Streaking junior middleweight Gabriel Rosado earned a mandatory IBF title shot with a hard-earned 10th-round stoppage of game Charles Whittaker in the main event of an NBC Sports Net-televised card from Bethlehem, Penn., on Saturday.
Rosado (21-5, 13 knockouts) scored four knockdowns – one in the fifth, one in the seventh and two in the 10th – before referee Steve Smoger waved the bout off at 1:50 of the 10th round.
The 26-year-old Philadelphia native snapped a six-year, 14-bout win streak that Whittaker (38-13-2, 23 KOs) carried into the scheduled 12-round IBF title-elimination bout.
The 38-year-old Cayman Islands native boxed effectively for the first two rounds of the bout but he began to have trouble with Rosado once the younger man stepped up the pace of the fight in the third round.
Rosado took over the bout once his pressure began to force exchanges between the two. A straight right dropped Whitaker at the end of the fifth round but the veteran got up and rocked Rosado with a hook at the bell.
Undaunted, Rosado kept the pressure on Whittaker and soundly outworked the older man over the next four rounds, often pounding the veteran along the ropes. By the 10th round, Whittaker's battle-worn body had had enough.
Rosado won his seventh bout in a row and positioned himself for a shot at the IBF title held by Cornelius Bundrage, though that fight won’t become mandatory until March of next year. Rosado says he’s willing to challenge any 154 pounder with a major title.
“I’m ready for anyone in the division,” said Rosado, who out-landed Whittaker 160-96 in total punches and 133-76 in power punches, according to CompuBox. “I fought a game fighter who hasn’t lost in six years. I earned my shot. I came up the old-school Philly way. I want any champion. If not Bundrage, I want ‘Canelo’ Alvarez because it’s time he stepped up.”
In the co-featured bout of the Main Events-promoted card, young veteran Antwone Smith handed welterweight prospect Ronald Cruz his first career loss by outpointing the hometown favorite via narrow 10-round split decision.
Smith, who won the closely contested junior middleweight bout by scores of 96-94, 96-94, 94-96, was in a must-win position having lost two of his last three bouts – 10-round decisions to Robert Garcia and Kermit Cintron – going into the fight.
The 25-year-old Miami native used a consistent jab to check Cruz’s forward-marching aggression and set up hard body shots whenever they exchanged at close quarters. Still, Smith (22-4-1, 12 KOs) had to hold off a late charge from Cruz and a heated final round rally from the Puerto Rico native.
“I felt like I won the fight,” said Smith, who weighed-in over the contracted welterweight limit, which enabled Cruz to keep his regional belt. “My jab worked better than it did in any other fight. This fight definitely shows that I’m staying alive and well (in the welterweight division).”
Cruz (17-1, 12 KOs) to his credit acknowledged that the fight was close and did not complain about the decision going to Smith.
“I knew it was close and I knew it could go either way,” said the 25-year-old southpaw. “I’ll take this loss like a man. No excuses. I think I got a late start. I’m learning.”
In other action, Russian light heavyweight up-and-comer Sergey Kovalev improved to 19-0-1 and scored his 17th knockout with a third-round stoppage of late-sub Lionell Thompson.
Kovalev, a 29-year-old puncher who is based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., dropped Thompson three times with flush right crosses – twice at the end of the second round and once at the start of the next round, which forced referee Gary Rosado to wave the fight off 14 seconds into the third.
Thompson (12-2, 8 KOs), 27-year-old Buffalo native who replaced injured original opponent Gabriel Campillo on two week’s notice, was not able to avoid the right hand or recover from the knockdowns.