TWELVE months ago, Rolando “Rolly” Romero lost a fight he claimed to be winning against Gervonta Davis on account of what he called a lucky punch; one that disconnected him from his senses and made no promise they would ever return.
Now, having talked a lot about that fight, and others, Romero, a lightweight, is ready to get back in the ring and start again. He will fight Venezuela’s Ismael Barroso on Saturday (May 13) at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, knowing the pressure is on, both to get back to winning ways and back up all his talk.
Because that’s the problem with a fighter like Romero. As much as he has done a fine job of creating an online persona for himself and, in turn, gaining the attention his achievements perhaps don’t warrant, he has also marked himself as a target: a target for opponents to take down and a target for ridicule.
This fight, in contrast to the Davis one, should be a relatively low-key affair, which might benefit Romero, 14-1 (12). Barroso, after all, is now a man of 40 who has been there and done it. He has seen upstarts like Romero come along before and he has no reason to engage with him until the first bell rings. Given his age, too, he is clearly past his best, but that doesn’t mean Barroso is on the slide or has been succumbing to inferior opposition of late. In fact, since being beaten by both Isa Chaniev (UD 12) and Botirzhon Akhmedov (KO 9) in 2018, Barroso has won four fights in a row, securing three of them by stoppage inside four rounds. This form, however, has as much to do with the opposition as any great resurgence on the part of Barroso and, what’s more, his inactivity during the last five years could be as damaging to him as either his age or a history of gruelling fights.
It was back in 2015, remember, Barroso travelled to Britain and shocked Kevin Mitchell with his wild, aggressive style, stopping the Londoner in five violent and mostly one-sided rounds. The following year, Barroso then returned to Britain, only this time found himself stopped in seven rounds by Anthony Crolla, who, to his credit, weathered the storm early, figured Barroso out quickly, and eventually put the exclamation mark on the performance with a fine stoppage.
That, of course, was a long time ago now. Since then, having been exposed by Crolla, Barroso, 24-3-2 (22) has competed as expected: beating opponents he is supposed to beat and losing to the ones against whom he is predicted to lose.
Should that pattern continue – and, at 40, there’s no reason to think otherwise – Romero will be able to deal with Barroso quite handily this Saturday night in Las Vegas. Thirteen years his opponent’s junior at 27, Romero, for all his faults, boasts a freshness and speed Barroso lacks and presumably possesses the kind of ambition Barroso has watched slip away in recent years. There is talent there, too. Before losing to Davis, for example, Romero did manage to score good wins against Anthony Yigit (TKO 7) and Jackson Marinez (UD 12) and displayed no shortage of skill in the process.
All he needs to do now is focus more on those skills and less on speaking out of turn. Because time passes quickly in boxing, as it does in life, and too much time spent focusing on other people rather than yourself is ultimately time wasted. On Saturday, then, so long as he has got over the loss to Davis, and put the focus back on himself, Romero should have too much in the tank for an ageing Barroso, though perhaps not the punch power to stop him.
On the Vegas undercard, Ukraine’s Botirzhon Akhmedov, 9-2 (8) and one of three men to beat Ismael Barroso, fights American Kenneth Sims Jnr, 19-2-1 (7), over 12 rounds at super-lightweight. There is also another fight at super-lightweight between Cuban veteran Rances Barthelemy, 29-2-1 (15), and Texan prospect Omar Juarez, 14-1 (5).
Third Time Lucky
In Stockton, California, there are two WBO belts on the line; one at bantamweight and the other at middleweight.
At bantamweight, the vacant title will be in the sights of Australia’s Andrew Moloney and Vincent Astrolabio from the Philippines. Of the two, it is Moloney who is no stranger to world championship action, having come up short in two previous title shots: the first against Emmanuel Rodriguez in 2018 and the second against Naoya Inoue in 2020. Those were incredibly tough fights on paper and there was no shame in Moloney losing against either man. Here, though, he has a far better chance of coming away with gold, with him no doubt conscious of the fact that Astrolabio, despite his ability and toughness, is not in the same league as Rodriguez and Inoue.
Indeed, Astrolabio has spent much of his pro career competing in his homeland, where he suffered his first loss against John Mark Apolinario back in 2017. There were then two more defeats for Astrolabio the following year, when Yuki Strong Kobayashi stopped him in four and ZongLi He edged him over 10. That seemed to end any hope Astrolabio had of ever fighting for a world title and yet, rather admirably, he continued to persevere and ended up turning his fortunes around. Six fights on, he is unbeaten in that time and last year even managed to claim the scalps of the great Guillermo Rigondeaux (now 42, of course) and Nikolai Potapov on what was Astrolabio’s American debut.
Returning to that part of the world this Saturday (May 13), he will do so with plenty of momentum and confidence, aware this could be his first and only chance to win a world title. In his way, however, is a man in Moloney who has not only shared the ring with far better opponents, but is, at 32, and with four wins in a row since losing against Inoue, probably at his very best right now.
At middleweight, the WBO belt will begin the night in the hands of Zhanibek Alimkhanuly, 13-0 (8), with his opponent, Steven Butler, 32-3-1 (26), tasked with trying to snatch it from him over the course of 12 rounds. That would appear unlikely, though, given both the form and awkwardness of the Kazakh belt-holder, who is unbeaten in 13 pro fights and a southpaw standing just shy of six feet. Last time out, against Britain’s Denzel Bentley, he was able to show his array of skills to good effect, winning the fight via unanimous decision, and it is hard to see what Butler, from Canada, can do with Alimkhanuly that Bentley could not.