In the past two years the right wrist of WBC lightweight champion Edwin Rosario has been broken, sliced open by a surgeon's knife, rebroken, knitted together by means of electric impulses, and almost obsessively scrutinized by family, friends and the boxing world in general. Last Saturday the wrist—and Rosario—passed the test. Midway through the first round of his first title defense, at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the 21-year-old Rosario decked Roberto Elizondo, 28, with a crushing overhand right to the temple. Elizondo rose at the count of six, and Rosario kept the pressure on. Seconds later, a series of at least half a dozen punches, several of them hard rights, left Elizondo crawling helplessly toward his corner. He struggled to his feet, but referee Davey Pearl wisely signaled a TKO at just 1:57.
Rosario, who is undefeated in 26 bouts, has fought only twice since May 30, 1982 because of fractures to the navicular bone in that vulnerable wrist. The injuries had placed a question mark after Rosario's name where once, during his meteoric rise to the top of the lightweight division, there had been only exclamation points.
"I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to explain that it was his wrist that was hurt, not his hand," said Rosario's manager, Jimmy Jacobs, before the fight. "He's healed. The injury will have as much to do with this fight as the crisis in Lebanon will." Now that the exclamations are back, Rosario should regain his status as a big-money fighter in a potentially big-money division. Somewhere in his future—possibly this year—are Macho Camacho, the WBC junior lightweight champ, and WBA lightweight titleholder Boom Boom Mancini. "My hand?" said Rosario after Saturday's bout. "It feels like a rock."
And it put Elizondo in a hard place. This was his second and undoubtedly last title shot—Alexis Arguello had knocked him out in the seventh round of a previous bid for the WBC championship in 1981—and possibly his last fight. "Yes, it's probably a good time for him to quit," said Jackie McCoy, his manager and trainer. "You can't make a lot of money in this sport unless you fight for the title." Not that he made much for this one—his share of the purse was $35,000, compared with $225,000 for the champion. Early in his career, Elizondo worked as a welder and plumber in his native Corpus Christi, Texas, and the loss may hasten his return to the blue-collar world. He actually loved welding but got out of it because "he couldn't take the smoke." Which is what happened to him in the Rosario fight.
Before Jacobs can get down to negotiating a Camacho or Mancini bout, however, there's the matter of a mandatory defense within 90 days, against José Luis Ramírez of Mexico, the WBC's No. 1 challenger. Rosario won a questionable 12-round decision over Ramírez in San Juan last May 1 to attain the title, which had been vacated by Arguello and which Ramírez still refers to as "my title." Considering that he backed Rosario up and stung him during the last half of the fight, his claim isn't an idle boast.
It was against Ramírez that Rosario rebroke the wrist bone he had first fractured in June of 1982 in a sparring session. Rosario's New York physician. Dr. David T.W. Chiu, recommended another operation, but an orthopedic surgeon in Puerto Rico, Dr. Garcia Ariz, suggested an electrical stimulation treatment to refuse the bone. Ultimately, it was Rosario's decision, and every time he looked at the scar from his first operation, he was more certain of what to do.
"I knew if they operated I'd never fight again," Rosario said last week. "My mother felt the same way. So I decided to take a chance on the electrical treatments." As he spoke he studied his wrist, turning it over and over, and flexed his hand to demonstrate that all was well.
For three months electrical impulses went into Rosario's wrist via a small machine called the Basset System of Electromagnetic Fields. He kept it on while he slept; all told, there were 13 hours of treatment per day. It wasn't an easy time for the Rosario family, what with Edwin worrying about his boxing future, and his wife, Alma, pregnant with their first child. But after six to eight weeks of treatments, the fracture, according to Ariz, had healed. "I wouldn't call it a miracle because the treatment is very scientific," Ariz says, "but it was extremely quick. And once a bone heals like that it's much more difficult to break again." Edwin was ready to fight by last October, about the time Alma brought Ruby Yanina Rosario into the world.
Jacobs had arranged a tune-up fight in December, but the Puerto Rican Boxing Commission deemed the challenger, California's Eduardo Dominquez, unfit for Rosario's consumption in the commonwealth. So Rosario would be meeting the veteran Elizondo in his first mandatory defense without the benefit of testing his wrist. Although he's seven years older than Rosario, Elizondo had had only five more professional fights (his record going in was 27-3), and he was generally considered a game body puncher with little defense but with more offensive power than Ramírez.
Rosario trained hard for 2½ months, most of the time at the gym operated by his trainer, Manny Siaca, in Levittown, 20 miles west of San Juan. He did, however, spend three weeks at the Main Street Gym in Miami to get away from it all; he's lived his whole life within 25 miles of San Juan and sometimes feels as if he's under a microscope. He sparred about 120 rounds and "bombed everybody," according to Siaca. One of his few respites came on the Thursday before the fight when his gymmates helped him celebrate his 21st birthday. Siaca's wife, Nitza, brought in a pineapple and cream cake, some of which ended up on Rosario's face. "Saturday will be the real celebration," he said. Rosario even stepped out of character before the fight and predicted a knockout.
"I want to beat Elizondo so I can get some really big-money fights—Mancini and Camacho," he said. Those words no doubt will soon be pinned to Ramírez' mental bulletin board.
At the Gymnasio Municipal, where Elizondo worked out in San Juan, his training had a familial flavor. As he skipped rope, his wife of 10 years, Linda, snapped pictures, and their 6-year-old son, Robert Andrew, threw wild punches at the heavy bag. "I'll need those gloves in a few minutes," Elizondo said softly to him in his unusually high, squeaky voice. McCoy, looking on, pronounced Elizondo ready. Ready for pipe and slippers, it turned out.
Despite his obvious boxing gifts and a record that suggests a legend in the making—only Ramírez and James Martinez (from whom he won a unanimous decision in 1981) have gone the distance with him—Rosario has yet to stir the juices of his countrymen, only about 3,000 of whom showed up to watch the Elizondo fight. Interest was perhaps diluted by the anticipation for the March 31 showdown between Puerto Rico's Wilfredo Gómez and Juan Laporte for the latter's WBC featherweight title, an event which, to a San Juanero, is a Yankee-Brooklyn Dodger World Series. By comparison, Rosario-Elizondo was an early-season meeting of the Indians and the Blue Jays. The crowd was so quiet that Ruby Yanina, to whom Rosario had dedicated the fight, dozed on her mother's shoulder at ringside throughout the prelims and didn't open her eyes until her father stepped into the ring, wearing his trademark red, white and blue cap.
The challenger stood almost statuelike during the introductions and still seemed to be in something of a trance at the opening bell. "My opinion is that Rosario just caught him cold," Pearl said. "I don't know why Elizondo didn't warm up better." For a full minute Rosario tattooed him with left jabs, watching and waiting for the best moment to throw his electrified rights. When the moment came, Elizondo didn't have a chance. Afterward the challenger wore a "What happened?" look. "I can't explain it, but when he hit me in the head he hurt me," Elizondo said. "It was a real funny feeling. I don't even feel dizzy. It's like I haven't even fought." No one argued with that.
Rosario, meanwhile, was completing his triumphant lap of the stadium on the shoulders of his handlers, waving to the crowd with his strong right hand. "Perhaps," suggested WBC president José Sulaimàn, referring to the way Rosario finished Elizondo off, "Edwin was still wearing the cast."