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“El Chocolatito” Comes to America

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


When Roman Gonzalez defends his WBA light flyweight title this Saturday night at the Fairplex in Pomona, CA. against Roman Garcia Hirales, it will mark the second fight he’s had in the States. Back in October, he stopped Omar Soto in two rounds at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas after basing his career in his home country of Nicaragua with subsequent world title outings in Japan and Mexico. But like Neil Diamond once belted out, Gonzalez is coming to America- and he’d like to stick around awhile.
 
On Wednesday night at El Asador, a Nicaraguan eatery near downtown Los Angeles, a small, intimate media gathering was held for Gonzalez. He told Maxboxing through Top Rank publicist Ricardo Jimenez, “I’m very happy to be able to fight here because this is where I want to be. I want to show the people here what kind of quality fighter I am and hopefully, if I do well, they’ll keep bringing me back- and that’s what I want to do.”
 
Being a smaller fighter, it means that your living has to be made in Asia and Mexico. While the hardcore purists certainly have an appreciation for “Chocolatito”- who has a record of 31-0 with 26 knockouts to his credit- the HBOs and Showtimes of the world largely ignore weight classes south of bantamweight. America, for the most part, is the land of giants (or at least boxers who are larger than your average-sized jockey).

“Hopefully, they’ll see me and they’ll get interested,” said Gonzalez, on the lack of general interest and apathy existing in this country regarding his weight class. “I’m going to be fighting at 112 next year and I think more people that see me, the more I’ll take advantage of it.”
 
Gonzalez is a hero in his home country. Here, he’s just another small guy. The late, great Bert Sugar would say of him, “He’s not even a household name in his own household.” He’s the type of fighter who’s not on the premium cable networks but the kind of guy that purists make sure they watch on an internet stream or trade for one of his fight DVDs. But aren’t potential fights like Gonzalez against either Brian Viloria or Hernan “Tyson” Marquez made for “Boxing After Dark”?
 
“They have spoken to me about moving up to fight Viloria,” said Gonzalez. “I’m really not interested right now. I want to fight at 108 all of this year, make as many fights as I can and then next year, we’ll talk 112.”
 
If there’s one thing going for Gonzalez, it’s that he has something that transcends all weight classes and can attract casual fans- the ability to sock. Unlike many other fighters whose high knockout percentage is the by-product of soft matchmaking early on, his punching prowess has translated to the world-class level. He has more than just warning track power and that usually makes for good TV.
 
When asked how he began in this sport, he recalled, “My dad used to take me to the gym just to get in there. With time, I realized I had a little talent and Nicaragua, we had Alexis Arguello and a big boxing community, so I got interested. God gave me this gift and I’ve been able to develop it. I’m a two-time world champion and I’m right at this level. It’s God’s gift.”
 
Ah, yes, Arguello. When you think of boxing in this country, you immediately think of this pugilistic legend. Mexico has Julio Cesar Chavez. The Philippines has Manny Pacquiao. Nicaragua has “Flaco de Explosivo” and he played an integral and early role in Gonzalez’s career.
 
“When I was coming up, there were a lot of fighters just as good as I was- even better- but they got lost to stuff like alcohol or whatever. They didn’t keep it up. But Arguello told me, when he pulled me aside, ‘Being a world champion is not the thing; it’s staying a world champion is what you need to do and that’s why you have to work harder, take care of yourself.’ I’ve followed that advice. I prepare myself well and take care of myself.” He added, “I trained for a year with Arguello; he taught me how to do the movements, what I needed to do with that power- if anyone knew about power, it was him. He took me to Costa Rica to a championship tournament and I won. He taught me as an amateur; I was with him with the national team. He was always looking out for me, always making sure I do the right work.”
 
They say punchers are born, not made. From the very onset, it was clear this little powder keg had heavy hands and Arguello recognized it. “I knocked a guy out with headgear. [Arguello] said, “Y’ know what? You can hit as hard as anyone. If you take care of yourself, that power will stay with you all the time, all your life.’”
 
The Man Upstairs gave Gonzalez power but if only He would have made him about 35 pounds bigger…
 
“Only God knows why he did it this way,” said the friendly and talkative Gonzalez, “but I would love to be that.”
 
He’s still just 24 years old. Time is on his side to carve out a niche in the States. He’s certainly willing to do his part.
 
“We talked about being active, fighting as often as we can, maybe four times more this year and just being out there so people will recognize me, know who I am and get opportunities to show myself to a whole new market.”
 
TIX
 
According to Ray Alcorta, who is running this card locally for Top Rank, tickets are moving briskly.

“The expensive seats sold very well for this event. It’s one of the first shows we’ve had where the expensive seats are in so much demand, we’re out of the ringside [tickets]; we’re out of the second row,” he said on Wednesday night. “The way we did the seating here, we did table seating around the ring because we had a limited time to promote the event and we didn’t know how well it would do. You put people in tables because you can sell them as a group and it fills up the house a little better. But they went much better than what we expected and the table seating is pretty much sold out.”
 
Even though there is a HBO card on the same night, it seems like there is a contingency of fans willing to TiVo that show and take this opportunity to see Gonzalez in person for the first time.

“The fact that this kid has been all over kinda reminds me a bit of Edwin Valero in the United States, where very few people have been able to see him but everyone’s heard about him,” said Alcorta, who promoted Valero’s first bouts in this country. “He’s from Nicaragua where he’s a superstar but the everyday fan who follows boxing has this kid in the mythical pound-for-pound list and everyone wants a chance to see if he’s the real deal or not. And everybody, whether it be American, Mexican, Nicaraguan, has been calling to get tickets to this fight.”
 
A crowd of up to 1,500 is expected on Saturday night, which isn’t bad at all for a Nicaraguan fighter making his debut in Southern California, fighting on an Azteca America show. Alcorta points out, “Abner Mares is a great fighter, a great champion; he fought at the Honda Center [against Joseph Agbeko on December 3rd] and he grew up here in Hawaiian Gardens. I read in an article that there was just over a 1,000 paid for that event. We’re doing this in just a couple of weeks and we’re doing it in Pomona and [Gonzalez]’s never fought here, never been to California.”
 
EL PASO
 
It looks like the city of El Paso hasn’t given up on hosting the WBC middleweight title bout between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Andy Lee (http://espn.go.com/boxing/story/_/id/7858834/lawmaker-wants-sun-bowl-fight-ban-reversed).
 
Then on Thursday, Steve Kaplowitz (@stevekaplowitz), who works at 600 ESPN El Paso, had these series of tweets: 
 
- Breaking News...the Chavez Jr. fight will stay in El Paso & be held at Cohen Stadium. More info at 4p today on Sportstalk.#600ESPNElPaso
 
- The deal to bring Chavez Jr. to Cohen Stadium is b/c of City Council & nothing to do w/ Tiguas. @HBOboxing will showcase EP in big way
 
- Now, it’s up to El Paso to support the event and sell out Cohen Stadium #boxing on June 16th. The park only holds 14K for boxing.
 
- One thing to keep in mind is Top Rank has not signed off on #boxing at Cohen Stadium. But, I don’t see Bob Arum saying no to City Council.
 
Efforts to reach Arum on Thursday were unsuccessful. 
 
This has been quite the story. There are theories that the “heightened security issues” have something to do with whom Chavez Jr. is currently dating (I guess the son of the cousin of the guy who cuts the hair of a cartel leader in Juarez used to date the young lady Chavez is seeing now. Or something like that). Then there is this theory put out there by Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/boxing/fight-cancellation-el-paso-might-linked-landmark-book-020328845.html
 
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS
 
It looks like a fight between IBF light heavyweight beltholder Tavoris Cloud and Jean Pascal is “this close” to being finalized and will likely take place on July 7 or August 11, either in Montreal or Quebec City. It looks like Showtime will televise this event that will certainly have a large and lively audience. Based on the styles and deficiencies of both boxers, this could be a pretty entertaining fight.
 
Speaking of which, is it just me or is there palpable lack of buzz in regard to this weekend’s rematch between Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City (if this isn’t one of the “important” fights that only the Harry Hardcores look forward to, what is?)? I think this was best captured by the always insightful Carlos Acevedo of The Cruelest Sport: http://thecruelestsport.com/2012/04/26/why-not-lucy-the-elephant-instead-bernard-hopkins-chad-dawson-preview/
 
FRIDAY FLURRIES
 
Antonio Margarito makes his return to the ring on May 26th at the Casino Del Sol in Tuscon, AZ. against Abel Perry on a card televised by Azteca America...Demetrius Andrade fights on May 5th at the Mohegan Sun versus Rudy Cisneros. According to a press release, Andrade-Cisneros will air live at 10-11 p.m., ET as an “ESPN Boxing: FNF Special Edition” presented by Corona Extra...The June 9th Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley pay-per-view undercard is set, featuring Mike Jones vs. Randall Bailey, Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Teon Kennedy and Jorge Arce vs. Jesus Rojas...Tickets for the show in Pomona on Saturday night are $75, $50 and $30. For more info, please call 323-353-3212 or 323-866-9943. The Fairplex in Pomona is located at 1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona, CA. 91756...Also on that card are Wale “Lucky Boy” Omotoso and Jesse Roman, among others. First bell is 5:45 p.m. local time...Plenty of boxing on Friday night; you have “Friday Night Fights” on ESPN2 featuring Ismayl Sillakh and a “ShoBox” telecast featuring Thomas Oosthuizen vs. Marcus Johnson and Luis Del Valle vs. Christopher Martin...On Saturday night, in addition to the HBO telecast, Fox Deportes features Jhonny Gonzalez defending his WBC featherweight title versus Elio Rojas and the aforementioned “Chocolatito” card on Azteca America (which is always shaky)...Can life go on without the Pro Bowl?...Is it clear that Matt Kemp is now the best player in MLB?...Metta World War Artest is the latest example of “When Twitter Goes Wrong for Athletes”...Speaking of which, I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. I can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and we also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.



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