Jhonny B. Goode
After 76 pro fights, Jhonny Gonzalez is still punching and chasing the eternal dream. Shaun Brown brings us his unique account of a unique fighter...
Jhonny. Not Johnny. The name on his birth certificate misspelled. Gonzalez though, just like Humberto.
Seventy-six times he has answered the bell to stick them up and lucha. Sixty-six in his favour, ten not. You would expect ups and downs with that kind of longevity in career. You're not kidding.
A left hook so destructive as a single shot (or shock if you're Abner Mares) to the opponent. Middle of the ring, creeping forwards, stepping back or finishing the job; his signature punch.
Months before people were panicking about Y2K, Jhonny might have been panicking about his career after his first two fights went away from him. His father persuaded him to continue. "They breed them tough over there", so the pundits (that I hear) say.
Los Cabos, Tijuana, La Paz... areas so deadly you wouldn't want to drop a pin in them.
Mexico City was where Jhonny came from: just like Chucho Castillo, Daniel Zaragoza and Marquez - the Juan to knock out Manny. Plenty more but let's give Jhonny, not Johnny, some recognition.
The more you got immersed in his career the more you became accustomed to not leaving your seat for anything. Toilet breaks, beer breaks, boredom breaks would have to wait when Jhonny Gonzalez fought. A dozen times he went the distance. So, over 80 per cent of the time someone wasn't reaching the end.
Overpowering Ghanaian Ablorh Sowah - October 2001 - in his 16th fight at 20-years-old should have been the platform for Gonzalez. But when Jhonny wins, defeat is sometimes just around the corner. Ricardo Vargas, who danced with Tapia, was a bogeyman not once but twice for JG. The vulnerabilities were there against Sowah. Throw big, remain wide open. Roulette, Gonzalez style.
The restart button was pressed back in Mexico City. Three wins. No judges needed. Three became six, which became nine that turned into 16 wins on the spin. Adonis Rivas and Adolfo Landeros the sole survivors of the 'I took Jhonny Gonzalez the distance' class 2002-2005.
The turnaround read won 34, lost four before Jhonny came to world title town. He was number one contender with the WBO. Their bantamweight champion was Ratanachai Sor Vorapin. His ledger pre-fight read 73 fights to Jhonny's 34. They breed them tough in Thailand too, if we run with that line. The same year Jhonny said hello to the pros, Vorapin was going 12 with Mark Johnson for Tapia's old IBF title at 115lbs.
Vorapin-Gonzalez, an even affair through three before the Mexican's left hand struck with an uppercut. Down went the champion, up he got. "Yeah, okay, you've got power." One, two, three, four punches and 17 seconds later down again, up again. The bell and Robert Byrd's arm came between them. It was when, not if. The challenger's long arms were swinging, connecting with a face that looked like it had taken 12 rounds of hurt, not five.
The left hook did more before the bell rung at the end of six. Another KD. Jhonny had been punched in the nuts before then. Enough was enough. A timid onslaught, by the then 24-year-old's standards, was enough for Byrd to say: 'we're done here'. Olivares, Castillo, Zarate had all came before him. Jhonny's time now.
'One man is a boxing legend and a future hall of famer; the other is a knockout artist with his sights set on creating his own memorable legacy,' the press release read when Gonzalez was paired with Mark Johnson pre-Vorapin. A shoulder injury delayed matters five months. It should have been the maiden defence of the world title acquired in Tucson. Johnson couldn't make weight, Gonzalez won anyway.
Then came Fernando Montiel. That first defence, finally. Olivares faced Alan Rudkin in his first. Castillo faced Olivares in his first! Those would have been some column inches to read. Hauser gave some to Jhonny v Fernando...
'The on-site crowd had booed loudly enough throughout Gonzales-Montiel that viewers at home could hear it on their television sets.'
That will do.
Then came Israel. Oh, Israel. No holiday for Jhonny. The battle of Mexico City.
Israel began his career in Mexico City. "They seem to know Jhonny more than me probably because I live in California now. Perhaps after I beat him I'll be bigger. This is going to be fireworks."
September 16, 2006. The night was headlined by Barrera showing Juarez that skills pay the bills after a fight of the year candidate 119 days earlier. But the night belonged to Jhonny and Israel.
Jhonny's first fight at 122lbs. Israel had been there for years and added WBC honours to his IBF after beating Oscar Larios in three. Thirty seconds to put the favourite down at the start. Competitive for its nine minutes, a cut ended it. Eight years on from their first fight. 2-1 Israel, the final score.
Vazquez vs Gonzalez never was a trilogy, never got a rematch. Israel gave us four fights with Rafael Marquez in his final chapter instead. Can't complain.
"These are two of the best fighters in the lower weight classes," said Larry Merchant before the first bell of Israel vs Jhonny.
Gonzalez could have been a fighter of the year candidate for 2006 had he won. Israel might have had ideas of his own.
Jhonny's jab popping in round one, Israel wanting to have it on the inside. Round two: control, despite a bloodied nose. Jeers from the crowd. "They're Mexicans, we want a war!" Jhonny's long arms keeping at Israel at range, Oscar was long armed too. Round three more of the same. Round four, down goes Israel from a left hook. Round six, repeat. Wide cards on the horizon.
But this was a Jhonny Gonzalez fight...
He ignores the distance he's been controlling matters from. Steps inside. 'Thank you,' says Israel. Jhonny goes backwards. A mere interruption to Jhonny's rhythm. Winning clearly. Two words that could hear that the 'but' wasn't too far away.
Jhonny appeared to be winning clearly against Penalosa one year later. Gerry wanted to search and destroy, it wouldn't go the distance he said. The search and destroy mission wasn't on full steam ahead but a low blow in the seventh brought down Jhonny's defence downstairs. One left hand above the waist. The wind out of his bantamweight sails. Mexican boxing gods would have given a nod of approval.
Back at 118 after Israel came back from the brink to beat Jhonny. Dominating up in weight but took a gamble from the seventh on. Vegas after all. Down goes Jhonny after he rolled the dice for an earlier finish. Jhonny was hitting 21 up until then. Vazquez's house won.
"It took me a little while to decipher the way he was fighting but finally I was able to figure him out and win the fight. It was definitely that jab and going through it was the toughest part about fighting Jhonny," Israel told The RING three years ago.
Lesser known resorts and casinos hosted rehabilitation wins for Jhonny over the next couple of years. May 23, 2009, a world title opportunity in Mexico. WBC 122lbs once again. Toshiaki Nishioka across from him, ups and downs in his career too.
Chavez Sr watching.
Nishioka's right hand foiling Jhonny's trusted left hook. But plan B was a straight right, down goes the champion. Jhonny has it in his hands again.
Nishioka backing away in round two. Promising signs.
Down goes Jhonny.
A left hand from as far back as the eye could see. Jhonny didn't see it. He almost went through the ropes. Jhonny got up, ref Bayless said: "No, Jhonny. Enough."
Mexico for six of the next seven before a Japanese challenge again. This time over there. Land of the rising sun. Wasn't much heat left in Jhonny's world title hopes. Approaching 30 by this time. Hasegawa the champion.
"I will not waste the opportunity," Jhonny said beforehand.
Hasegawa knocked out in four, despite winning the fight. Caught cold. Jhonny had been there before. This time he wasn't on the receiving end. World champion again.
Jhonny never goes away. More wins, more losses. Shocked the world versus Mares. Didn't against Russell Jr. Class personified from the American that night.
That was the last world title fight for Jhonny. Three years ago. Now he's the wrong side of 35. Forty years old in 2021.
On Saturday he won against Marlyn Cabrera. The third defence of his WBC Latino Super Featherweight title the prize. Jhonny won wide, a shut-out. Cabrera too wary of that left hand. Can't blame him. Still felt like a 'stay busy' fight though.
Jhonny wants the real champ, Berchelt.
Jhonny's prepared to wait. He still feels young. Life in the old perro yet.
Chuck Berry never wrote about this Jhonny.
"Maybe someday your name'll be in lights..."
It often has been and we're all the better for it.
Go go. Go Jhonny go go!
Jhonny is good!