Can Roman Gonzalez continue to turn back the clock this weekend against Julio Cesar Martinez, or is Chocolatito’s brilliant career approaching its endgame? Luke G. Williams previews a fascinating super-flyweight showdown…
Greatness is an overused term in boxing. Strictly speaking, it’s a word that should be reserved for truly special fighters and careers, and applied perhaps only a handful of times every ten or 20 years.
On Saturday night a fighter truly deserving of this appellation – indeed, perhaps the only active fighter in boxing today who has indubitably earned it – returns to action when Nicaraguan legend Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez takes on Julio Cesar ‘El Rey’ Martinez in San Diego a fight that has no world title attached to it but, quite frankly, doesn’t need one.
The bald facts of Gonzalez’s glittering and meritorious career should not need reciting but, unfortunately, despite his consistent brilliance throughout a stellar 50-3 (41 KOs) pro CV stretching back to 2005, ‘Chocolatito’ has remained resolutely low profile, his career all but unrecognised beyond boxing’s niche parameters.
A four-weight world champion who has won titles at strawweight, light flyweight, flyweight and super flyweight, Gonzalez has beaten a string of high calibre opponents, including Juan Francisco Estrada, Akira Yaegashi, Brian Viloria, McWilliams Arroyo and Carlos Cuadras.
Of his three defeats two were controversial points reverses (against Estrada in a 2021 rematch, and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in a 2017 showdown) – thus his 2017 rematch with Srisaket, which he lost by fourth-round stoppage, stands as the sole inarguable loss on his remarkable CV.
The Srisaket defeat was so devastating, and his subsequent injury issues so concerning, that over eager obituary writers rushed to write Gonzalez off. But they reckoned without the Nicaraguan’s remarkable powers of recuperation and determination.After fighting just once apiece in 2018 and 2019 Chocolatito returned to world title action in February 2020 when he faced the then undefeated WBA ‘super’ super-flyweight titlist Kal Yafai. In retrospect, given the brilliance that Gonzalez displayed that night in dismantling and then stopping Yafai in nine one-sided rounds, it seems unbelievable that the Briton entered the fight as the betting favourite.
After a victory against Israel Gonzalez in October 2020, Chocolatito returned to the ring against old rival Estrada in March last year. The two men conjured a classic bout, named by many as Fight of the Year, and although ‘El Gallo’ got the nod via a split decision, many believed Gonzalez should have had his hand raised.
A rubber match between the two men was brokered, but Estrada unfortunately had to withdraw after suffering from the after effects of two debilitating bouts with Covid-19.
Typical of his warrior’s mentality, Gonzalez did not hesitate to accept when teak tough Mexican flyweight Julio Cesar ‘El Rey’ Martinez stepped in as Estrada’s replacement.
“They offered me a fight with ‘El Rey’ Martinez. I told them it was no problem, I am ready to fight,” Gonzalez told Boxing Scene recently. “We have been in training for this [contest] with [El] Gallo and I didn’t want that to go to waste by waiting for the fight to be rescheduled.”
A hard puncher with a ruthless and occasionally wild streak, Martinez brings to the ring an impressive 18-1 record (plus two non contests) and a warrior’s mentality.
‘El Rey’ dismantled Andrew Selby in five in March 2019 and was well on his way to doing a similar job on Charlie Edwards a few months later in a WBC flyweight world title contest, only to rashly club the Briton when he was down and see the bout ruled a no contest.
In his next fight Martinez TKO’d Chocolatito’s compatriot Cristofer Rosales to scoop up the WBC belt Edwards subsequently vacated (that Edwards vacated the belt to move to 115lbs rather than risk another assignment against the Mexican seems telling).
Since then, Martinez has defended the WBC strap four times, including in an eventful no contest against McWilliams Arroyo which lasted only two rounds, but saw both men hit the canvas. Before moving up to 115lbs to face Gonzalez most sane judges – the Boxing Social rankings committee included – rated Martinez as the best flyweight in the world.
Those looking for portents of a Martinez victory will point to the fact that recent weeks have seen something of a changing of the guard in the super-flyweight division.
Lineal champion Estrada is sidelined, while Carlos Cuadras – a former WBC super-fly champion as well as a former foe of both Gonzalez and Estrada – was beaten by young gun Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez for the vacant WBC belt. (Cuadras had been due to face another of his former foes in Srisaket for that title, only for the Thai to withdraw with illness).
Suddenly the superlative four-way Estrada-Gonzalez-Srisaket-Cuadras rivalry which has served up ten momentous fights since 2012 is in danger of being curtailed.
A further change in the division was seen last week, when Jerwin Ancajas surprisingly lost his IBF super-flyweight title to Fernando Martinez.
So what odds on ‘El Rey’ overturning Gonzalez this weekend, thus further advancing this ‘changing of the guard’?
One major factor will be weight. Martinez failed to make the 115lbs super-flyweight limit despite two attempts on the scales on Friday. Will his extra bulk give him an advantage over Gonzalez, or is it an indication that the Mexican is ill prepared? Gonzalez’s team were certainly unhappy with his efforts to make the weight.
After initially scaling 117lbs at the first weigh-in, Martinez surprisingly dropped just a further 0.6lbs in the nxt hour and 36 minutes, weighing in again at 10.36am local time, rather than taking two full hours to try and make 115lbs. “He had two hours to lose the weight and all he did was hit mitts,” Gonzalez’s head trainer Marcos Caballero told Ring.tv on Friday. “He didn’t run and he didn’t use the full two hours. That tells me he wants an advantage. He still has water in his body.”
It would certainly be no surprise if the Mexican were to win. At 27 he is younger, fresher and also – after his weigh-in failure – the much bigger man. The Mexican has just 89 rounds in the bank throughout his pro career compared to Gonzalez, who at 34 has fought 271 professional rounds, many of them frightening in their intensity.
Gonzalez is undoubtedly the better technician, and is also a marginal favourite with most odds-makers, but how much does he have left in the tank? Could this be one fight too many?
If the Nicaraguan can absorb Martinez’s bombs and stay standing then on punch volume and experience I can envisage him edging his way a points victory. Certainly, Chocolatito will be the sentimental favourite – even more so given Martinez’s unprofessionalism in missing weight – but boxing rarely provides happy endings for fighters in the twilight of their careers, and this is a fight fraught with peril for the Nicaraguan master.