Roman Gonzalez plans to kick off a smart comeback on Saturday
On September 15 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, the focus of the boxing world will center on a monument middleweight championship rematch between Gennady Golovkin and Saul Alvarez. The significance of the match-up cannot be any bigger. In the not necessarily favored event, a clean and unquestionable winner could immediately get elevated to be the next pound-for-pound leader in the sport.
Earlier in that four-bout HBO Pay-Per-View program, however, fans will see the return of another pugilist who formerly held that very P4P crown. Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez will see action after a year of absence from the squared circle, when he faces Mexican Moises Fuentes in a ten-round junior bantamweight carnage.
Gonzalez earned the unofficial throne of becoming the No. 1 boxer on the globe regardless of the weight, being unbeaten in the sport for almost 12 years and winning four world titles in as many divisions during that period. The Nicaraguan fighter once held a portion of world championships at strawweight, light flyweight and flyweight before he made his move to junior bantamweight, where he beat fellow unbeaten Carlos Cuadras for the WBC belt in September 2016.
At that moment, Gonzalez had a string of 46 professional fights without a blemish, 15 being world title affairs. Gonzalez also beat nine past or current beltholders, including major championship players Katsunari Takayama, Juan Francisco Estrada, Akira Yaegashi, Edgar Sosa, Brian Viloria and the aforementioned Cuadras.
Then came his first title defense against mandatory challenger and former WBC 115-pound ruler Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and the dream came to a sudden end, in March of last year. The Thai fighter, who was born under the name Wisaksil Wangek, withstood Gonzalez’s vicious attacks and came back with his own wild bombs before securing a 12-round majority decision win over his bloodied and confused opponent.
The Nicaraguan fighter demanded his just due revenge at Sor Rungvisai after the vast majority of the boxing world thought Gonzalez suffered a questionable verdict, only to get mauled by the bigger and more powerful Thai champion. Gonzalez was flattened in the fourth by a pair of cracking right hooks that shut off his dreams of regaining his stature at the top of the sport.
Gonzalez, 46-2 (38), spent long months at home with his family following his back-to-back defeats, mulling over what would be his best choice going forward. First he came close to calling it a day on his brilliant fistic run. Later however, he decided to give it another shot to get back to his winning ways in 2018.
“During that inactivity and during that break, I definitely thought (about retiring) but, then after, I regained a little bit of time with my family and going back to Nicaragua. I was thinking a lot, then started helping some of the kids in the gym where I train and that started to motivate me. The thought that I still have it in me and the thought that I definitely have a chance to be able to become a world champion (again). I felt I shouldn’t retire and instead, I should go one more extra mile,” Gonzalez told a group of reporters, through his manager Carlos Blandon, on Wednesday in Las Vegas.
“I believe all of the greatest boxers have fallen once or twice in their careers, inside or outside of the ring, and that the biggest legacy I can leave to any kid and to anyone that followed me is that, once you fall, you have to get back up and if you are able to get back up, then that motivation is the biggest legacy you can ever leave.”
The biggest issue regarding Gonzalez’s return was to decide at which weight division he should choose to compete. In fact, Chocolatito’s physical power, as well as his 5-foot-3 frame, proved to be less than enough to help validate his traditional seek-and-destroy kind of style over his foes at 115 pounds. That first became clear in his debut at junior bantamweight against Cuadras, a fight the Nicaraguan won only by a hairline, thanks to a strong finish in the championship rounds.
However although he could have chosen flyweight, Gonzalez decided to continue his career at 115 pounds, the class still controlled to this day by his archrival Sor Rungvisai.
“I believe that once I got to be more known and got the bigger fights, I definitely got some (dangerous) rivals in this weight class and, yes, it became a little bit more difficult but, at the same time, I like the challenge and I am really all about that, being able to challenge myself and that is why I have not decided to go down or go up,” described the former four-division champ, who believes he still has enough left in the tank to make another successful run in a busy junior bantamweight category.
“I feel I still have enough left to be the king at 115 pounds. The trust that I have in my team and in myself is something very important. Mentally and physically I have to be a lot stronger after coming back from the knockout but I believe I am well-prepared and ready for the battle on Saturday.”
The boxer who wishes to leave the shorter stick for Gonzalez in this upcoming match on HBO is no stranger on the world title level himself. Fuentes won the WBO crown at strawweight in the summer of 2011 by a split decision victory over Raul Garcia.
After halting Julio Cesar Felix in the opening round in his first title defense, the Mexico City native had a pair of his most complex performances in the form of a wild fifth round demolition over former longtime champ Ivan Calderon, followed by a 12-round draw against then-WBO 108-pound ruler Donnie Nietes, in a high-stakes war of skills and determination.
Fuentes, 25-5-1 (14), had a rematch against the great Nietes the following year in 2014, sustaining a ninth round KO loss that also killed the Mexican’s plans on switching his interim title reign at light flyweight to full-fledged recognition under the auspices of the World Boxing Organization.
A couple of nice looking wins followed over former beltholders Oswaldo Novoa and Francisco Rodriguez Jr., the latter being a wild tactical-match-up-turned-physical brawl that Fuentes barely edged on the cards. Two fights later, he was stopped in five frames in another attempt to get a piece of the light flyweight championship against talented Japanese Kosei Tanaka. That blemish has also paved a rocky road over the past two years with a 1-3 run, the lone win coming over journeyman Ulises Lara in an immediate rematch of a shocking 10-round points win over Fuentes.
Fuentes’ recent setbacks pretty much make him an ideal opponent for Gonzalez. The Mexican may be taller by three-and-a-half inches but his strengths have already proven to be nonsense at flyweight in the Mexican’s most recent fight, a single round knockout loss to then-WBC titlist Daigo Higa, last February in Japan.
Chocolatito needs to kick off his comeback with a performance that could rebuild his confidence to a level where he feels he can face the best all over again.
When asked by BoxingScene’s Ryan Burton on Wednesday about a potential rematch against his former victim, Juan Francisco Estrada, who secured an important victory in a tougher-than-expected bout, last Saturday, over fellow Mexican Felipe Orucuta, Gonzalez openly planned to take his time in his return to glory in the loaded division.
“I think (Estrada had) a good fight. I would definitely like a rematch at a certain time, when it is right. They already offered me world title shots but right now I really want this return fight in this division and take things in the correct manner and fight for the title, when it is right.”
It is a smart idea indeed. The 115-pound division may enjoy its Golden Age, thanks to the creation of “SuperFly,” an HBO series packed with well-organized bouts between top-rated junior bantamweights. Thanks to the mastermind of promoter Tom Loeffler, Sor Rungvisai, Estrada, Nietes or Japanese talent Kazuto Ioka could all very well be too much for Gonzalez, at this point.
“I believe that I am in the best possible physical condition and I believe that I can be once again a world champion,” concluded Gonzalez.
Let this latest journey of the Nicaraguan start with a win over a former champion in Fuentes. If all goes according to plan, Gonzalez could rejoin the next edition of SuperFly in early 2019.
Hopefully Chocolatito takes his time and returns to the top, step by step. Patience could be the key to righting his fallen greatness.