Remembering Luis KO King Rosa Jr., with Derek Gionta Interview Tribute Exclusive
By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent
*Photo Credit: Robert Brizel, Real Combat Media
Both this reporter, and noted boxing trainer and cut man Derek Gionta, knew Luis ‘KO King’ Rosa Jr. Gionta granted Real Combat Media an exclusive interview, remembering Connecticut’s top featherweight prospect, whose corner Gionta worked as the cut man.
My photograph in 2010 says it all. Luis ‘KO King’ Rosa of New Haven, Connecticut, was well on his way to becoming the featherweight champion of the world. After seven years of hard work, Rosa reached 23-0 (with two No-Contests), and wound up on ShoBox in a televised vacant World Boxing Council Continental Americas Featherweight title bout.
Rosa had fought in California, New York, New Jersey and his native Connecticut. However, for ShoBox, Rosa traveled to the Masonic Temple & Performing Arts Center in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 10, 2017, to fight for the vacant World Boxing Council Continental Americas regional title against Cleveland’s Yuandale Evans, who got a hometown 10 round split decision and took the WBC regional title. Rosa would have had to win one more round to draw the bout, with one scorecard being the difference. Rosa’s camp wanted a rematch with Evans, but it would never happen.
On January 24, 2018, Rosa died on injuries sustained in a car accident in West Haven, Connecticut. A Honda driving northbound crossed over into the southbound lane on an area road, and hit Rosa’s Acura, which he was driving. Rosa did not survive his injuries. Others were critically injured.
Noted boxing trainer Derek Gionta of Pittsburgh is a friend of the Rosa family, and worked the corner for Rosa as the cut man in his WBC bout in Cleveland.
Robert Brizel: “Derek, you worked the corner in Luis Rosa’s last fight. In your view, did he win it?”
Derek Gionta: “It was hard to say. I thought it could have gone his way. I had a feeling of a 96-94 score. I think it could have been that score either way (for either Rosa or Evans). It was a competitive fight. Rosa came on strong at the end and definitely applied the pressure. Funny, when you work the corner as the cut man, you find yourself looking at the fighter’s face more than bout itself. You’re looking for cuts, you are looking for swelling, and traces of blood.”
Robert Brizel: “Was Luis hurt during the bout with Evans significantly?”
Derek Gionta: “I wouldn’t say he was hurt at any point. Evans might have hit him with some short punches, but Luis’ body language didn’t indicate anything. Luis fought with relentless pressure the whole time. I didn’t think it was necessarily a bad decision. Steve Farhood scored it for Evans. Most of the ShoBox crew all seemed to think Evans won the fight. They all say it one way, they are smart guys. Also being in the corner as a cutman….
Robert Brizel: “You see it for your fighter.”
Derek Gionta: “It just looked very close and competitive, given Rosa’s work rate.”
Robert Brizel: “Derek, don’t you think when ShoBox and judges come in to cover a fighter’s bout in his hometown, that that fighter has the principal advantage?”
Derek Gionta: “I think it many cases it does. I think the ShoBox crew was probably more aware of the dynamics of it. Rosa was Lou DiBella’s fighter, Lou DiBella was there, and Rosa had the red corner or ‘A’ corner.”
Robert Brizel: “Derek, it was still Yuandale Evans’ hometown of Cleveland. So don’t you think the corner color was meaningless, given that hometown edge?”
Derek Gionta: “I think in this situation it was. The viewers looking at the fight on TV forma fan’s perspective would say it is the red corner, Lou DiBella’s fighter, undefeated record, that Rosa was more the favorite. However, on paper, it was a 50-50 matchup. Evans had the hometown crowd behind him. We had a judge from Pennsylvania, a judge from Ohio, and ten we had Larry Hazzard Jr. from New Jersey. The Pennsylvania judge, Pat Casey, gave the bout to Evans. You cover enough fights, you see some judges like a boxer, some judges like a brawler. Phil Rogers, the Ohio judge, gave it to Evans. I’ve seen him judge close fights and go for the brawler. This was a hard fight to score.”
Robert Brizel: “Derek, you went with Rosa back to the dressing room. Did he take the loss hard? What happened?”
Derek Gionta: “Rosa and Lou DiBella thought Rosa won. He was talking to his mom and ad outside the ring. He was disappointed, The punch stat was close. I did not go all the way back to the dressing room with them. I cut his wraps outside the ring. I was talking to his father (former pro fighter Luis Rosa Sr.) later that night at the hotel we were staying at in Cleveland. Very competitive, very professional, hopefully, we’ll get a rematch and win in back. He was still very upbeat, down about the loss, happy his son performed well.”
Robert Brizel: “Derek, Rosa was only 26 years old. Where do you think his career with Lou DiBella have gone if he had lived?”
Derek Gionta: “He was in the right hands with Lou DiBella. If Rosa had won the ShoBox bout, he would have been in line for a title fight, if not right away, then soon?”
Robert Brizel: “You reached out to the family after Rosa passed away.”
Derek Gionta: “Rosa passed away a day or two after my grandmother passed away, not a very good week. I tested his dad, and sent him a card. I couldn’t believe it, a healthy young guy like that. You want to be talking about boxing. I ran into Luis Rosa Sr. and his wife Marilyn Rosa at a Jimmy Burchfield show in Providence with his son and daughter. We talked at the weigh-in, and we talked the following morning. On February 23, 2018, that card, Burchfield dedicated the boxing card to the late Luis Rosa Jr. Luis’ mother Marilyn spoke in the ring.”