Former two-division world champion Jhonny Gonzalez, 58-8 (46), of Pachuca, Hidalgo (fighting out of Mexico City’s Romanza Gym, owned by trainer Nacho Beristain), is one such gunslinger. On Saturday night, Gonzalez will attempt to regain the WBC featherweight belt he lost to Daniel Ponce de Leon via technical decision in September of last year by challenging the man who stopped Ponce de Leon in nine one-sided rounds, Abner Mares. The fight will be at the former Home Depot Center, now called the StubHub Center, a site of many a modern classic.
“I have fought at StubHub before so I am very comfortable being at that venue. A lot of fight fans will recognize me from the past fights that I have fought there,” Gonzalez said in a press event leading up to the bout. “On Saturday night, my fight with Mares is going to be a war. Mares built his career with hard-earned fights and he wants to defend his title. I am motivated to claim the title. At this point in my career, I feel that this could be one of my last opportunities to take that title.”
It is fitting that the first defense of Mares’ title will be against Gonzalez. The two men know each other well, having sparred together many years ago when Mares was starting out. Since then, Gonzalez has had his ups and downs, winning and losing titles in two divisions while Mares has ascended to the elite ranks of the sport as an undefeated three-division champion. The sparring long ago should have no bearing on the night.
“That was many years ago; that was at the beginning of Abner’s pro career when he was just getting started,” explained Gonzalez. “I think he’s demonstrated to the world and everybody that he’s a three-division world champion and the class that he has. He’s a tremendous fighter and one of the best in the division, so that the sparring has nothing to do with what we’ll see on Saturday night.”
Gonzalez enjoys a considerable height and reach advantage, standing at 5’7” to Mares 5’4½”. With a reach of 69.5” to Mares 66” and a ton of world-class experience, this is no easy out first defense. Gonzalez has legit knockout power, having stopped Rogers Mtagwa, Hozumi Hasegawa and Tomas Villa, to name three of his 46 knockout victims.
Following his loss to Toshiaki Nishioka in 2009, Gonzalez moved up to 126 pounds and knocked out his next 11 opponents, including Hasegawa for the WBC featherweight title. Gonzalez lost his fourth title defense, against Ponce de Leon, in a fight that was not as action-packed as many expected but was heating up at the time of the stoppage (due to a large gash on Gonzalez’s right eye due to an accidental headbutt, causing the fight to be stopped in the eighth round). Gonzalez never seemed to get untracked perhaps due to the awkward southpaw style of Ponce de Leon, whose own punch demands respect.
“In that fight with Ponce de Leon, I wasn’t 100 percent mentally and physically there and that’s apparent,” said Gonzalez. “You have to see the difference. Styles makes fights. Ponce de Leon is a southpaw. Abner’s not a southpaw. He’s a clean fighter. I can’t say the same about Ponce de Leon. So I am coming in 100 percent prepared mentally and physically prepared and I think you’re going to see it on fight night.”
Gonzalez said the loss of focus was due to family issues that are now in the past.
“I was prepared physically very well but mentally I wasn’t. I had some outside issues that affected me, some personal problems. I learned a lot, experience-wise. I went in there knowing that, mentally, I wasn’t there and then the headbutt just broke my concentration even more. But now I learned from that experience to not go in there that way and this time, I’m physically and mentally prepared,” said Gonzalez.
Following that loss, Gonzalez returned to Mexico to face Eusebio Osejo in a 12-round fight. Osejo, of Managua, Nicaragua, was 22-12-2 with seven knockouts when Gonzalez faced him yet he was no steppingstone. The southpaw Osejo dueled all night long with Gonzalez. In the fourth, a hard left hand put Gonzalez down. A lesser fighter would have been done but Jhonny rose late in the count, walked slowly toward a neutral corner and let his mouthpiece fall from his mouth, buying precious time. Referee Curtis Thrasher grabbed the mouthpiece and led Gonzalez to Beristain, where he passed the mouthpiece to the trainer, then called time. Roughly 25 seconds had passed. Beristain took his time washing off the mouthpiece and replacing it in Gonzalez’s mouth. When all was said and done, roughly 45 seconds had elapsed and what was a 10-8 round for the knockdown became 10-7 when Thrasher deducted a point from Gonzalez for spitting the mouthpiece out.
When the action resumed, the bell sounded to end the fourth. The rest of the fight was the same high-speed duel the first four rounds had been. Osejo was the aggressor all night and while many of his punches were expertly blocked on the move by Gonzalez, the straight left of the Nicaraguan landed all night. Gonzalez was awarded the unanimous decision. He won his last fight in April by fourth round knockout over 12-6-1 Akihiko Katagiri, biding time for a fight of this magnitude.
Some might argue that the Osejo fight is more cause for concern than the Ponce de Leon fight. Against an onrushing, bullish boxer-puncher, Gonzalez’s measured long-range attack was put to the test. But both of those men are southpaws. Ponce de Leon brought a 70” reach and serious knockout power to the table. Osejo brought enough of everything to trouble and put Gonzalez down in perhaps a winning effort lost to home-cooking.
But none of that means anything to Gonzalez come Saturday.
“My body still feels great. My body’s still responding in the gym and the trainings,” said Gonzalez, who talked about moving up to 130 after this fight, perhaps a subtle hint that he is having trouble making weight. On Friday, he weighed in at 125 with a beard and a look of confidence in his eyes, so perhaps that isn’t so much the case but a guess. Mares weighed 125.5 and looked trim and ready. “I definitely think this is a very important fight at this moment and we are looking forward to it and then going up another division to super featherweight and then, at that point, fight even bigger fights there.”
The fight can go many ways. Mares is well-conditioned, multifaceted and very experienced for being a mere 27 years old. Gonzalez will need everything he has left to beat him.
“I invite all fight fans to witness what will be a battle for the ages. Abner Mares is youthful and strong but I have experience and will come well-prepared with my own arsenal of weapons,” said Gonzalez.
No doubt; boxing fans will take him up on that.
Mares by decision, maybe late stoppage, in a classic that sees him hit the deck early, adjust in the middle rounds and take over late to win in impressive fashion.
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