Edwin Rosario was born in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico on March 15, 1963. Growing up in one of the most impoverished barrios of Puerto Rico, young Edwin was inspired by the budding boxing career of his older brother “Papa” Rosario. Edwin Rosario following in his big brother’s foot steps and started boxing at age nine. Rosario had a solid career as an amateur and turned pro in March 1979, fighting his first four bouts in the Dominican Republic. Tragically, two years into Edwin’s career, the older Rosario died in what was rumored to be a drug-related incident. A 5’6″ lightweight, “Chopo” was a polished boxer-puncher.
Rosario moved up the ranks fast, and by 1982 he was fighting on the undercard of the Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney fight. In May 1983, a 21-0 Rosario challenged 87-5 Jose Luis Ramirez for the WBC Lightweight Title. Ramirez is an often underrated fighter, and in truth he was one of the hardest hitting, toughest Mexican boxers of his day. The fight was a classic installment of the never-ending contest between Puerto Rico and Mexico, and took place in Puerto Rico before a crowd of fight-mad fans. Rosario set a blistering pace and swept most of the early rounds, but he faded late and that let Ramirez get back into the fight. Rosario had some hard moments, but he gutted it out and held on, winning a close fight by 115-113 on all the scorecards. Edwin “Chopo” Rosario won the world title and a lot of fans that night.
His reign did not last long, however. Rosario defended the title twice in Puerto Rico before meeting Ramirez in a rematch, again in Puerto Rico. This fight, if anything, was more intense than the first encounter. Rosario dropped Ramirez in the opening seconds of the fight. Ramirez gritted his teeth and came forward on wobbly legs, firing away to the body as he went. The slugfest continued in the 2nd Round, as Rosario landed a big right and sent Ramirez crashing to the canvas again. Ramirez got back up and kept up the furious pace. By the 3rd, Rosario was completely punched out, and the rugged Mexican stopped him in the 4th to win the battle of attrition and recapture his title. The bout was named 1984’s Fight of the Year by The Ring magazine.
Chopo the Contender
Rosario’s standing was undiminished by the crushing-yet-thrilling defeat to Ramirez. He relocated his boxing efforts to New Jersey and New York, and went back to work. In June 1986, he met and outpointed a rising, 23-0 Frankie Randall, who would later go on to win world titles at 140 lbs. This would set the stage for another shot at the WBC title, this time against his fellow Puerto Rican Hector “Macho” Camacho.
Televised on HBO in the U.S. and on broadcast television in Puerto Rico, the fight was not just a meeting between two popular Puerto Rican boxers and a clash between the hard-hitting style of Rosario and the speedy moves of Camacho. Camacho and Rosario were practically from the same neighborhood, having been born only a 15-minute drive apart. It was truly a cross-town rivals match-up.
Camacho swept the early rounds by circling and snapping the jab. Rosario finally caught up to him at the end of the 4th, knocking Camacho’s head back with a hard uppercut. Rosario followed up in the next round with a left hook that buckled Camacho’s knees and brought him within a hair of a knockdown. Once he got his legs back, Camacho shifted from moving and boxing to simply moving, and practically ran from Rosario. Rosario followed and landed some blows, but by and large could not catch his back-pedaling rival. Rosario caught him again with the left hook in Round 11, badly hurting Camacho. Unable to run anymore, Camacho hung on for dear life and Rosario wailed on him through Rounds 11 and 12. Mercifully for Camacho, the fight ended with him still standing.
The scorecards gave the fight to Camacho in a controversial Split Decision. Two cards read 115-113, with Rosario carrying one card by 114-113. It was a rare instance where the judges rewarded riding a bicycle, because that was exactly what Camacho did between Rounds 6 and Rounds 10. The fight continues to be as controversial in Puerto Rico as Hagler vs. Leonard is in the United States. For his part, Camacho never again attempted to stand and trade, even just to close the round with a flurry, with a competent puncher ever again. The bicycle marked Camacho’s boxing style from that point forward.
With Camacho resolutely avoiding a rematch, Edwin Rosario went after gap-toothed Livingstone Bramble, the WBA champ, three months later. Rosario crushed Bramble in two rounds, winning his second lightweight crown. However, much like his first reign, Rosario did not keep his black WBA strap for long, and it was another tough Mexican who took it away from him.
In November 1987, Edwin Rosario fought 56-0 Julio Cesar Chavez in a contest of Puerto Rican vs. Mexican punchers. In what was arguably the finest performance of Chavez’s long career, Chavez literally beat Rosario from pillar to post. KO magazine wrote “”For one night, at least, he (Chavez) grasped perfection, clutched it to his chest, and then held it high above his head for all historians to see,” while The Ring wrote less poetically “A description of the fight reads like a police account of a street beating.” Rosario valiantly withstood the vicious onslaught of a prime Chavez, but finally succumbed in an 11th Round stoppage.
After a seven-month rest stop, Rosario came back and built a winning streak on the backs of a string of journeymen. Chavez moved up in weight, giving Rosario a crack at the WBA belt again. He fought Kronk Gym prospect Anthony Jones for it in July 1989 and knocked him out in six rounds. Just like his previous two stints as champion, however, it was not to last. In April 1990, Rosario’s very next fight, he gave a rematch to fringe contender Juan Nazario. Rosario knocked out Nazario in their first encounter, but in the rematch Rosario was trailing on the scorecards when Nazario stopped him on cuts in the 8th.
Edwin Rosario responded to the Nazario upset by moving up to 140 lbs. and challenging Loreto Garza for his WBA Super Lightweight Title. Garza was actually a better fighter than he has ever been given credit for, with wins over Vinny Pazienza and Juan Martin Coggi under his belt. Showing he had plenty of punch at 140 lbs., Rosario stopped Garza in 1991 in three rounds. It was his last hurrah. He was knocked out by Akinobu Hiranaka in his very next fight and in a single round to boot. The unheralded 19-1 Japanese fighter would lose his very next bout and retire.
Rosario, however, soldiered on. Frankie Randall knocked him out in a 1993 rematch, and Rosario took four years off. During that time, he was plagued by drugs and alcohol. Indeed, it is likely his substance abuse problems extend back to early ’90s. He mounted a comeback in Puerto Rico in 1997, running up a five-fight winning streak. This was brought to a halt when he died of an aneurysm in 1997 at age 34.
At the time of his death, Edwin “Chopo” Rosario had a 47-6 with 41 KO record. He was a four-time, two-division champion, and only the sixth Puerto Rican inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Sources: boxrec.com/list_bouts.php?human_id=000610&cat=boxer; economicexpert.com/a/Edwin:Rosario.htm; independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/obituary-edwin-rosario-1286756.html; nytimes.com/1997/12/03/sports/edwin-rosario-is-dead-at-34-troubled-boxing-champion.html; live fight footage