Gonzalez steps up
In one 12-hour period on September 10, two of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet will enter the ring in major fights separated by a few thousand miles of land and the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.
Middleweight king Gennady Golovkin travels to the UK to face welterweight belt holder Kell Brook in a contest that came out of nowhere to stun the boxing public when it was announced in July, whilst Nicaraguan marvel Roman Gonzalez attempts to win his fourth world title in as many weight classes at the Forum in Inglewood, California against unbeaten WBC 115lbs champion Carlos Cuadras.
Whilst Golovkin's trip to London to face underdog Brook has garnered criticism from some quarters of the boxing fraternity, who would rather see “Triple G” face off against Mexican golden boy Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Gonzalez stepping up from his position as the world's dominant flyweight to tackle Mexican Cuadras is a mouth-watering prospect for aficionados of the lower weight classes and another stop on the journey to the Boxing Hall of Fame for “Chocolatito”.
The bout holds historical significance too for Gonzalez, 29, as he attempts to win a fourth world title, having reigned at 105, 108 and 112lbs. His late countryman, mentor and idol Alexis Arguello failed on two occasions in his attempt to win a fourth world crown when he suffered two losses to American great Aaron Pryor, getting knocked out in the 14th round of their controversial 1982 fight. Gonzalez stands to become the first Nicaraguan boxer in history to win four world titles should he dethrone Cuadras.
“It means a great deal to me to win a fourth world title and I dedicate this fight to the memory of my mentor and hero Alexis Arguello,” Gonzalez said at a press conference to announce his challenge to Cuadras.
“Thanks to 'Chocolatito' for coming up to my division and taking this challenge,” said Cuadras. “This fight will provide fireworks. It will be a war and the title is coming back to Mexico!”
It might not be Naoya Inoue (WBO 115lbs champion) or Juan Francisco Estrada (WBA super World flyweight and WBO flyweight champion) facing Gonzalez on September 10 at the Forum, but Inoue will be ringside with a view to the Japanese star appearing on a Gonzalez undercard in 2017 as HBO attempts to familiarise US audiences with the “Monster” in the hope that the two lower weight class giants will meet in a superfight sooner rather than later.
However, Cuadras, unbeaten in 36 fights and a powerful, exciting puncher, represents a solid test for the world's best fighter, and promoter Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions admitted that the flyweight king was taking a risk by moving three pounds north.
“He [Gonzalez] is very dominant at 112lbs but you never know what can happen when you move up in weight to fight an undefeated champion. It is a big risk for both.”
A big risk perhaps, but risks are what separate the “good” from the “great”. Gonzalez has shown a willingness to test himself against the best as he has climbed through the divisions en route to three world titles.
Gonzalez is currently the longest-reigning world champion in the sport. The Nicaraguan brushed aside Yutaka Niida in four rounds to capture the WBA 105lbs title in September 2008 and Francisco Rosas was put down three times by “Chocolatito” as the Mexican was hammered inside six minutes in their fight for the Interim WBA light-flyweight belt in 2010.
Roman's empire was in the early building stages in 2011, but he still proved too good for veteran Manuel Vargas, although the wily Mexican was the first fighter to take Gonzalez the distance in a light-flyweight championship fight before losing a lopsided decision for the full WBA 108lbs title. Three defences of his light-flyweight title later and Gonzalez crossed swords with Juan Francisco Estrada in what turned out to be a ferocious contest.
The pair met at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on a cold November night in 2012 in a bout that featured as one half of a double header, with Brian Viloria and Hernan “Tyson” Marquez fighting for the WBA and WBO flyweight titles. Estrada was an unknown Mexican but was unbeaten in two years going into the bout and he proved to have the credentials to hang with “Chocolatito” in an exciting affair that went the distance, with Roman prevailing on the cards.
Estrada subsequently moved up to the flyweight division to take the WBA and WBO titles from Viloria on a split decision, but has been frustratingly inactive of late, whilst Gonzalez relinquished his light-flyweight titles and boxed a handful of non-title affairs before he too jumped four pounds to challenge WBC and lineal flyweight incumbent Akira Yaegashi at the Yoyogi Gymnasium in Tokyo, on 5 September 2014.
Yaegashi was unbeaten in five fights going in against the seemingly unstoppable Gonzalez, since losing a points decision to Japanese golden boy Kazuto Ioka at 105lbs, but the samurai warrior was no match for the Nicaraguan machine as Gonzalez continued his marvellous run of destruction through the lower weight classes, unleashing a ninth-round barrage of punches that left Yaegashi a beaten man and Gonzalez the new WBC and lineal 112lbs king.
A few months earlier, Carlos Cuadras had got his hands on the WBC super flyweight title via a less-than-satisfactory ending against the marauding Thai champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (Boxrec have since changed a large majority of boxers from Thailand who used pseudonyms back to their birth names for record purposes. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai reverts back to Wisaksil Wangek)
Although not a well-known name outside of the hardcore followers of the Asian boxing scene, Srisaket had defeated Japanese fighter Yota Sato to lift the WBC 115lbs championship in May 2013 and his all-action southpaw style proved to be a difficult puzzle to solve. He fought often between championship defences and against Cuadras he was tipped to give the up-and-coming puncher a tough examination.
Sadly, despite Cuadras' reputation as a puncher and Srisaket's come-forward style, the fight was a damp squib as Cuadras chose to box behind his jab and frustrate the older champion. As Srisaket tried to force the action, there was a clash of heads in round four and Cuadras suffered a cut over his left eye that was deemed too bad to allow the bout to continue. The contest went to the judges' cards after eight rounds, with Cuadras crowned the new champion.
The newly crowned champion's first defence of his title ended in a disappointing technical draw when challenger Jose Salgado suffered a cut eye in September 2013 and since then only Luis Concepción and former flyweight battler Koki Eto have been worthy contenders for the title in a lacklustre championship reign.
So is Cuadras, who fights for the first time on prime-time American TV and is promoted by Akihito Honda's Teiken Promotions (the same promotional outfit as Gonzalez), just a belt holder primed to be dethroned by the heavily fancied Gonzalez? It appears so, although that may be a little harsh on the WBC super flyweight champion, who is unbeaten in 36 fights and at least the second-best fighter in his division despite the roster of names on his resume not matching those of Gonzalez.
Cuadras carries a natural size advantage and speed of hand into the bout, but Gonzalez has already showcased his incredible ability to punch in combination, which is, in my opinion, the best spectacle in the sport right now, and he is arguably the most dominant little guy since the great Ricardo “Finito” Lopez.
Add to that his superior timing and accuracy and it is hard to see past a fourth world title victory for Gonzalez as he marches towards career-defining fights against the aforementioned Inoue, a possible rematch with Estrada and maybe a clash with former 105lbs king Donnie Nietes before he has left a permanent mark on the sport.
Somewhere in heaven, Alexis Arguello will be bursting with pride on September 10.