Monday, October 23, 2006

Feature On Toughman Contender

Rollins, Rosa find friendship in the ring
Events Nov. 2 & 3 At Foxwoods

By Mike Sullivan
Portsmouth, N.H. Herald

Friendships can blossom from the most unlikely of scenarios. Just ask Billy Rollins and Tom Rosa.

They may not have known it at the time, but when the pair faced off in the championship round of a Toughman Competition in Concord 11 years ago, a lifelong bond was formed.

Rollins, then 28 and an aspiring middleweight boxer, was in it for the $1,000 pay day. Rosa, then 26, was fighting because he loves a physical challenge.

It the was the first and only Toughman event for Rollins, who won the match and the money before embarking on a boxing career that saw him compile a 12-1-4 record that included seven fights broadcast by ESPN networks. Rosa, despite the loss, fought many more times en route to a 43-18 career mark with 15 knockouts, three championships and four runner-up finishes in Toughman Competitions.

On that night in 1995, Rosa was tough, hit hard and could also take a punch. Rollins was tough, too, and he was bigger and his power was superior in that match.

But they fought clean and they fought hard, and they developed the kind of mutual respect that only fighters can fully understand. It is that mutual respect that brought Rollins and Rosa back together 11 years later, only this time they aren't opponents.

They're a team.

Rollins, a Portsmouth native and Barrington resident, is 40 now and retired from boxing, although you'd never know it by looking at his physique. He is training Rosa, a Hampton Falls resident who is 38 years young and still hooked on Toughman. And like Rollins, Rosa has kept himself in solid shape.

The pair has been working out together for nearly two months in preparation for the Toughman Competition Thursday and Friday, Nov. 2-3, at Foxwoods in Connecticut.

For those unfamiliar with Toughman, it's a faster-paced form of boxing. Fighters battle for three one-minute rounds and you don't know who you're fighting until your name is called as you wait in the locker room. Competitors wear 16-ounce gloves, headgear and groin protectors.

Rollins watched video of 13 Rosa fights, including their 1995 matchup, before training began. He liked what he saw, and knew right away that he could help Rosa. After all, Rollins isn't in this to see Rosa lose.

"I told Tom on the second day of training that we're going down there to win," he said.

Rollins' biggest challenge in training Rosa has been getting him to corral his energy. Rosa is one of the kindest, most laid-back people you could ever meet, but when he talks about fighting, he gets excitable. When he puts the gloves on, a switch goes off. That's exactly what Rollins remembers about the young Rosa he met years ago.

"Nothing was different. Right from the get-go, Tom had that nervous energy," Rollins said with a laugh. "So he's learning to calm that energy and focus. Even though it's Toughman, I'm making Tom smart about being aggressive."

Rollins also wanted to work on Rosa's brawling technique. Let's just say Rosa isn't afraid to take a punch -- or five -- and isn't always worried about dodging them.

"He always tells me, 'I know you can take punches, but I don't want you to,'" Rosa said. "Now I land three, land four, then step and not get hit with four."

Rollins was a brawler, and ultimately that's what ended his career.

"I stood there and fought, but now that I'm a trainer, I don't want my fighter to do that," he said.

Rosa said he feels more prepared than ever since he's been working with Rollins.

"Working out with Billy is unbelievable because he's always two or three steps ahead of you," Rosa said. "I mean, here's a guy who made it to be a middleweight contender. I feel a lot more prepared having a pro fighter who made it to the highest level working with me."

While Rosa admits to feeling the unavoidable fatigue and occasional soreness that come with age -- let's be honest, 38 is old for a fighter -- he doesn't show it. Rosa was punching so hard in one recent training session the walls and floor in the basement of Great Bay Services in Newington, where they've been working out, were actually shaking on his double-hook combos to Rollins' hand pads.

"I think I'm hitting harder than I ever did in my life," Rosa said.

Rollins agreed.

"I don't remember him ever hitting that hard," he said.

And so next week Rosa, with the guidance of Rollins, is hoping to keep punching hard and earn another Toughman championship.

After one recent sparring session, Rollins shook his head with a smile and said, "I'm glad I'm not fighting him. I'm just training him."

Rosa laughed and said, "That's not true, he'd take my head off."

There's that mutual respect, 11 years in the making.

The truth is Rollins and Rosa will never know who would win in a rematch, and it really doesn't matter. What matters is they have a friendship, and that counts far more than wins and losses.


Anonymous said...

Good design!
[url=]My homepage[/url] | [url=]Cool site[/url]

Anonymous said...

Nice site!
My homepage | Please visit

Anonymous said...

Good design! |