There’s a pounding noise coming from beneath boxing’s radar. It’s the sound of the monsters diehards and classicists have been warning the pugilistic realm about for years.
The urban legends seemed farfetched: tiny devils with giant power. It couldn’t be true. That is until the world saw one Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez for itself tear down former world champion Edgar Sosa in under six minutes back in May—HBO’s first time airing a flyweight bout since 1995.
Now recognized as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, according to The Ring Magazine and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, Gonzalez defends his claim to the helm of boxing (and the 112-pound weight class) against multi-weight world champion Brian Viloria on October 17 at the Madison Square Garden, the mecca of prizefighting.
The two men are not, however, headlining the show this weekend. That honor goes to Gennady Golovkin, a middleweight champion fighting nine weight divisions up.
Boxing’s lowest weight classes seldom see love by television giants and, in turn, the mainstream public, especially stateside. It’s a puzzling phenomenon.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. was the pay-per-view king before retiring despite his perpetually scrutinized risk-adverse “fighting” style.
Deontay Wilder, too, the WBC heavyweight titleholder out of Alabama, hasn’t run into any trouble finding airtime to exhibit his crude technical ability thanks to his towering stature and 34 big knockout wins.
It’s the Jack Dempsey effect and also a by-product of the bravado Muhammad Ali flashed all those years ago. America loves heavyweight bangers and polarizing personality.
— HBOboxing (@HBOboxing) October 12, 2015
But that’s outdated. And it’s all changing.
Publications far and wide are finally recognizing Chocolatito Gonzalez for his accomplishments and aptitude in the gloved arts. He is the only flyweight to ever top The Ring’s pound-for-pound list.
His polished offensive attack, a refinement in violence patterned after the punch-king Alexis Arguello, awes even the most stringent pundit and despite his 112-pound frame, he’s punched in 37 knockouts in just 43 fighs. That kind of finishing ability will keep any casual fan’s attention.
Golovkin is no less a fistic savage, knocking out 30 of his 33 opponents. But he didn’t pick up a world title until 2010, the year Gonzalez was already beating three-time title challenger Francisco Rosas (for the second time in as many weight classes) for the WBA light flyweight strap (108 pounds).
It was Chocolatito’s second world championship after overthrowing Yutaka Niida in 2008—knocking out the esteemed Japanese in four rounds and into retirement—for the right to call himself the best strawweight on the planet. What followed was a battering of Katsunari Takayama, who is still arguably the best minimumweight to this day and likely the most blistering fighter in the sport.
In 2011, Gonzalez roughed up brawler-extraordinaire Manuel “Chango” Vargas throughout 12 rounds before defending his light flyweight belt four times, highlighted by a knockout of former world champion Ramon Garcia Hirales (the first kayo of Garcia’s career) and a unanimous decision over a young Juan Francisco Estrada who the TBRB currently rate as one of the 10 best pound-for-pound boxers in the world.
No one else has seen the final bell with Gonzalez’s savage attack since. His nine-fight knockout streak includes the most hardened of boxers like Francisco Rodriguez Jr., the once premier srawweight in the world who more than lives up to his “Titanium” moniker and Akira Yaegashi, a physical specimen and lineal flyweight champion who hardly flinched in his firefights with Kazuto Ioka and Pornsawan Porpramook. But Yaegashi couldn’t last nine full rounds with Chocolatito, giving up his WBC strap and the acclaimed lineal championship that traces back to the legendary Mexican Miguel Canto in the 1970s.
Gonzalez, who turned 28 in June, has carried on the tradition of excellence only defending the crown against ranked opponents: longtime contender Rocky Fuentes and the aforementioned Sosa.
Photo by Ismael Gallardo/RBRBoxing
Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank
Now, another former world champion takes a shot at the Nicaraguan marvel. Viloria, a top-5 ranked flyweight by The Ring (No. 3) and TBRB (No.4), represents the biggest test of Chocolatito’s career. Viloria may not be as unique of a stylist as Yaegashi and while Estrada did outfight the “Hawaiian Punch” back in 2012, the Mexican was only 22 years old when Gonzalez got his hands on him.
Viloria holds an edge in experience, fighting professionally for nearly 15 years, debuting back in 2001. And under the tutelage of renowned trainer Freddie Roach, he is of the traditional boxer-puncher mold (with an emphasis on the “puncher”) that gave Gonzalez fits against Estrada. He sure can crack, showing off potent power at the championship level for over 10 years now, dethroning Eric Ortiz in one round for the WBC light flyweight belt in 2005.
While Viloria may seem to be on the downside of his career at 34 years old and finding himself in the ring with an elite-level talent for the first time since fighting Estrada over two years ago, he has proven masses of doubters wrong before.
It was after suffering the lone stoppage loss of his career in a come-from-behind effort from Carlos Tamara in 2010 (losing the IBF flyweight strap in the process) that Viloria seemed done for at the world-class stage.
But he would win his next six fights that included the shellacking he gave Hernan “Tyson” Marquez, a raging former world champion and top-5 flyweight, and rearranging Giovani Segura’s face en route to a Round 8 TKO. Segura was ranked in The Ring’s Top 10 pound-for-pound list at the time and he didn’t stand a chance against the revitalized Viloria.
Viloria also has more backing than any opponent Gonzalez has ever faced, currently signed under Top Rank Boxing promotions.
This fight represents huge exposure for the weight class in the Unites States. And it’s long overdue. The two of them are the most recognizable names and faces in a largely unrecognizable fighting scene.
Be aware of what is creeping under the floorboards. Listen to the sound of tiny fists breaking the world free from old thinking.
Header photo by Naoki Fukada