My favourite fighter: Roman Gonzalez
Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images
In the latest in an irregular series in which BM writers pick their favourite fighters, Lee Gormley ponders the rise and fall of four-weight world champion Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez...
Sometimes we forget that our favourite fighters are human. Behind the physical and mental fortitude and beyond the in-ring bravery showcased each time they climb though the ropes; under the laced up gloves and tightly wrapped hands, they’re mortal just like the rest of us.
It was across seven months in 2017 that the great Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez’s humanity was finally uncovered and laid bare for the world to witness.
In light of Floyd Mayweather’s retirement from boxing and after rallying to an admirable record of 46-0, the last win on that run seeing him dethrone Carlos Cuadras to become a four-weight world champion, ‘Chocolatito’ found himself sitting atop boxing’s pound-for-pound rankings and seeing out the final stages of his future Hall of Fame career.
The baby-faced Nicaraguan icon took to the Mecca of Boxing, New York City’s Madison Square Garden, widely expected to see out victory number 47 against little known Thai challenger Srisaket Sor Rungvisai on the undercard of friend Gennady Golovkin’s middleweight meeting with Daniel Jacobs.
But it was on this night when ‘GGG’ was also pushed hard over 12 rounds that Gonzalez was forced to endure the maiden setback of his distinguished career, losing a close and somewhat disputed decision to the naturally larger Rungvisai.
As is the Nicaraguan hero’s mindset, he didn’t shy away from colliding with the bullish Thai champion in an immediate rematch. It proved to be a damaging move though, as he was ultimately dismantled and brutally knocked out in four rounds in front of a stunned California crowd.
As a long-standing fan, watching the great ‘Chocolatito’ suffer such a devastating fate made for tough viewing. The sight of one of your idols dispatched in such a vicious nature is hard to watch and seeing Gonzalez laid out cold on the blood-soaked canvas, with referee Tom Taylor stood above him signalling the premature end to proceedings, was truly a dismal moment from my time following the sport.
It was a cruel irony that Gonzalez was beaten narrowly then brutally flattened by Rungvisai across two high-profile cards on American territory. After all the legendary Nicaraguan was the catalyst for HBO’s popular ‘Superfly’ series, with his earlier feats across the lower divisions helping to catapult the smaller fighters onto a grand platform they deserved and craved for so long.
Before he was left wearing a crimson mask fashioned from his own blood in the first loss to Rungvisai and then viciously removed from consciousness in the rematch, Gonzalez became the driving force of the smaller weight classes. Without him the lighter fighters simply wouldn’t have been given the focus and attention they deserve in the current climate.
Petite in stature but a fighting giant in the ring, it was back in his home nation that ‘Chocolatito’ carved out his early scalps before seeing himself crowned as minimumweight world champion in 2008 by stopping Yutaka Niida in Japan, where he gathered a huge reputation throughout his early career days.
In fact, it was in ‘the Land of the Rising Sun’ that Gonzalez claimed his first three world title belts across three divisions. A second victory over Mexican rival Francisco Rosas established him as ‘interim’ champion at light-flyweight before later being promoted to the main ruler. He subsequently returned to Japan to earn a flyweight crown too against Akira Yaegashi.
Gonzalez’s standing in the sport would have been much greater a lot earlier had he been campaigning and achieving such a rampant run through more regarded weight classes. But nothing can be taken away from his superiority in his prime years, during which time he downright devastated a variety of top opponents.
Not only have Gonzalez’s remarkable feats paved the way for a future spot in the Hall of Fame but his exciting, come-forward style has always made him a true fan-friendly champion. From his earlier days to his most dominant years and up to more recent performances at the backend of his career, the Nicaraguan great has produced an abundance of unforgettable clashes.
Among the pulsating match-ups he provided for us throughout the years include the all-action meetings with Katsunari Takayama and Yaegashi, a thrilling war with Juan Francisco Estrada and the later epics with Cuadras and Rungvisai.
From the opening bell to any bout’s conclusion, ‘Chocolatito’ never gave anything less than his all and it’s his aggressive style, mileage as a smaller fighter and willingness to move up in pursuit of more prestigious names and further glory that have had an effect on in his latter career showings.
Carrying on the Nicaraguan boxing baton from the legendary Alexis Arguello, the esteemed and personally treasured mentor who christened him ‘Chocolatito’, Gonzalez ultimately surpassed his idol in terms of career achievements.
By beating Mexican rival Cuadras in September 2016 in a typically gallant battle over 12 rounds, he did what Arguello couldn’t by becoming his nation’s first ever four-division world champion. Although, it was in this gruelling war that the career cracks sadly began to appear, with the pain in his face indicating years of physical abuse and providing a glimpse of what was set to come.
Arguello had attempted to realise this feat back in 1982 when challenging for the light-welterweight title but his widespread passionate followers back home in Nicaragua were left distraught after he suffered a devastating knockout defeat at the hands of Hall of Famer Aaron Pryor. Controversy hung over the loss but Arguello was once again brutally beaten in the pair’s eventual rematch.
Ask any fight fan to name their one specific favourite fighter from throughout history and they may struggle to come up with a single name. That is admittedly the case with this writer. From old-time greats like Sugar Ray Robinson and Willie Pep to more modern, less esteemed champions such as Arturo Gatti and Jorge Linares, I hold many fighters in high regard personally for various reasons.
But Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez has always stood out from the rest among those favoured pugilists from present times in the sport. From overseeing his earlier career showings via Sunday morning online streams from Japan to finally witnessing his relentless endeavours on the grander shows in America, his career has been outstanding.
As with any of our favourite and most cherished fighters, there comes a point of selfishness.
We always long for more. Just one more fight. Or maybe two.
But, simultaneously, we fear the consequences and hate the sight of their legacies being tarnished.
After all, they are only human, including ‘Chocolatito’. His story is drawing to a welcomed conclusion, so it’s a final chapter that must be savoured, no matter how it ultimately ends.