Gabriel Rosado is a proud Puerto Rican, often referred to as the “People’s Champ.”
The world-champion boxer has won titles in multiple weight classes: he’s the USBA jr middle weight, WBA super middleweight and intercontinental champ as well as BKB middle weight champ. Rosado grew up in a section of Philadelphia called the Badlands, a name coined by the FBI for having one of the highest rates of violent crime in America. Living in an environment of constant chaos, uncertainty and death, Rosado credits his mother’s willpower and his “connection with God” for helping him navigate away from a life of crime and toward a future as a true warrior for good.
His talents have expanded beyond the ring onto the big screen with his film debut in Creed–– the hit spin-off sequel to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky trilogy. He also appeared in the DirecTV series Kingdom and collaborated on ESPN’s boxing series Golden Boy. Rosado added entrepreneur to his long list of titles with the opening of Badlands, boxing gym in Downtown Los Angeles, fittingly named after the hometown Philly neighborhood that built him. He also has his own line of health products sold under the brand KGR Supplements (King Gabriel Rosado) created to support athletes beyond the boxing ring. While Rosado finds pride in his career, his biggest rewards come from using his platform to empower those less fortunate around him.
GROWING UP IN THE BADLANDS
Gabriel Rosado: At that time, I thought it was normal, but I can look at it now and realize the environment was crazy. I saw people getting shot in front of me, and I saw it as normal. The first time I saw the guy get shot, I was like, eight or nine years old.
When my parents divorced, I was 13. My dad was heartbroken. He fell right back into his old ways. My mom moved on with her life and married a really good man, but my dad hit the streets. That’s when my rebellion kicked in and things started going downhill. It was like night and day when I was with my dad [compared to my mom.] He was back in the streets––he went from church shoes to Timberlands––and I wanted to be like Pops, he was my role model.
Philly is a really hostile environment overall. You have to be bad to survive in the streets. We were getting into trouble doing the wrong things. I left school at 14, and I got caught up doing stupid stuff. After a while, my friends were getting locked up and some friends that I was with all the time were getting killed.
But the thing is, my mom always preached to me. It would drive me crazy and would I give her a hard time, but it kicked in at the right time. At 18, I got into a situation where I could have gone to jail and this was my awakening. Not that I was scared of jail, but I got to thinking, “What is my life going to look like?” I told myself, “I have to chill. I’m going down the wrong path.” This experience got me to start doing something. That’s when I picked up boxing. I would have my talks with God and tell him that “I’m going to do my part, and He can do his part.”
Boxing saved me because I became dedicated and disciplined. It made me stop drinking and smoking weed. It gave me a purpose. Once I started boxing I knew immediately I was going to fight on a world-class stage. It wasn’t like, I’m going to do this for fun––instead I decided this is what I’m going to do. I had posters in my room of [Félix] Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins and Mike Tyson. When I picked up boxing, I wanted to do what they did.
Gabriel Rosado: I was 18 years old going into gyms and people would say things like, “You’re too old, man. Switch to basketball.” Then Billy Briscoe became my trainer in the beginning of my career. He caught me in the street and came up to me––he told me, “If you’re serious, come back tomorrow.” From there we developed a great bond.
He showed me a lot. He believed in me, and I put in the work. I was lucky to have him as a trainer because he came from a boxing lineage. His trainer was Willy Mozart. He learned the true art of boxing and passed that onto me. I learned the old-school craft and we put in the work. We did amateur for only about 11 fights. I was 19 when I went pro. Then, right from there we continued to build. I started grinding.
I was a janitor at a high school. Kids nowadays would be embarrassed about a job like that, but for what? My mentality was, this isn’t forever, this is only temporary. I put in the work. I pushed carts at a grocery store and worked the graveyard shift at Home Depot stocking shelves while getting up early to train.
I was like the underdog. I fought clocking off the graveyard shift. I’d put in work in the morning, after four hours of sleep, going to the gym, leaving the gym, going to work. At that time, I was already making the ranks in boxing. I was coming up and climbing the ladder. That was my breakthrough year.
Interview by Tricia Love Vargas
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