MINNEAPOLIS – The last time an American audience watched Jeison Rosario box, Erickson Lubin dropped the former champion twice and stopped him in the sixth round of their 154-pound elimination bout.
Sixteen months later, a refreshed Rosario will fight Brian Mendoza in a 10-round middleweight bout. Showtime will broadcast Saturday night from The Armory. For Rosario, it’s an opportunity to prove he still has championship-caliber boxing in his 27-year-old body after back-to-back knockout losses to undisputed 154-pound champion Jermell Charlo and Lubin.
Rosario has regained some of his confidence by stopping three unspectacular opponents in the last 11 months in Santo Domingo. More than anything, however, Rosario (23-3-1, 17 KOs) has benefited from boxing above the junior middleweight limit.
Cutting down to 154 pounds became such a torturous process for the 6-foot-5 Rosario that the former IBF/IBO/WBA champion couldn’t take the physical and mental suffering any longer.
“It was so hard,” Rosario told BoxingScene.com through an interpreter Thursday before a news conference at W Minneapolis The Forshay. “My health was compromised.”
The contract weight for Rosario’s fight against Mendoza is 160 pounds, the middleweight maximum.
“It’s like night and day,” Rosario said. “I feel more comfortable, stronger. It’s not that big of a sacrifice. Love it.”
Albuquerque’s Mendoza (20-2, 14 KOs) replaced Rosario’s original opponent, Cuban southpaw Yoelvis Gomez, on just 10 days’ notice. The 25-year-old Gomez (6-0, 5 KOs) was looking to take a significant step up in class against Rosario in what would be an intriguing fight, but Rosario is still eager to prove that he remains a formidable fighter.
“You’re going to see a different fighter in every sense of the word,” Rosario said. “Faster, stronger, more active because when I was 154 I had to push my body to the breaking point. When you do that and when you ask your body to break down that much, you’re not going to be close to a hundred percent. Now you will see that I can really show all that I can show.
Rosario, who hovers around 195 pounds, is looking to become the first fighter to stop Mendoza at range. Mendoza, 28, only lost on points to undefeated junior middleweight contender Jesus Ramos (19-0, 15 KOs), a 10-round unanimous decision, and Larry Gomez (10-2, 8 KOs), an eight-round split decision.
“You’re going to see a different ‘Banana,'” Raul “Chino” Rivas, Rosario’s new trainer, told BoxingScene.com regarding his fighter’s moniker. “He is happy. The camp was amazing. He got a beautiful job. We had a trek for the last week and a half to Mendoza. That’s a big difference, going from a southpaw to a right-handed fighter. But he has the same mentality because Mendoza has never been stopped. He wants to make a statement.
“When that bell rings, we’re going to push, push, push. The goal is to get him out of there. We don’t want to do 10 rounds. But I also informed him that if he gets 10 rounds, don’t worry about it. The goal is to get a “W.” He can look sharp going 10 rounds. Either way, people will recognize the difference from where he was to where he is now.
Rosario-Mendoza will air just before Showtime’s main event, a 12-round 168-pound championship in which Cuban southpaw David Morel Jr. (7-0, 6 KOs) will make a mandatory defense of his WBA minor belt against Kazakhstan’s Aidos Yerbosynuli (16-0, 11 KOs). The Showtime telecast is scheduled to begin at 9:00 PM ET, with a 10-round middleweight bout between Polish middleweight prospect Fiodor Czerkaszyn (20-0, 13 KOs) and veteran Nathaniel Gallimore (22-5-1, 17 KO) from Des Plaines, Illinois.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be found on Twitter @Idecboxing.