Jason Sosa returns, thoughts on Atlantic City and Bethlehem
“I gave myself a five-year window to do something with boxing.”
If you have been following the career of Jason Sosa, him saying he was able to do something special, in the last five years of his career, would be the understatement of the year. This pair of eyes first witnessed the talent of the now 29-year-old former WBA junior lightweight champion from Camden, New Jersey, back in 2012. Sosa, who, at the time, posted a 4-1-1 record, was taking on another up and coming 130-pound fighter, from Philadelphia, Angel Ocasio. Prior to their epic two battles, that ended in six and eight-round draws, Ocasio was being touted as the fighter with the bright upside. However once the dust settled from their two brawls, Sosa not only surpassed the career of his nemesis but would reach heights in the sport that fans and insiders never thought he could come close to accomplishing.
“Actually we are friends. I know his wife and always say hi to his pop (respected trainer Papo Ocasio), when I see him,” says Sosa of his relationship with Ocasio. As Sosa recalls his past and the fights that would serve as the jumping point for a 14-fight win streak, it’s not hard to tell that this version of Jason Sosa is surrounded by a sense of calm that is infectious. Anyone would be hard-pressed to even believe that Sosa is just days away from arguably his biggest fight.
“It’s funny. I made that promise to myself and look at me now. Five years later and I’ve won a world championship and when I beat (Yuriorkis) Gamboa (tonight), it’ll be the start of a big 2018 for me,” he said. One thing is for sure; if Sosa is victorious against the veteran and two-time featherweight titlist Gamboa, he will be right back in front of the line to challenge any of the world champions at junior lightweight. Of course the last time the world heard from Sosa, he was beaten, last April, by one of the top fighters in the world, two-division beltholder Vasyl Lomachenko.
Although Sosa was soundly defeated, his grit and determination to constantly press forward and try to win the fight was not ignored by the broadcast team at ringside. It was clear that Sosa had impressed them and, despite losing on that April evening, he could have a future with HBO. In fact, HBO praised Sosa for those attributes, along with his heavy-handed punching and relentless attack that helped his career reach their platform in the first place.
“Throwback fighter” is a term used lightly in the sport but if it’s used regarding Jason Sosa, it’s spot-on. Sometimes in losing, one actually wins. This has been the case, post-Lomachenko, with Sosa, who suffered just his second professional defeat (and first at the elite level). Afterward, he was granted a much-needed break from the ring and gym.
“(Sosa’s trainer) Chino (Rivera) told me to take break from it all. I needed to remember that I’ve been going non-stop with training and fight after fight to climb the rankings for five years straight,” recalls Sosa. His 14-fight win streak was snapped at the end of 2015, when he fought to a majority draw with Nicholas Walters (in his first appearance on HBO). While many observers felt he lost the fight, Sosa kept marching forward and was awarded a shot at the WBA title, which he would capture by stopping Javier Fortuna in Beijing, China, six months later. One more fight, a title defense in Monte Carlo, and Sosa got the big fight with Lomachenko.
This is something that is not lost on Sosa’s Hall of Fame promoter J Russell Peltz. “Jason is not going to fight stay-busy fights or easy, lay-up fights. He wants to fight the best every fights,” empathically states Peltz, who is not shy about sharing his feelings on how the sport has changed, for the negative, over recent decades. The marriage between Sosa and Peltz is the perfect fit for both the fighter and promoter’s mental make-up.
Throwback and “old-school,” indeed. Sosa is a breath of fresh air and reminds of a time that has passed in the sport, a time when all championship challengers had to train and fight on a full-time basis to reach their goals of a championship and the big money fights. These are things that are, at times, handed to young fighters who may still be in prospect mode or have yet to be truly battle-tested. Again, those are things that can’t be applied to Sosa.
So after taking some much needed time off, which included returning to his native Puerto Rico, to handle other business ventures, Sosa received the call from his trainer that it was time to return to the gym and train for yet another big opportunity. “I was told about the chance to fight (Robinson) Castellanos and I said, ‘Hell yeah; let’s do it,'” states Sosa. After returning to Camden and his training camp in nearby Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Sosa gained peace of mind when he was told his family and business were safe from Hurricane Maria’s destruction in Puerto Rico. “Thank God. Yes, everything in Puerto Rico is OK.”
As his camp was moving toward his big opportunity to return to the front of the line, with a victory against Castellanos, he received yet another call, this one informing him that Castellanos was injured and had to drop out of the fight. However there was a major sliver lining that followed. “Of course I was excited when they said it would be Gamboa. Castellanos is a good fighter but Gamboa is a veteran that everyone knows in boxing,” said Sosa. Based on his reaction toward this new opportunity, Sosa views this fight as his biggest opportunity, as well as a necessary victory for career progression.
Against the veteran Gamboa, Sosa will be facing the older lion, who is trying to make one last push toward the summit of the sport. What makes this fight so interesting is, while Sosa will be facing Gamboa, another fighter, whom, like Lomachenko has a tremendous amateur pedigree and is viewed as more naturally gifted, Gamboa is 35 now and the same God-given speed of hand and foot may no longer be what it used to, when he was dazzling the lighter divisions in his prime. It has been the case that, when fighters who once relied on their superior natural talents reach the twilights of their careers or are past their primes, they tend to relish trading power shots and engage in hellacious combat, for as long as the fight lasts.
Sosa smiles when this possibility is mentioned but quickly responds in his best political manner, when pressed if it’s how he wants Gamboa to fight, “I’m prepared for whatever (Gamboa) wants to do in there.” As fans, one can only hope this is how their encounter on tonight does indeed play out. One thing is for sure: If Sosa is victorious against Gamboa, sit back and enjoy because it will surely be the beginning of one more five-year run. Except these next five years will mostly take place on the elite level of the sport for Jason Sosa.
Here are some of my thoughts pertaining to fight cards that were held in the region this past week, one in Atlantic City, last Saturday, which featured welterweight contender and promoter Thomas “Cornflake” LaManna, as well as yet another quality card promoted by Kings Promotions, at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Despite losing its main event, it turned out to be a good card.
LaManna, who won a 10-round decision to earn his 25th victory, against just two defeats, has a good set of skills. He works off of his jab well and dictates the pace of the action to favor his game plan. While he fights using his height and lands cleanly to both the body and head, there might just be a lack of power that could make things interesting, as his competition level increases. Either way, it should be fun to watch things play out for him. As for his promotional duties, his company Rising Promotions consistently fills a small ballroom at the Claridge Hotel and Casino, which is good for both LaManna and the city because it is clear that Atlantic City is not what it used to be, both in regard to the sport and its status as a tourist destination. Folks like Ray McCline, of the Atlantic City Hall of Fame, are working to change this current narrative.
Also on the card was Ray “Tito” Serrano. Serrano, who has been spending time on the West Coast, at the Wild Card Boxing Club, in Hollywood, Califonia, looked the best he has in some time. Although he was awarded a eighth round disqualification victory, he was well on his way to stopping his game undefeated opponent Enver Halili. Serrano, who has only lost to other welterweight contenders, is still in his prime and, now that his physical strength has matured to match his killer instincts, like LaManna, it should be fun to see how his career plays out, as he slowly climbs back into trying to earn his opportunity in the loaded 147-pound division.
Bantamweight Jorge Diaz was impressive in his victory over Adam Lopez. This was the fight of the night and Diaz, who was floored with a left hook, in the second, made the adjustments necessary in order to scratch out the victory. Lopez made things tougher on himself, since he never tried to take control of the fight with his better jab and only searched for another left hook to end things.
Alvin Varmall Jr., of Louisiana, is a cruiserweight to watch. He does his best Mike Tyson impersonation and, so far, it has worked. He scored another early knockout victory and, like the other aforementioned fighters on this card, it is going to be fun to watch him as he steps up his competition level.
Top Rank’s junior lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno thrilled his hometown crowd by scoring the fifth stoppage victory, of his young career, in as many professional bouts. Adorno has everything you want from a top-level prospect. His technique, speed and power are serious. His composure and instinct to finish, once he has his foe hurt are both real, in terms of quality. Keep an eye out for the progression of his career in the following years. He may be ready for another level earlier than others.
Victor Vazquez, of Yonkers New York, continues to look more impressive each time he fights. There is a lot of learning going on with this lightweight between fights. Although his record is now 9-3 (3), his skills and approach are better than his record suggests. In fact, he was the only fighter the entire night to use his jab in order to dictate pace and range to set up his power punches. He also used the jab to regain control of the fight, when his game opponent Ricardo Garcia tried to seize the momentum with his own power shots. A well-deserved eight round majority decision for Vazquez was the result in an action fight that featured several knockdowns and heated exchanges.
Bantamweight Harold Lopez, a stable mate of Adorno’s, is a possible name to watch. He may not look old enough to drive but his fire to exchange power shots is that of a seasoned veteran. Heavyweight Michael Coffie, from Brooklyn, is known for his success in the New York amateur scene and scored an early first round knockout with a powerful straight right hand.
Kings Promotions will return to the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia on December 1, for what looks like a stacked card that features Ty Brunson and super prospect Jaron “Boots” Ennis, as well as the all-Philadelphia battle between super middleweights Christopher Brooker and Brandon Robinson. Rising Promotions is off for the holidays and will return early next year.