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Azad Championship Report - Jhonny Be Good

(Photo © German Villasenor)
(Photo © German Villasenor)

A funny thing happened on the way to a crosstown showdown between Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares, which would’ve have been a robust promotion next year in Los Angeles. Santa Cruz had done his part by dismantling the usually stout Victor Terrazas in three rounds to capture the WBC junior featherweight title at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. Then in the evening’s main event...well, Jhonny Gonzalez happened.
Coming into this match-up with Mares, Gonzalez was thought of as a faded fighter, one whose best days were behind him. There to provide a well-known scalp on Mares’ solid record (which is strewn with recognizable names) as Mares and Santa Cruz continued their collision course toward each other.

Perhaps Gonzalez is not his prime and there was a reason why he was as steep as an 11-1 underdog. But the one thing he’ll be able to do till he hangs up his Cleto-Reyes is punch. And in uncorking his trademark left hook, he stunningly set the undefeated Mares to the canvas, dazed and disorientated with less than a minute to go in the opening stanza. Unsteady on his pins, Mares was allowed to continue on by referee Jack Reiss. But with a barrage of follow-up punches, Mares would be sent down again to the mat. This time around, Reiss didn’t even bother to administer the mandatory eight-count.
Just like that, it was over.
Mares, who had come into this contest as one of the hottest young fighters in the sport, was now just the latest knockout victim of Gonzalez, who scored his 47th stoppage in his 55th victory.
Yeah, he certainly had a puncher’s chance.
“At this moment,” said a jubilant Gonzalez, “this is the single greatest and most glorious moment of my life. When I came to the United States for this fight, no one gave me any credit. All they talked about was Mares fighting Santa Cruz. I didn’t say anything but I know I was being disrespected.”
If not disrespected, certainly disregarded by most pundits. Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer (who warned everyone prior to this Showtime doubleheader that perhaps everyone was getting ahead of themselves in putting Mares-Santa Cruz on the calendar for next year, pointed out to the ringside press), afterward, “The Ring [magazine] asked 19 experts, probably some of you, ‘Who’s going to win?’ 19 picked Abner Mares. 19! So y’ know, we think we know everything but we don’t. But that’s why boxing is exciting.”
Gonzalez stated, “Everyone thought I was finished, that I was at the end of the line. All they wanted to talk about was Mares against Santa Cruz.”
You count Gonzalez out at your own risk. He’s only 31 years old but he just seems older. Perhaps it’s because he began his career (as many do in Mexico) a few years before he could legally obtain alcohol. He made his pro debut in 1999 just a month shy of his 18th birthday - when he proceeded to not only lose his first fight but he lost his second outing as well. Guys who begin their careers at 0-2 usually don’t have much of a future in boxing except to play the role of cannon fodder for more promising young pugilists.
But the Gonzalez story is one of perseverance and persistence. This lanky puncher, who was born in Hidalgo, was able to craft a career and eventually win the WBO bantamweight title in 2005 by halting Ratanachai Sor Vorapin in seven. A year later, he challenged Israel Vazquez for the WBC 122-pound title and had Vazquez on the floor early but was stopped in 10 rounds in one of the best bouts of 2006. Quickly, Gonzalez moved back down to bantamweight and reclaimed the WBO title by stopping Irene Pacheco in nine.
During this stretch, he earned a well-earned reputation as one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. A man who could kick like a mule but unfortunately wasn’t blessed with a granite chin or the highest degree of punch resistance. His most memorable bouts have been a microcosm of his career in many ways. He was as dangerous as he was vulnerable. Gonzalez is the most compelling of fighters, one who is gifted and cursed all at once.
Gonzalez was stopped by Gerry Penalosa with a body shot in 2007 in a fight in which he was ahead on two of the scorecards. In 2009, he was drilled by Toshiaki Nishioka in three when he challenged for the WBC junior featherweight belt.
It was then when Gonzalez was perhaps being read the last rites of his career. But in 2011, he knocked out Hozumi Hasagawa in four heats to take the WBC featherweight title in Japan. He made four successful title defenses before losing last September to Daniel Ponce de Leon via technical decision in eight innings. He won that very same belt back this past weekend.
Gonzalez’s run his reminiscent of a bygone era when the only protection afforded boxers was them making sure they were holding their hands up consistently. Many careers are engineered. This one was fought for. The record stands at 55-8 (47) ( That just sounds like an old-school record; doesn’t it? He’s never been a full-blown star like his countrymen with surnames like Morales, Barrera or Marquez, never been a premium cable staple like Vazquez; he’s been knocked out a few times, had to go on the road to win titles and then brought in (in his own words) as a “steppingstone.”
But through it all, Gonzalez has been the consummate fighter.
One obviously with a lot of life still left in him.
Overlook him at out at your own peril.
In suffering his first professional defeat, Mares showed a level of graciousness and perspective, oftentimes lost in this era.
“I want to congratulate Gonzalez. I’m OK. I have to learn how to win as well as lose in this sport,” he said. “I’m not in this sport to remain undefeated but I’m here to fight the best. I was alright after the knockdown but the referee did his job and he made his decision and I respect him. Now, I’m going to take a break and enjoy my family.”
If there’s anyone Mares can learn from in terms of bouncing back from adversity, it’s the guy he faced on Saturday night.
According to Schaefer, Golden Boy has a three-fight option on Gonzalez and there is a rematch clause.
Last September, Ponce de Leon defeated Gonzalez. Then this past May, Mares knocked out Ponce de Leon and now, Gonzalez knocked out Mares. It goes to show you, just because A beats B and is then beaten by C, it doesn’t guarantee what happens when B meets C.
A classic example of this is when Muhammad Ali had great difficulties with Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, who were summarily destroyed by one George Foreman. But when Ali fought Foreman, he “rope-a-doped” him into a stoppage.
Again, it goes to show you that styles matter, alongside other many other variables (such as age, mentality, injuries, distractions, etc.).
Yeah, perhaps Nonito Donaire would have drilled Mares with the same type of left hook Gonzalez did and I’m sure many will use that as an example of why Donaire is a superior fighter to Mares somehow or proof of who would have come out victorious if they had actually squared off. Honestly, the only one who should get any type of credit for beating Mares is the guy who actually did, not the guy you think would do the same thing.
I admit, I thought Terrazas was the toughest test of Santa Cruz’s career ( but he simply dominated Terrazas like no one before. 
“He’s very exciting to watch," said Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker Eric Gomez. “He just keeps getting better and better and the combinations he throws, he’s hard to fight and he’s got good defense.”
Santa Cruz does as good a job working both sides of the body with two hands and, in this fight, showed the ability to fire off long-range right hands. Schaefer mentioned that with the relatively easy nature of this fight, we could see him back in action on either November the 2nd or the 9th.
Word is that a fight between Keith “San Diego” Thurman and Jesus Soto Karass is being kicked around for the November 9th pay-per-view card Golden Boy is planning in Las Vegas...Great to see Karass get mobbed by the fans at the fights. For so long, he was overlooked...Another very good crowd at the StubHub Center; the announced attendance was 7,686...Junior welterweight prospect Antonio Orozco looks like he’s ready for a step up in competition...Joseph Diaz looks to be a better puncher than what was expected of him coming out of the amateurs. Regardless, he looks very sharp thus far...Is it time for the Jets to bring back Richard Todd?...Say what you want but Terrelle Pryor is fun to watch, at least in August...So is Lamar Odom addicted to crack or candy?...Hurricanes football is now less than a week away. I expect a big season in year three of the (Al) Golden era...I can be reached at and I tweet at We also have a Facebook fan page at, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.

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