Rolando Romero got the opportunity of a lifetime a year ago when he landed a bout with Gervonta Davis. There were any number of fighters the Premier Boxing Champions could have chosen to fight Davis, one of the biggest stars in the sport.
It settled on Romero because of his unbeaten record, his punching power and, most importantly, his bold, brash attitude and his ability to sell a fight. Romero is one of the best trash talkers in boxing and commanded an outsized amount of attention prior to fighting Davis on May 28, 2022, in Brooklyn, New York.
Romero grins broadly as a reporter said his ability to talk on the microphone in front of a crowd is among the best in boxing. But Romero, now 27, could barely speak until he was 11 years old. He had a lisp and a speech impediment which caused kids in his hometown of North Las Vegas, Nevada, to tease and harass him. Romero fought to defend himself and found himself scrapping nearly every day.
He said the fights he got in over his speech impediment didn't lead directly to him becoming a boxer, but it certainly put fighting at the front of his mind. Now bilingual and a smooth speaker in public settings, Romero said it was vastly different as a child.
"People couldn't comprehend me unless they were 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 nearly the entire interview until he was asked about his impediment. Then, he looked down at the table and fumbled with a necklace of himself that was hanging around his neck.
He couldn't put his finger on how things changed for him. And while he exudes confidence now when he's talking about his boxing skills, he said he's still not confident in his manner of speech.
"I just grew, man," he said. "I just grew. I personally think that to this day, I still can't speak correctly. I don't know. I just ... I don't know, honestly ... Little by little, I just started speaking better. My sister, she could always speak really well, both languages, English and Spanish. But now, I speak Spanish way more fluently than my sister. I actually speak Spanish like I'm from [a native Spanish-speaking] country.
"I know I speak a lot better now. I don't know what it was, but little by little, I got better."
He's always been able to fight, and now on Saturday, he'll get a chance to add a 140-pound world title to his résumé against the 40-year-old Barroso. Romero was originally slated to face Alberto Puello for Puello's WBA title. Puello tested positive for the banned substance clomiphene and was declared champion in recess while his B sample is tested.
The WBA then sanctioned Romero versus Barroso for its full 140-pound belt.
Romero is eager to get another shot at Davis, but it's not going to come easily. He will have to rack up some wins and perhaps a few belts. Davis went on to win a pair of fights after being Romero, including a KO of Ryan Garcia in a pay-per-view show last month that entrenched him as one of the sport's biggest attractions.
Romero is a -1000 favorite, but there was little brash talk about Barroso. Though he's 40, Barroso has earned Romero's respect for his power; Barroso is 24-3-2 with 22 knockouts.
Romero turned down the brash, boastful behavior that marked him throughout the build-up to the Davis fight and said he's focused on being the best he can be Saturday. Even having the opportunity to win a second world title — he was previously the WBA interim lightweight champ — didn't cause him to crow.
"I put my all into every camp and I've done that for every fight I have," Romero said. "It doesn't matter if I'm fighting this person or that person or whoever. Dude, the man (Barroso) can crack. He's coming to fight. He's tricky, very tricky. And like I said, for him to be able to compete at 40, that means he's been training. He's been taking care of himself."
Romero has as well and has made himself into a factor at the highest level of his sport. And though he says it wasn't why he fought, those scraps on the schoolyards and playgrounds in North Las Vegas couldn't have hurt.