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Rolando "Rolly" Romero comes on the phone and he’s talking. He hasn’t even said hello, but when he hears another person on the other end of the line, he’s off to the races.
He’ll face Gervonta “Tank” Davis on Saturday at the Barclays Center in New York for the WBA lightweight title in the main event of a Showtime pay-per-view card.
Davis is the nominal star of the show, but he despises doing media and so he’s sat back and let Romero run with it. And run he has.
Romero remains largely an unknown to the wider boxing world, though he’s 14-0 with 12 knockouts and is one of the hardest hitters in the division.
He’s a massive underdog to Davis. BetMGM has Davis a -1000 favorite, with Romero at +550, but he’s hardly bothered by that. In fact, he sees the slew of bets that have come in on him at sports books around the world as affirmation of his talent.
“Bro, I’m f***ing up the world,” he told Yahoo Sports. “Did you hear, 78 percent of the bets are on me? Did you hear that? People know. I’m taking over this s***. I’m taking over this entire boxing world. This is unheard of.”
Romero was born in Las Vegas and raised in North Las Vegas, the son of Cuban parents. His father, Rolando Sr., was a high-pedigree amateur in Cuba who won three national titles, but didn’t make it big because he was a non-conformist.
“My Dad was very problematic and they don’t deal with problems over there,” Romero said. “If you’re problematic, they don’t put you on the national team. They won’t let you do anything. He was a street kid. They want you to be a servant to the country all the time, you know? There’s a million stories about Cuba. I’m sure you can find a lot of articles about the atrocities the Cuban fighters had to deal with over there. Cuba is terrible. If you train in Cuba, you’re training most of the time barefoot on dirt floors. That’s how it is.”
Romero was in judo from the time he was a young boy, but he didn’t get the itch to box until he was 17. He grew up in poverty and said he’d lay in bed at night listening to the sounds of gunshots.
He’d always boast to his classmates that he would be a star one day. He was in a lot of fights, often because he was bullied because of a speech impediment. He said he was suspended frequently.
“I don’t know, 20 times, maybe even 30 or 40,” he said. “I got bullied a lot and so I got in a lot of fights. I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t know how I didn’t get expelled.”
He made the choice to go into boxing after a visit to Cuba when he was 17. It was, he realized, his path to stardom.
And though he’s got an unconventional style, he discovered power in both of his hands and that gave him a chance every time he stepped into the ring.
“There is no doubt, none, that this kid can punch,” promoter Leonard Ellerbe of Mayweather Promotions said. “I damn sure know he can punch. He’s a big lightweight, maybe the biggest one out there. He’s one of those guys who just has it.”
Davis has long been the star of the Mayweather Promotions stable, and Ellerbe has been protective of him, even recently when Davis spoke of leaving the company after his contract ends on Saturday. Davis is 26-0 with 24 knockouts and is viewed as one of boxing’s rising stars.
Though the odds are long in Davis’ favor, Ellerbe warned not to underestimate Romero.
Ellerbe pointed to several big upsets that have occurred in boxing in the last year as evidence that anything can happen.
“You gonna look at all these upsets and then tell me that Rolly, with all that power he’s got, doesn’t have a chance?” Ellerbe said. “Please.”
Romero has been the star of the promotion and hasn’t been afraid to point that out. He’s mocked Davis every chance he’s gotten and said the only reason Davis is undefeated and so highly regarded is “good matchmaking.”
He knows that Davis has been a darling of Mayweather Promotions, but said, “They’ll go where the money is. And the money is going to be with me. I’m going to be the next superstar in boxing and it begins on Saturday.”
He said Davis is fighting not for legacy or because he loves the competition but rather because he needs the money.
That, he said, isn’t a good sign.
“I’m the one selling the fight,” Romero said. “I’m the one making this happen. The only reason Tank is even participating in this is because he needs money. If he doesn’t have money, he’s going to go to jail because he did stupid s*** in the past. He’s broke. He didn’t make as much money as he thought with Pitbull [Isaac] Cruz and he’s broke. He’s one of those people who lives paycheck to paycheck.
“I’m going to win this fight, there’s no doubt about that. I’m going to knock him out. I’m the bigger, more explosive, faster fighter. I’m the better boxer. Everyone can say what they want, but Tank’s pretty slow. He just fights dudes that are very slow. He’s gotten touched up by all them dudes, and now he’s going to fight someone fast and explosive and powerful like me? … I’m going to get him out of there in the first round. I see his big head landing in one of my fists and me getting him out of there in that first round.”