Editorials

Is Roman Gonzalez a Top 5 Pound-for-Pound Fighter?

Roman Gonzalez - Stephen Dunn Getty Images
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez’s tiny fists make for big knockouts—and even bigger impressions.

A smidgen above five feet tall, Gonzalez (43-0, 37 KOs) stands head and shoulders above nearly every boxer in the world following his successful title defense earlier this month on HBO, turning back challenger Edgar Sosa in annihilative fashion. Sosa, a former world champion, lasted no more than six minutes with the Nicaraguan’s two-fisted attack.

The preeminent rankings panel in the world, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB), currently ranks Gonzalez as the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the entire sport, just behind the renowned Floyd Mayweather Jr. The Ring Magazine follows suit.

Does a somewhat unknown boxer, one who picked up his first world title at 105 pounds, no less, really merit such a standing?

Rankings as such are relative. They are not created within a vacuum. It is only after evaluating boxing’s most accomplished fighters that you may know where one Chocolatito compares.

Quality of wins and losses and their performances in them should all be considered.

Gonzalez, though, doesn’t have a loss to speak of. His run over the last seven years has been nothing short of remarkable, exhibiting a warm smile and savage fists, winning world titles at strawweight, light flyweight and flyweight, highlighted by his unseating of Akira Yaegashi for the lineal flyweight crown and waging war with current WBA and WBO 112-pound champion Juan Francisco Estrada in 2012.

These exploits not only make him the undisputed king of boxing’s lower weight classes—that being below bantamweight—but also the very best fighter below even welterweight.

RomanGonzalez- Naoki Fukuda
Photo by Naoki Fukada

A close look at pound-for-pound claimants Guillermo Rigondeaux and Terence Crawford validate this.

15 professional bouts removed from his two Olympic gold medals, Rigondeaux has beaten just one ranked opponent—undressing Nonito Donaire two years ago for the WBA and WBO belts. He’s been unable to secure another big fight owing to a lack of backing and an allegedly unappealing style.

He beat the always-game Joseph Agbeko but the Ghana-born former champion had never before fought at super bantamweight. Rigondeaux’s last two fights—while having shredded the “boring” label—have come against complete unknowns: Sod Kokietgym and Hisashi Amagasa.

In contrast, Crawford, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum‘s pride and joy, has exemplified just how much a fighter can do given promotional backing, defeating four straight ranked opponents across two divisions within 15 months.

Crawford, however, did most of his work in the weak weight class of 135 pounds. Last August, BoxingScene.com ranked every single one of boxing’s 17 divisions. Gonzalez’s flyweight class landed the No. 3 spot. Lightweight rounded out the Top 10.

Gonzalez’s crop of notable wins over Yutaka Niida, Katsunari Takayama, Estrada, Rocky Fuentes, Sosa and a TKO of the hardened former No. 1 strawweight Francisco Rodriguez Jr. make him the best fighter this side of Mayweather.

In the weight classes above that, Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev have been taking turns knocking down geopolitical borders and middleweight and light heavyweight contenders.

Both are realistically the best fighters in their divisions, but they lack the lineal titles currently held by Miguel Cotto and Adonis Stevenson.

The Ring and TBRB are justified in rating Chocolatito above both of them.

He still, of course, rates behind Mayweather (everybody does).

While Chocolatito’s record of 43 wins without defeat is closing in on “Money’s” 48-0 mark, longevity is what separates the two.

Gonzalez picked up his first notable win in 2008 when he knocked out Niida for the right to call himself the No. 1 Minimumweight in the world. It was a whole 10 years prior in 1998 when Mayweather commenced to clean out the super featherweight division with wins over ranked opponents Tony Pep and Genaro Hernandez.

Roman Gonzalez - Chocolatito Reuters - Toru Hanai
REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Mayweather’s most recent adversary, Manny Pacquiao also holds a large edge in shelf life. His resume is filled to the brim with esteemed opponents from flyweight to a so-called “super welterweight” title fight with Antonio Margarito. He has since traded wins with first-class boxers Juan Manuel Marquez and Timothy Bradley.

Marquez, a future Hall of Famer, has been inactive for over a year now and is out of the pound-for-pound discussion. And come the end of May, so is Carl Froch. It will have been a year since his second TKO of George Groves (in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley, in case you haven’t heard).

Bradley, though, has remained active—last seen in December and set to fight Jessie Vargas next month. His ledger began at junior welterweight, beating Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander, then outboxing Marquez and outbrawling Ruslan Provodnikov at welterweight.

Climbing the weight class ladder like so goes a long way here. The rule of thumb is the larger the opponent is, the more difficult is is to outmatch him with skill. If a boxer moves up in weight successfully, their pound-for-pound stock follows.

Gonzalez has more than proven himself in this aspect, following his mentor Alexis Arguello’s footsteps in becoming the second Nicaragua-born fighter to win world titles in three separate divisions.

Wladimir Klitschko, a heavyweight, is the exception. His hearty record of 64-3 (including 53 knockouts) is made up of 18 title defenses against the best heavyweights he can get a hold of. Which isn’t saying much. The division ranked below even lightweight at No. 12 in Boxing Scene’s assessment last year.

And of course, as is the case with Bradley, Klitschko isn’t carrying the kind of momentum Chocolatito is at the moment. 2012 was the last time someone even went the distance with him whereas Bradley hasn’t picked up an official win since October 2013 and the Ukranian heavyweight’s “clinch-n-grab” gameplan is turning away more fans than contenders these days.

There are grounds for ranking Pacquiao, Bradley or Klitshcko above Gonzalez, but you must pay their recent performances almost no heed to do so.

At 27, he warrants a spot within the top five alongside these great fighters—if not already above them.

Mayweather will be gone soon and this time next year Gonzalez will have broken through to the American, English-speaking audience.

Because while his nickname may be Spanish for little chocolate, those tiny fists of his speak a language all their own—one every fight fan can understand. They convey excellence, dedication and violence.

They scream future pound-for-pound king.

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