The unified World Super Welterweight Champion is fueled by an unforgettable, harsh upbringing that’s prepared him for anything he encounters in the ring.
“One more step and that’s it,” said the sweaty man holding the propane tank line to the frail teenager with clenched fists.
One more step and the cardboard box they called a home amid the Santo Domingo squalor would be glowing embers.
One more step and with the flick of a match, he, his two sisters and his mother would be torched—along with the man holding the cord spitting gas, the maniacal man no one in the family looked like.
One more step and no world championships in his future, no way to right the terrible wrongs he witnessed every day.
The recollection spills out of Jeison Rosario in a matter-of-fact cadence. There’s no piercing, high-pitched, ceiling-scratching cacophony of emotion in his voice. There’s no need. It was Rosario’s life, sans embellishment. His countenance carries no twisted rage. He’s stoic, like before a fight. It’s where he came from, what he survived.
Once the angry, fist-clenching teenager, Rosario unified the WBA and IBF world super welterweight titles armed with a traumatic backstory he knows well because he lived it.
Rosario also knew there was no way Julian “J-Rock” Williams was going to beat him last January. It’s because “Banana” channels a controlled inner rage not many have the strength to master.
Yet, the 24-year-old brutal puncher from the Dominican Republic has. It’s why Rosario fights with life-or-death inspiration.
“I use my rage towards boxing, and it’s why I thank God for my talents and allowing me to survive what I did,” Rosario said through interpreter Luis “Chiro” Perez, his trainer. “What happened to me is a part of me, and it will never leave me.”
Just like the night of January 18, at Temple University’s Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, Williams’ hometown, when Rosario (20-1-1, 14 KOs) stopped J-Rock at 1:37 of the fifth round to wrest the 154-pound belts away in what many experts deemed “a shocker.”
Rosario, a 30-to-1 underdog, was supposed to present Williams with a mild challenge, maybe even win a round or two. Instead, he smashed the respected former titlist, ending it with a savage right uppercut and a left hook which forced the battered and bleeding Williams up against the ropes and prompted referee Benjy Esteves to wisely jump in and wave it over.
Somewhere watching was Isabell Bastardo, Rosario’s mother. Isabell was previously skinny as a finger. She would wake her three children at four each morning and take them to a bus station, which took them to school. She would then go back through Santo Domingo and pick up odd menial jobs, like washing dishes and housecleaning. Isabell was so frail that people in the neighborhood would constantly ask Jeison if his mother was sick.
Whatever money she was able to pick up went to the children, at her own expense. Sometimes, she wasn’t able to find work and no one would eat that day. Most days, her dinner was scraps.
Her son Jeison has his own family now, including two sons, ages two and one, with another child on the way. Jeison never knew his biological father. His mother lived with a man who beat her regularly. Her children didn’t have to hear her screams through the tiny walls of their home. They witnessed it firsthand.
“When I was 13, 14, I began to understand a lot, because I was already out in the streets and I saw the beatings every time,” Rosario recalled in a placid voice. “When I tried to interfere, the man said he was going to kill me. It was me, my sisters and my mother. He would pull the cord on the propane tank and threaten to light it up. He’d say, ‘We’re all going to blow up! I’ll kill everybody!’
“ The bloody wounds that I had as a kid are completely healed. ” Unified World Super Welterweight Champion - Jeison Rosario
“My mother used to get really upset. She was afraid we (the children) would get hurt. I had to stay back. But it’s something I saw every day. I wanted to kill this man. I wanted the man to die, and not by someone else’s hands—by my hands. That’s the only way he was going to die. I wanted to see the man dead.”
Eventually, as Rosario reached his mid-teens, he and his group of street friends approached the man and told him that if he laid another hand on Isabell, he would pay a price.
“Everyone in town knew my mother was being beat, and they wanted to kill him,” recalled Rosario. “My mom made the decision to kick the man out. He brought little economical help, and me and my friends cornered him and let him know not to come back.”
The abusive wretch soon died in a car accident after that.
The Dominican Republic is filled with thousands of barefoot kids like Rosario, who spent a portion of his youth living by a city dumpster. The choking odor would waft around the building corner and hit the small family like a punch in the face.
Rosario could be angry at the world—and have every right to be. He isn’t. His plight is a testament to the human spirit and how someone can navigate through a tumultuous history. He’s a victim of domestic abuse and he hasn’t let past demons rule his present. Considering what he’s been through, Rosario could easily be in prison or dead.
“Jeison does not want to make the same mistakes the men in his early life made,” Perez said. “He had no strong father figures. Jeison saw his mother get beat every day, and I can’t even imagine what that was like for him. When you look at everything Jeison has been through, there’s no 154-pounder in the world who can beat him.
“Jeison had a lot of pressure on him to beat Williams. He was fighting for his family. It’s why I say I don’t think anyone at 154 in the world that can beat Jeison Rosario. He’s still learning about boxing. I’m teaching him new stuff every day.”
Sampson Lewkowicz, Rosario’s manager, is like a father figure to Rosario. When his past was broached, Lewkowicz used to notice Rosario’s eyes would grow blood-shot red.
“I knew the horrible stories and I know Jeison is very motivated,” Lewkowicz said. “People needed to know Jeison’s character and I’m happy he’s disclosed his past. He wanted to use the name ‘Bastardo,’ his mother’s name, and he was right in doing so. But we were afraid how it would be interpreted in the United States.
“Jeison has a great future ahead of him. You see all of the Dominicans and their horrible childhoods. Jeison would not accept the violence against his mother, and the domestic abuse in Latin-American countries against women is unacceptable. They have someone like Jeison Rosario to fight for them.”
Rosario’s boxing success has provided Isabell and his sisters a better life. They go to bed each night knowing no one will ever threaten to kill them again.
They would have to get through a world champion first.
“The bloody wounds that I had as a kid are completely healed,” Rosario said. “I’m not bleeding anymore. I’ve made sure that I’m healed and my family is healed. Everyone has cured themselves. I don’t have nightmares anymore.”
For a closer look at Jeison Rosario, check out his fighter page.
- Jeison Rosario