From extreme poverty to 16-week fight camps: Inside Jeison Rosario's bid for 154-pound supremacy

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5 mins read

There is something inside successful boxers that most people do not possess. There is a drive that enables them to push through 4 a.m. wakeup calls, long and lonely runs at altitude and the grueling pace of training camp.

They torture their bodies in frequently insane conditions all toward the goal of slipping beneath the ropes and fighting another human being who has made many of the same sacrifices.

Whatever that is, Jeison Rosario has it. He’s overcome a horrific childhood and better than 20-to-1 odds against him to defeat Julian Williams, which made him the super welterweight champion.

On Saturday (7 p.m. ET, Showtime PPV), he’ll challenge WBC super welterweight champion Jermell Charlo in Uncasville, Connecticut, for supremacy at 154 pounds.

Charlo is a -500 favorite at the MGM Grand Sports Book, with Rosario coming back at +375. Those are small odds considering that most sportsbooks didn’t even take action on Rosario’s fight with Williams and those that did, mostly online books, had Williams at around -2250.

Rosario laughs off the odds because he’s had to overcome so much just to make it to the United States.

To say he grew up poor in the Dominican Republic is an understatement. He lived in a single-parent home that had cardboard walls and no indoor plumbing. To get water, he had to walk a half-mile to pick up bottled water to use for showers, for cooking and for drinking.

But cooking wasn’t an everyday thing because his mother, Isabell Bastardo, didn’t have a lot of money. She did housecleaning and other similar work to earn money to take care of her children, but it wasn’t in abundance.

There was a dumpster next to his home, and he and his family would often search it for scraps of food.

“I didn’t have much of a childhood,” Rosario, now 25, told Yahoo Sports in a phone interview. “Not many people went through the adversity that I had to go through as a child. The adversity I faced every day made me the man I am today. It was real adversity. I would go hungry for days with nothing to eat. A lot of times, I had to live on the streets.

“Very occasionally, someone here, someone there would give us a little something [to eat], but that was really only a handful of times. Most of the times, I was hungry.”

He’s now hungry in a metaphorical sense, even though the money he’s earned as a boxer has enabled him to buy a house in the Dominican Republic, as well as a car.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 18: Jeison Rosario reacts to the fight being stopped against Julian Williams (R) for the super welterweight world WBO, IBO and WBA titles during the fifth round at The Liacouras Center at Temple University on January 18, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Jeison Rosario defeated defending champion Julian Williams by a fifth round stoppage. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
Jeison Rosario reacts to defeating Julian Williams (R) for the super welterweight WBO, IBO and WBA titles at The Liacouras Center at Temple University on Jan. 18, 2020, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

He’s not satisfied, though, just with a victory over Williams. Despite the odds, he was confident he would win that fight, just as he’s confident he’ll upset Charlo on Saturday.

“That fight was a great opportunity for me,” he said of the Williams fight. “I knew I was a world-class fighter, but I wasn’t getting that opportunity to prove it. I knew if I didn’t take advantage of it, it may never come my way again.

“I know how hard it was to get to this point, but it’s going to be just as hard to stay here. I am not taking anything for granted. I’m still hungry. I have big dreams and plans and I need to win this fight.”

His trainer, Luis Perez, said Rosario’s disadvantaged background has been beneficial to him as a fighter. He’s not afraid of work and he’s got a great desire.

“This is going to be one of the few times Charlo is in there with somebody who is as strong as he is,” Perez said. “He matches very well with Charlo. We have to be careful of his power, but he has to be careful of Jeison’s power, as well.”

Rosario has pushed himself and said his camp was four months, which is insanely long and almost double the average. That leads to a concern that he left the best part of his fight in the gym, but he has no such worries.

He’s never been able to afford a world-class camp before and has taken full advantage this time.

“Training with Coach Perez has led to a lot of improvements and allowed me to reach my full potential,” Rosario said. “My camps for the Williams fight and the Charlo fight are the first real training camps of my career. After I fought Jorge Cota, I knew that I needed to make changes and be more dedicated.

“There are no distractions or excuses for me now. A better diet, better conditioning and more focused training has all played a part in the changes. For this fight, I’m going to be even stronger than I was against Williams. My body wasn’t really used to the training camp going into that fight. My body is responding even better after my second 16-week training camp.”

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