The king is dead and the vultures are out to pick at the corpse of former Pound 4 Pound #1 Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.
Last night, Gonzalez suffered his second defeat and first KO loss at the hands of bruiser Sor Rungvisai. Unlike their Fight of the Year contender in March, this was not competitive. Rungvisai’s hooks to the body physically knocked Chocolatito across the ring. The former champion’s energy seemed to wilt with every exchange. His famed pressure and combination punching were absent as Rungvisai’s power kept him hesitant and fearful. And inside of four rounds, two monstrous right hooks put down Gonzalez twice for the emphatic stoppage and possible end to his career as an elite fighter.
Within seconds of the fight being waved off, the less informed of the boxing masses began their synopsis of Gonzalez’s career. “Hypejob” and “overrated” were thrown around a lot, and even those who knew better, like former HBO executive and veteran promoter Lou DiBella, got in on the hot takes.
Chocolatito wasn’t lb for lb. When he moved up a weight class, his excellence/edge disappeared. He’s DONE. #chocolatito #GonzalezRungvisai2
— Lou DiBella (@loudibella) September 10, 2017
So what does this say about our sport when possibly the best smaller weight fighter of the last decade gets dismissed with such callous disregard? It says that boxing community, particularly those in the United States, have a profound ignorance of fighters not spoon fed to them on the cable networks. HBO got on the Chocolatito bandwagon late in 2015, and frankly only did so after the mass exodus of its potential stars at the hands of the PBC. But well before then, Gonzalez had already laid down at Hall of Fame resume.
Before his HBO debut against Edgar Sosa, Gonzalez had already won titles in three weight classes (lineal at 112) and compiled a record 41-0 (10-0 in world title fights). Included in that record are elite former and current world titlists like Juan Francisco Estrada, Akira Yargaeshi, Katsunair Takayama, Ramon Garcia, Yutaka Niida and Francisco Rodriguez Jr. And while these names might not jump out at you, their combined records at the time of facing Gonzalez was 121-12-4.
Here’s a bit more perspective on Gonzalez’s so-called overrated status compared to his Pound 4 Pound peers. Most lists have a variation of these names: Andre Ward, Terrence Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez, Sergey Kovalev, Mikey Garcia, Manny Pacquiao and Naoya Inoue. If you include Manny, he’s the only one along with Gonzalez that’s competed in at least four different weight classes.
When Ward moved up to 175, his first opponent was Paul Smith. Crawford is his move to 140 tested the waters against Thomas Dulorme. Pacquiao and Mayweather entered their fourth weight classes against David Diaz and Sharmba Mitchell, respectively. All these opponents pale in comparison to Carlos Cuadras, the undefeated former WBC title-holder who was Gonzalez’s first opponent at super flyweight last year. In that Fight of the Year contender which likely ended Gonzalez’s prime, he fought through two swollen eyes to continuously walk down Cuadras to earn a unanimous decision.
If you want to criticize Chocolatito for not “easing” his way into a division like some of the others just named, consider the difference in mentality. The sub-featherweight fighters, long ignored by the mainstream, don’t have the luxury of feasting for years off exhibition fights against overmatched opposition. To maximize money in their relatively short careers, they face elite competition very early. That’s why a guy like Naoya Inoue, who made his HBO debut last night, is already a lineal champion with titles in two weight classes despite having just 14 fights. It’s why Gonzalez and Estrada had a light flyweight “superfight” back in 2012 with little of the hassle we saw for years with Mayweather-Pacquiao and more recently in the Golovkin-Canelo delays (admittedly, the Gonzalez-Estrada rematch is another story).
With the great, late Alexis Arguello as his mentor, Roman Gonzalez was nurtured to be a fighter from a different cloth. Like the Explosive Thin Man, Gonzalez strived to meet the biggest challenge in each weight division. In a surreal parallel, Arguello also met his end in his fourth weight class when he opted to face the biggest threat at 140 pounds, Aaron Pryor, rather than selecting an easier title-holder.
There is no middle ground when you strive for greatness in the Sweet Science. You either ascend with a thrilling victory or get snuffed out by crushing defeat. This year, Gonzalez got his first taste of the latter. But as we lay this king to rest, let’s remember his dominance, ring brilliance, and audacity to be great that’s far too rare in the modern era. And maybe we take a little solace in hoping the sacrifices Roman Gonzalez made will keep the mainstream door open for the Little Big Men of the sport.