SAN DIEGO, Calif., February 29, 2020 – Boxing has its lead candidate for Comeback Fight of the Year in 2020 – the Chocolatito comeback.
Check your calendar. You’d be forgiven if you thought it was 2015, or even 2009. Four-division champion and pound-for-pound top fighter Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez of Nicaragua achieved every honor and accolade, surpassing his countryman and idol, Alexis Arguello. Then in 2017, Gonzalez suffered two difficult losses to Srisikat Sor Rungvisai by decision and fourth-round knockout in 2017, followed by the most difficult loss of all, the death of his trainer Arnulfo Obando. Topping it all off, Gonzalez took a year off to recover from knee surgery. It seemed unlikely the heartbroken warrior could ever make his way back.
But Gonzalez collected himself and put his trust in God and new trainer Marcos Caballero, father of Randy Caballero. Facing young champion Khalid Yafai of England in Frisco, Texas on Saturday, it all paid off in a stunning ninth-round TKO victory to win the WBA World Super Flyweight championship.
Gonzalez schools former Olympian Yafai
The veteran Gonzalez is just two years older than 2008 Olympian Yafai at 32, but he has logged double the number of pro bouts. Gonzalez answered the obvious questions about whether he’d have anything left in the tank from the opening bell. Gonzalez went to work digging to the body early. Yafai showed no fear at first of his longtime idol, standing right in front of Gonzalez. This was eventually his undoing.
Gonzalez got right into rhythm, adding in uppercuts to the bodywork by the second round. Yafai made himself far too easy for the Nicaraguan to find. Gonzalez kept up the work rate, punching and shifting out of Yafai’s range. While his punches may have lost a little steam over the years, his ring generalship and footwork are as good as they ever were.
Gonzalez continued to take it to Yafai, and past the halfway point of the fight, Yafai’s body language communicated he’d been a little too ambitious taking on Gonzalez.
At the end of the eighth round, Gonzalez signaled his return with a knockdown of Yafai. While not going down hard, Yafai stumbled to the canvas on weakened legs. He survived the few seconds left to the end of the round, but the accumulated damage showed. Gonzalez saw everything he’d worked so hard for within his grasp, and hit Yafai with a vintage straight right hand to end the fight at 29 seconds of the ninth round. The improbable journey had come full circle as Gonzalez and his elated trainer Cabellero kneeled in prayer in the corner.
“Everybody, God bless everyone. Everybody has to thank God, he’s the first that we should thank,” said the deeply religious Gonzalez, whose trunks read “Cristo Te Amo.” Thanking his family and his team, Gonzalez gave credit for his comeback to to his faith. “I have God’s strength and God gave me my title back. Everyone can have the same blessing I just received tonight. You just have to give your life to God and ask. I always ask God for blessings and everything I have comes from God. All these young kids I tell them, fight for your dream. God has things in the future for these young kids.”
Gonzalez admitted he was discouraged “when I lost, yes. But thank God I have a good team around me that brought me back.”
Asked about Yafai’s willingness to stand and trade with him, Gonzalez said “He did surprise me that he wanted to fight inside, but I was ready to go. He was standing there for me. Viva Mexico, Viva Nicaragua!”
Gonzalez said he’d now like to unify titles in the super flyweight division. The man at the top is former foe Juan Francisco Estrada, who has always wanted to avenge his 2012 to Gonzalez. Also in the division are IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas of the Philippines and WBO champion Kazuko Ioka of Japan.
Julio Cesar Martinez defends flyweight title
Mexican flyweight Julio Cesar Martinez (16-1, 12 KOs) worked hard in the first defense of his WBC World Flyweight title against Jay Harris of Wales (17-1, 9 KOs) in a thrilling all-action fight. Martinez went 12 rounds for the first time, winning a unanimous decision. Scores were 119-109. 116-111, and 115-112.
Harris realized what he was in for after a fast first round. He settled down and settled in for a long hard fight. Martinez appears to have the upper hand in the first third of the fight, landing hard body shots. But Harris rallied and delivered several solid rounds against Martinez as he got into a better rhythm of landing punches and pivoting out of the way of the straight-ahead attack of Martinez.
But Martinez is well conditioned and didn’t lose any steam on his shots, pressing Harris and breaking him down to win the decision after 12 rounds. “Thank God, it was a very tough battle,” said Martinez. “I plan to defend my titles many times. There is no fear right here.
“Congratulations to Harris, he’s a very strong fighter. That’s why he’s undefeated. But this is my title and I’m going to defend it. Like I said, anytime, anywhere,” added Martinez.
Harris’ roughed up face told the story of the fight with several cuts, while Martinez looked relatively unharmed. Martinez landed 208 of 655 total punches (32 percent), while Harris landed 143 of 708 punches (20 percent). Of the total output, Martinez landed 183 power punches and Harris 125 punches. Harris showed tremendous grit and he’ll learn a lot from this outing.
Joseph Parker stays relevant in the hot heavyweight division
Joseph Parker of New Zealand (27-2, 21 KOs) improved his outlook in the heavyweight division, getting attention by scoring a fifth-round knockout against 39-year-old Shawndell Winters of Harvey, Illinois (13-3, 12 KOs). Parker landed a hard right hand at the end of round three dropping Winters. He was fortunate it came near the end of the round.
Give credit to the tough Texan for hanging tough, catching Parker with a left hook and opening a cut in the fourth round. Fortunately for Parker, he had veteran cutman Stitch Duran in his corner. The sense of urgency put Parker to work. He put a hard right hand on Winters in the fifth round, buckling his knees, and sealed the deal with a second right up the middle when he saw his opponent hurt, ending the bout at 2:40 of the round. Parker landed 68 power punches, against just 28 for Winters.
“I went to work, I got in good work. I showed my boxing ability,” said Parker. “I have to work on being a bit more patient, slow down, and make my punches more meaningful. I was training hard, feeling good, excited to be back in the ring.” Parker said he wants to stay busy and fight twice more in 2020. He has Dereck Chisora and Dillian Whyte in his sights, but said he would leave it to promoter Eddie Hearn to decide what’s next for him.
Undercard results: Israil Madrimov, Diego Pacheco, Alexis Espino get wins
Israil Madrimov (5-0, 5 KOs) successfully defended his WBA Inter-Continental Junior-Middleweight title with a dazzling display of his skills against Venezuelan Charlie Navarro (29-10, 22 KOs). Madrimov has all the speed and power anyone could ask for, but it’s taken up several notches by his mesmerizing agility and conditioning. Madrimov never stops moving, shifting his feet, changing stances, and only keeps his head still enough to fix on a target when delivering a shot. Madrimov might be the most skilled fighter among the impressive stable of Uzbek fighters in Indio, California trained by Joel Diaz After just five pro bouts, “The Dream” is ready for any top talent.
Eighteen-year-old super middleweight Diego Pacheco of Los Angeles (9-0, 7 KOs) put in solid work against veteran Oscar Riojas of Mexico (21-13-1. 10 KOs), getting the unanimous decision win. Twenty-year-old super middleweight Alexis Espino of Las Vegas (5-0, 4 KOs) did the same against Delvecchio Savage of Tuscaloosa (3-6, 3 KOs). Both opponents made these young men work for their wins, an important step in their development.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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