Rolando Romero overcame a speech impediment that helped him rise to the boxing big leagues

Rolando Romero overcame a speech impediment that helped him rise to the boxing big leagues

Rolando Romero, who is fighting Ismael Barroso on Saturday in Las Vegas for the WBA light welterweight title, was unable to speak for the first 11 years of his life. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Rolando Romero got the opportunity of a lifetime a year ago when he landed a fight with Gervonta Davis. There were a number of fighters early boxing champions could have chosen to fight Davis, one of the sport’s biggest stars.

He settled on Romero because of his undefeated record, punching power, and most importantly, his bold, brash attitude and ability to sell a fight. Romero is one of boxing’s best talkers and garnered outsized attention before he fought Davis on May 28, 2022 in Brooklyn, New York.

Romero smiled broadly when a reporter said his ability to speak into a microphone in front of a crowd was among the best in boxing. But Romero, now 27, could barely speak until he was 11. He had a lisp and a speech impediment that caused children in his hometown of North Las Vegas, Nevada to tease and bully him. Romero fought to defend himself and found himself scrapped almost every day.

He said the fights he had because of his speech impediment didn’t lead him directly to becoming a boxer, but it certainly put fighting at the forefront of his mind. Now bilingual and a fluent speaker in public places, Romero said it was very different as a child.

“People couldn’t understand me if they weren’t immediate family,” said Romero, who returns to fight Saturday at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas against Ismael Barroso in his first fight since being knocked out. in the sixth round last year by Davis.

It was a touchy subject, clearly, for Romero, who made direct eye contact with a reporter for most of the interview until he was asked about his impediment. Then, he looked down at the table and fumbled with a necklace of himself hanging around his neck.

He couldn’t put his finger on how things had changed for him. And although he exudes confidence now when talking about his boxing skills, he said he still lacks confidence in the way he speaks.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 21: Rolando Romero speaks during a press conference ahead of his WBA Lightweight Championship fight against Gervonta Davis on December 5 at Staples Center on October 21, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

Rolando Romero is a -1000 favorite on Saturday to defeat Ismael Barroso in their fight in Las Vegas for the WBA light welterweight title. (Michael Owens/Getty Images)

“I just grew up, man,” he said. “I just grew up. Personally, I think to this day I still can’t speak properly. I don’t know. I just…I don’t know, honestly…Little by little, I just started to speak better. My sister, she always spoke very well, both languages, English and Spanish. But now I speak Spanish much more fluently than my sister. In fact, I speak Spanish as if I came from [a native Spanish-speaking] country.

“I know I speak a lot better now. I don’t know what it was like, but little by little I got better.”

He has always been capable of fighting, and now on Saturday he will have the chance to add a 140-pound world title to his resume against 40-year-old Barroso. Romero was originally scheduled to face Alberto Puello for Puello’s WBA title. Puello tested positive for the banned substance clomiphene and was declared a recreation champion while his B sample is tested.

The WBA then sanctioned Romero against Barroso for his full 140-pound belt.

Romero is eager to get another chance against Davis, but it won’t come easily. He’s going to have to rack up a few wins and maybe a few belts. Davis has won two fights after being Romero, including a knockout of Ryan Garcia on a pay-per-view show last month that established him as one of the sport’s biggest attractions.

Romero is a -1000 favourite, but there has been little heated discussion about Barroso. Despite being 40, Barroso has earned Romero’s respect for his power. Barroso is 24-3-2 with 22 knockouts,

He denied the brash and boastful behavior that plagued him throughout the build-up to the Davis fight and said he was focused on being the best he could be on Saturday. Even having the opportunity to earn a second world tile — he was previously the interim WBA lightweight champion — didn’t make him sing.

“I put everything in every side and I did that for every fight I have,” Romero said. “It doesn’t matter if I fight that person or that person or whoever. Man, the man (Barroso) can crack. He comes to fight. He’s cunning, very cunning. And like I said, for that able to compete at 40, that means he trained. He took care of himself.”

Romero did it too and established himself at the highest level of his sport. And though he says that wasn’t what he fought for, those leftovers in schoolyards and playgrounds north of Las Vegas couldn’t have hurt him.


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