful fighter. Perhaps Williams needed to be told to stay out of mid-range – either be in or out. Or even in a more drastic measure, he should take a round off, regroup. 

But I also don't want to come off as sounding too harsh; by the end of the fourth Rosario had assumed a foothold in the fight. It would have been a strong admission to concede the pocket to Rosario. Certainly Edwards and Williams didn't plan on that happening. And maybe a delaying tactic would only have worked for a round or two; plus, there was still a ton of fight left. Let's just chalk these potential adjustments to "Who knows?" 

The new champ after winning the title
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Trapp

After the fight Williams was gracious in defeat, admitting, and with no excuses, that Rosario was the better fighter on the night. Williams also announced that he had a rematch clause and was interested in executing it. And despite Rosario's success on Saturday, there is no guarantee that a second fight would play out similarly to the first one. Edwards is a masterful strategist and he will have all the tape he needs to implement changes. 

This is now Williams's second knockout loss in his career, but I don't believe that Saturday's result was necessarily similar to his defeat to Jermall Charlo. Against Charlo I don't think that Williams's legs looked right. Everyone remembers the massive right uppercut that Charlo landed in the fight, but few recall that Williams was hurt from a jab even earlier in the bout. He wasn't responding well to shots even before the big thunder arrived. On Saturday, Williams seemed to be in fine shape and had good moments. The only "mistake" he made per se was an unwillingness to go to a "Plan B" a little sooner. I think that Saturday had less to do with his chin and more to do with a slight stubbornness about changing tactics. And those types of things can be corrected moving forward.

Ultimately Rosario displayed a perfect performance by an "away" fighter. He seized his opportunity and ensured that the judges played no role in the match. In addition, he announced that there was a new player in the hypercompetitive junior middleweight division. He has power in two hands, is well-schooled and has copious amounts of self-belief. There's no telling in a division where the top guys could win or lose on any given night if Rosario will emerge as the best, but he's now earned his seat at the big boys' table. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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