Jeff Jacobs: Luis Angel Rosa Jr.- The kind warrior lives on
NEW HAVEN — Luis Rosa Sr. was asleep in his room at 3 a.m. Sunday when he felt the shake of his younger son. There had been a call from the police.
“It’s a bad car accident,” Luis Sr. heard him say.
Father and both his sons bear the first name Luis. It is fitting. At its root, Luis means famous in battle, a famous warrior. After a contested split decision loss to Yuandale Evans for the WBC Intercontinental Championship in November, a terrific fight on Showtime by every standard, Luis Angel Rosa Jr. stood 23-1 with 11 knockouts. Yes, “KO King” Rosa was a professional featherweight boxer on the rise.
“In the ring, that’s what my son was — a warrior,” Louis Sr. said. “Outside the ring, he was a loving man, a good human being. He would give a hand to anyone. If you were hungry, he would feed you.”
So there was Luis Sr., absorbing the worst fear a parent could endure, dropping to his knees in the early hours of Sunday.
“I got down and prayed,” he said. “And then I got up, dressed. We went to the hospital and we got there.”
Luis Jr. wasn’t there.
“So we went to where the accident happened,” Luis Sr. said.
The accident happened shortly after 2 a.m. near the intersection of Meloy Road and Baker Street in West Haven. Rosa’s Honda, heading southbound, crossed the center line and crashed into an Acura heading in the opposite direction, according to West Haven police.
“We weren’t supposed to get in there, but I needed to see my son,” Luis Sr. said. “I got inside the car where he had the accident. I hugged him. I kissed him. I spoke to him. But only his body was there.
“He was my first born. You got to respect him as a man, but he’s my baby.”
Luis Angel Rosa Jr. was 26.
The passenger in Rosa’s vehicle and the lone occupant of the Acura, according to police, were hospitalized in stable condition.
“It is an unbearable feeling,” Rosa’s mother Marilyn said. “You just have to keep moving. You have to keep walking. One thing my husband has been telling me all day yesterday and today, ‘Just breathe. Remember to breathe.’ It takes my breath away every time I think about it.”
The sense of loss is enormous in the New Haven community, the Hispanic community, the boxing community. Luis and Marilyn founded the Boxing in Faith gym on Grand Avenue in the Fair Haven section of the city in 2009. The gym stands behind a building where the family operates a real estate agency. Boxing is their love. And to know boxing is to know a vital sense of direction the sport can give to the young and disadvantaged.
As Luis Sr. and Marilyn spoke late Monday afternoon, several boxers, some no older than from nearby Fair Haven Middle School, worked the heavy bag. Luis Sr. boxed. He coaches these kids.
“It is good for me to be here,” Luis Sr. said after he and his wife returned from making funeral arrangements. “I find strength here.”
Family arriving from as far away as Puerto Rico and Florida will mourn privately Wednesday. On Thursday there will be a wake from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Career High School. Burial will be Friday.
“We want everyone to come to the wake, no one is excluded,” Marilyn said. “The New Haven community has always supported us and we want to make sure we share these moments with them.”
There will be a memorial scholarship fund in the KO King’s name and the thought of such a legacy brings his mom a small smile. “I think he will be very happy with that,” she said. Until then, Luis Sr. and Marilyn hug. And they hug their children, Luis Aneudy and Kiana.
“It’s been really hard on them,” Marilyn said. “We are holding on, literally, to each other.
“Luis was striving for greatness, but he kept his humility. He greeted people with love and respect. Everywhere I went, people would say, ‘I met your son. What a humble kid.’ How I love to hear that.
“Boxing is a huge part of our life. It must take up 80 percent of what we do. It’s not even a job. We love it. Everybody who comes to the gym becomes part of the family.”
A few feet away a sign hangs on the wall. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13.”
Luis’ cousin Anuel, 20, searches for that strength.
“I’m not doing that good right now,” he said. “He’s more than my cousin. He’s my brother. Without him, I don’t know how I’m going to do this.”
Anuel’s own brother had called him at 4 a.m. Sunday to tell him Luis was gone. He didn’t believe it. He called his dad to make sure it was true.
“It’s such shock,” Anuel said. “I always have looked up to Luis. I want to be like him. I loved how aggressive he was in the ring. He never backed down from anybody. If the fight got tough, he got tough. But you see him with his family, he’s got such a soft spot. He always gave me advice when I was down. I loved everything about him.”
So the work must continue.
“These kids, they want to be like my son,” Luis Sr. said. “What he did in his boxing is still going to bear fruit. Look around here. Italian kids, Puerto Rican kids, Irish, African-Americans, Dominicans, Colombians, Ecuadorians. We learn from each other.
“Boxing is a sport that helped me stay straight in my hardest days as a young man. Now I help young men to stay focused, stay off the streets and out of the [penal] system. Boxing is family.”
So it was no surprise Rosa had dedicated his last fight in Cleveland to the people of Puerto Rico suffering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Rosa thought he won the 10-round main event fight on “ShoBox: The New Generation.” He told reporters afterward that Evans won four rounds tops and that he thought the judges were swayed by the hometown crowd.
The greatest part of the sports narrative, of course, is the next chance, the redemption. The tragedy of life is sometimes there is no next chance.
Still, the work must continue.
Anuel is scheduled to box Friday in the semifinals of the Western New England Golden Gloves Champions at MassMutual Center in Springfield. Yes, he is going to box.
“It’s going to be tough,” Marilyn said. “He looked up to my son. They were very close. I don’t know how he is going to do it.”
Louis Sr., the coach, the mentor, will be there.
“We are going to box and we are going to be victorious for Luis ‘KO King’ Rosa,” he said. “My son is a warrior. He would not want me to wimp out. Is it hard? Oh man, I have been hit by most everything in life, but this time … this hits my heart.
“Unless you have gone through it, it is a pain you cannot know. It is my son. It is a part of me. I believe in God for his healing and comfort, because there are no words that can encourage me right now.”
Anuel allows his mind to drift to when they were all young and he and Luis’ brother were fighting over who should go first at Xbox. Luis had a solution. He dared them to swallow some cinnamon.
“It was a prank,” Anuel said. “He was so much fun. I love him so much. He was my role model.”
Anuel stops himself.
“He is my role model,” he said. “Everything I do now, it is for him. I’m going to live up to his name.
Live up to the name Luis Angel Rosa Jr. Famous in battle.