The Roman who conquers all

Mark Butcher
02/06/2015 8:48am

As a small child in Managua, Roman Gonzalez used to throw a makeshift punch bag over a branch of a guayaba tree to hone his natural, god-given talents under the unforgiving gaze of the Nicaraguan sun.

That unassuming young boy would grow from modest beginnings into one of the outstanding fighters in world boxing with a list of achievements that make staggering reading.  

Roman Alberto Gonzalez Luna to give him his full name, or ‘Chocolatito’, has never tasted defeat as an amateur or professional (131 bouts) and won world titles in three weight classes – securing the WBA 105lbs and WBA 108lbs titles and the WBC flyweight crown he currently holds.

With his blend of breathtaking skill, controlled aggression and fluid combination punching, Gonzalez should have been a bona fide superstar long ago but his low profile weight division meant his wondrous abilities eluded mainstream exposure until his effortless two-round destruction of battle-hardened Mexican Edgar Sosa on the Gennady Golovkin-Willie Monroe Jr bill at the Forum in Inglewood on 16 May. Now everyone knows his name.

Inarguably, Nicaragua’s second greatest fighter after the masterful Alexis Arguello, Gonzalez is modest to a fault and chooses not to revel in his many achievements. It is this unwavering humility as much as his stellar boxing career that has endeared him to his fellow Nicaraguans.

“My countrymen have received me with a lot of love and respect,” Gonzalez told Boxing Monthly. “They like me because they say I am a humble person. Whenever they want to take a picture or invite me to an event – I am there and accessible to them. That is what has made me popular inside Nicaragua and also the world.” 

Like so many fighters emanating from the Latin continent, Gonzalez’s first opponent was poverty and, as a child, a concoction of sugar and water was often his only sustenance of the day. 

“Roman has had to overcome poverty,” Gonzalez’s manager Carlos Blandon told BM. “He comes from a very humble background and learned to box as a child in Nicaragua. His milk wasn’t in a carton or plastic bottle – it was in a plastic bag. He would find a guayaba tree and with a little rope he would fill the empty milk bag with sand and hang it on the tree. That was his first punch bag when he was aged seven years old. His dad overcame alcoholism. Roman liked soccer more than boxing then so he would have to hide from his dad when he played soccer. Ever since Roman became a professional fighter, his dad put the bottle down and concentrated on being his boxing assistant. Their relationship is great now. He is always in Roman´s corner and gives him a great amount of motivation and spiritual strength, as he always leads the prayers before fights.” 

Despite his early love of soccer, Gonzalez had boxing in his genes. His father, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather all plied their trade as fighters though none of their careers scaled such dizzying heights. Only Roman’s father, Luis Alberto - a two-time national champion in Nicaragua - had a degree of success.

Yet the great three-weight world champion Arguello was among the first to recognise the raw potential in the young Gonzalez. “Roman had 88 amateur fights and he did not lose any of them,“ said Blandon. “Arguello would stage amateur events every 15 days so he could box. He showed Roman how to train. He saw a diamond in the rough and he was able to polish him. So Arguello was the one who really made Roman Gonzalez.”

Understandably, Gonzalez idolizes Arguello and modestly deflects any comparisons between the two finest fighters in Nicaraguan boxing history. “I feel so special to even be compared to Alexis Arguello because of the legacy that he left,” Gonzalez told BM. “I feel blessed that we can even be put in the same category, but I know he was a better fighter than me. It is a big happiness that people compare me to him and it was a blessing that he took the time to show me how to box. Many fighters would like to have the opportunity to get to where I am in boxing; to have met Alexis Arguello and for him to have taught me a lot of my skills.”

Gonzalez, 43-0 (37 KOs), has torn through three weight classes and dimmed many of its leading lights including current and former world champions Juan Francisco Estrada, Akira Yaegashi, Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Katsunari Takayama, Yutaka Niida, Edgar Sosa and Ramon Garcia Hirales and fights with a fearless belief in his own god-given abilities. Having never tasted defeat at any level of the sport does he wonder what it feels like to lose?

“I am prepared,” admitted Gonzalez, who trained for the Sosa fight at the Roger Deshon Gym in Nicaragua before moving to his Florida training camp. “I know any day I get into the boxing ring I can lose and I am ready for that although I have faith in God that I will not lose. But I know that at any given moment in this sport you can taste defeat.”

Due to the more lucrative opportunities available to smaller fighters in Asia, Gonzalez has been defending his world titles in Japan for Akihiko Honda’s Teiken Promotions over the past 18 months [before the Sosa blowout] with a smattering of non-title bouts taking place in his native land. “I love Japan. When I fight in Japan I feel like I am fighting in my second home because my promoter Akihiko Honda is from there,” said Gonzalez, who lives in Nicaragua, but travels to train and fight in Japan. “It feels like Nicaragua, but I hope some day I will have the opportunity to make a title defence in my hometown.” 

“I first met Roman personally in 2011,” added manager Blandon. “At the beginning, Roman was managed by two other fellow Nicaraguans and I was only his attorney and advisor. His career fell into place when Teiken Promotions started helping him get the boxing opportunities he deserved and Roman won championships with his personal effort and God´s strength. In 2012, Roman asked me to become his manager, but was still under contract, so we patiently waited until his contract was up and I accepted due to his humility and kind heart. Before I met him, I would see his fights as a normal fan and admired what a sensational boxer and human being he was. I was always blown away by his skills, determination and humility. It has been a great honour to work with Roman and Teiken Promotions.” 

Throughout Asia, the real buzz centres on a super fight between Gonzalez and the precocious WBO super-flyweight champion Naoya Inoue, who became a two-division world title-holder in 2014 after just eight pro contests.

“My goal is to become champion at 115lbs. We will make the decision as a team, with my promoter, when I move up to that weight,” said Gonzalez. “I believe Inoue is a superstar and a great champion. What he was able to achieve last year is admirable and I praise his skill as a boxer. I would like to fight Inoue. It would be a great fight. I have met Inoue a couple of times in Japan and he is a very nice person, as well as his promoter Hideyuki Ohashi and great champion and teammate Akira Yaegashi.

“Wherever the venue, I will fight anyone as long as they pay well. I am very happy about the opportunities I have had in boxing. I am very grateful to God for all my skills. I am also appreciative of my boxing team and the boxing community. In time, everyone will see what my talent is about.”