Edwin Rosario should not be going near the water. He's fighting off la monga—the logy feeling that precedes a cold—and he has decided not to work out this afternoon, his first break after five weeks of intense training. Someone jokes that Rosario's trainer, Manny Siaca, is spying nearby, and Rosario laughs nervously; Siaca would not want him here on the shore of the Punta Lastra lagoon in Toa Raja, a city about 20 miles west of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Rosario lives a few miles away in the small village of Campanulas, but the lagoon is as close to his real home as anything. He has been swimming in it since he was three years old. The blue-green Atlantic, in which Rosario often goes spearfishing, is a few hundred yards away, separated from the lagoon by Route 167, or la carretera de la muerte, the highway of death, so named because of the local legend that murderers dump bodies off the road here.
Rosario sheds his yellow tennis shorts, tucks them between the headlight and fender of his 1977 Buick Landau, dons his mask and snorkel and slides into the lagoon in his underwear. "Ah, a millionaire couldn't live any better than this," Rosario says. He disappears under the water to espy the sawfish, barracuda, whitefish and occasional sea bass that drift in from the ocean, and in an in-your-face challenge to la monga, he won't return to the beach for an hour.
At 20, Rosario isn't yet a millionaire. But he will be—and soon. He's the brightest star in a lightweight division that, even with the abdication of Alexis Arguello as WBC champion, boasts a galaxy of young notables. But unlike Boom Boom Mancini, the current WBA champion, Howard Davis, the 1976 Olympic 132-pound champion, and the brash Hector (Macho) Camacho, Rosario is virtually unknown.
On Sunday, Rosario and Jose Luis Ramirez, the WBC's No. 1 and 2 contenders, respectively, will meet at Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan for the right to succeed Arguello. The biggest-money fight in the 135-pound division, it's generally considered, would be Rosario vs. Camacho, a pairing of precocious 20-year-olds who are polar opposites in style and temperament.
"Camacho, Camacho, Camacho," Rosario says. "He's too young yet. He has speed but he doesn't have this [Rosario points to his temple with his right index finger]. No combinations, just speed. He's just a boy who likes to talk too much."
Cus D'Amato, who trained champions like Floyd Patterson and Jose Torres, is a Rosario fan. "In a match between Rosario and Camacho, I would lean toward Rosario. They are equally fast, but Rosario has a better sense of anticipation."
Partly because Rosario doesn't talk too much—and speaks only Spanish when he does—and also because of his lack of exposure—ABC's broadcast of Sunday's fight will be only his third network appearance—he remains mainly a local hero. Around Toa Baja, pop musicians dedicate songs to him, and some of the young fans wear T shirts bearing his likeness and the caption ROSARIO, NUESTRO FUTURO.
If Rosario is indeed "our future," however, he will not ride into the limelight on the same wave of showmanship that brought national acclaim to fellow Puerto Ricans Wilfredo Gomez, the WBC super bantamweight champion, and Wilfred Benitez, a three-time champion. Though Rosario and Benitez are both managed by Jimmy Jacobs, they are hardly amigos. A few months ago, in fact, they honeymooned simultaneously at the same hotel in Dorado Beach, but only nodded at each other once or twice in the dining room. "They're just not my type," Rosario says of Gomez and Benitez. Too stylish in the ring, too talkative out of it for his taste.
However, Rosario's lack of flash could work against him. "He's a mechanical fighter, a stoneface," says Mort Sharnik, a boxing consultant for CBS. "He doesn't fight with any great flair. He doesn't move to any mambo beat.