Chocolatito hits the big stage
On the afternoon of Nov. 21, several hours before Saul Alvarez and Miguel Cotto clashed at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, a small, private media event featuring Roman Gonzalez and Gennady Golovkin – who have become boxing’s dynamic duo over last year – was held in one of the hotel suites.
In this room were Tom Loeffler, the managing director of K2 Promotions, representatives of Teiken Promotions, publicist Bernie Bahrmasel and Peter Nelson of HBO Sports. It’s the type of meet-and-greet that is often organized around big fights as a large collection of media convenes at the fight hotel. Earlier that morning, Main Events had set up a similar event for IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev.
As “Chocolatito” – the reigning WBC flyweight champion, with a sterling mark of 44-0 (38) – sat on a couch with his manager, Carlos Blandon, he answered various questions. Much of the focus centered on a possible rematch with Juan Francisco Estrada, who took Gonzalez the distance in Nov. 2012 in a memorable fight at the LA Sports Arena.
The diminutive Nicaraguan star danced around the question of a return bout with Estrada. “I’m waiting for next year to see what’s coming. I thank God, Teiken, HBO and K2, who have given me the opportunity to fight here in the States.” But Loeffler, who cut a deal in which K2 would be Gonzalez’s stateside promoter, added, “I think, from the promoters’ side, that would be one of the anticipated fights for next year because they had such a great fight when they had the first fight. Estrada has two titles, as well, in the flyweight division. So that would be a great unification fight.”
In short, Gonzalez-Estrada II would be one of the most anticipated fights of the upcoming year by the hardcore followers of the sport (yeah, I just referenced myself but I think I speak for the vast majority of boxing fans in this instance). It’s the type of fight for which HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” was long ago created.
Nelson, now the boxing czar for HBO, stated on that afternoon, “We’re talking over a number of different scenarios still, in terms of what Roman’s progressions in 2016 is going to be. A lot of it is seeing what his team wants to do in 2016 and one of the great things about fighters like Roman and Gennady – as well as the teams behind them – is that they are always willing to fight everybody and they’re willing to fight them at anytime.
“So when there’s a real press reaction to a particular fight, and then that generates the fans really being behind something, then it’s time to make it happen.”
Fast forward to the beginning of the year; rumors were rampant that Gonzalez would face the faded Giovani Segura on March 5 in Los Angeles. The fire was fanned by Gonzalez himself, who announced such a thing on social media earlier this week, only to do something he rarely does inside the ring – backtrack.
Loeffler, who is still in the process of working out all the details of Gonzalez’s next bout with the honorable Mr. Akihiko Honda and HBO, has conceded the second go-round with Estrada will most likely have to take place later in 2016.
The window to make this bout is in 2016, according to Blandon, “Definitely in the future (Roman) wants to fight for the 115-pound title and go for that.” The manager says his man probably has another 12 months at flyweight.
Golovkin is slated to return to the ring on April 23 and chances are, unlike his past two outings, Gonzalez will not serve as chief support to “GGG.” It could be time for Chocolatito to head up the marquee.
“We’ve seen from the last two fights Roman has had in LA at the Forum – which was on HBO – and then his great victory over Brian Viloria at a sold-out Madison Square Garden in New York, the pay-per-view, those two victories alone have elevated him to really the top of most pound-for-pound lists and has really elevated his profile and status in the sport of boxing. He’s leap-frogged where Estrada is, even with two belts. But again, it takes two to tango and you’ll see him continue on this progression,” said Loeffler in November.
The fact that Gonzalez is even being talked about in these terms is a story within itself. In this country, smaller fighters are often relegated to second-class status and often face a “glass floor,” in terms of where they can perform and how much money they can make. It wasn’t all that long ago when Gonzalez was headlining on UniMas at the Fairplex in Pomona and his first encounter versus Estrada was eschewed by the premium cable networks and broadcast by Wealth TV (now AWE).
Even Gonzalez is a bit amazed by where he stands in the business. “At the beginning, I was fighting in Mexico and Japan and I didn’t think I would be able to get to the status of being able to fight on this big platform,” he said through Blandon. “But I always trusted Teiken to take me there and now with the help of K2 – but I never imagined I’d be on HBO.”
Those fights at the Fairplex and the LA Sports Arena did bring in a contingent of Gonzalez’s countrymen. Now, Gonzalez is a must-see fighter but the question still remains: Can a flyweight who’s not Mexican headline his own major cards? We’ll find out in the near future. In the past, other than Ricardo Lopez and Johnny Tapia, fighters of this small stature (under 118 pounds) were generally ignored by the power brokers in boxing.
HBO is bucking this trend and Nelson – who was a driving force in advocating for both Golovkin and Gonzalez to be on the network – is more than willing to go all-in with this piece of Chocolate, no matter how small it may be.
“I think boxing fans are more sophisticated than simply saying, because a guy weighs a certain amount, he should or shouldn’t be elevated or recognized for the level of virtuosity he exhibits in in the ring,” he said during this media session. “Who doesn’t want to see fights that are competitive and see the best competition available with the highest level of skill possible? And Roman clearly represents that and he’s someone who’s willing to fight anyone and someone who does it at an exceptionally high level in the sport.”
Hey, if a Kazakh middleweight can scale the heights of the boxing hierarchy, why not a Nicaraguan flyweight?
Loeffler states, “I think just like we took risks with Gennady; I think once Roman’s at that point, you saw (Humberto) ‘Chiquita’ Gonzalez-Michael Carbajal at the Forum. That was a fantastic fight at the lower weight divisions and, if there’s an opponent like Estrada that can create enough interest, with HBO’s support, obviously, I think he’s poised to headline his own show next year. Absolutely.”
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The new season of “Game of Thrones” will begin on April 24. So that’s Golovkin and “Game” on the same weekend…Here’s the latest on Viktor Postol…Greg Cohen says he has set dates for Feb. 19, March 25 and April 22 for CBS Sports Network…Here’s hoping one of my all-time favorite ‘Canes, the great Edgerrin James gets into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I was there the day he ripped UCLA for 299 yards. It was my first game at the Orange Bowl. One of my most cherished memories as a sports fan…So it’s finally stopped raining out here in LA?…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.