In September 2008, 21-year-old Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez travelled to Yokohama, Japan from his Nicaraguan homeland to challenge Yutaka Niida for his WBA world minimumweight title, stopping the champion in the 4th round to become a world champion for the first time. Gonzalez celebrated by having his 6th fight of the year in front of his fellow countrymen at the Gimnasio Alexis Arguello, in the capital Managua 3 months later.
On Saturday, 29th February 2010 Gonzalez will challenge Khalid Yafai for his WBA world super-flyweight title at The Ford Centre at The Star in Frisco, Texas, more than 11 years after that historic journey to Japan. The fight is part of an impressive line-up which includes Mikey Garcia vs Jessie Vargas, Julio Cesar Martinez in the first defence of his WBC world flyweight title against Welshman Jay Harris and a second heavyweight comeback bout for former WBO champion Joseph Parker since his defeat to Dillian Whyte. The card is promoted by Matchroom Boxing USA and will be streamed by DAZN in the USA and shown live by Sky Sports in the UK.
This is a fight about how much Gonzalez has left because the Gonzalez who beat Carlos Cuadras to win the WBC 115lb belt in 2016 beats Yafai 10 out 0f 10 times. That’s no disrespect to Yafai who has been the model pro since his debut in 2012, going on to rack up a perfect (26-0-0, 15 Ko’s) record and winning the vacant WBA 122lb crown against Panamanian Luis Concepcion in December 2016.
Yafai has a wealth of top-class amateur experience on his side, and even though he is only 2 years younger than the Nicaraguan former P4P No1, he is the fresher of the two and has been slightly more active as of late.
It must have been devastating for Gonzalez to go from P4P No1 to boxing’s wasteland after his back-to-back defeats to Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in 2017. The former 4 division and undefeated (46-0) legend suffered the indignity of being flattened in the second match (4th Round Ko) against the hard-hitting Thai star.
After a year out of the ring, Gonzalez has scored two stoppage victories against decent opposition to get himself ready for a final assault at world honours in a fight that has been talked about for a few years now.
Yafai has chalked up five world title defences but has gone from looking sensational to very lucky to retain his title in that time. In his third defence, Yafai took on David Carmona in Fresno, California. This was the Birmingham native’s American debut and it couldn’t have gone much better. After 4 knockdowns Carmona retired after 7 rounds and the Americans were sold on Yafai’s abilities, and yet in his next defence against Mexican Israel Gonzalez in Monte Carlo Yafai looked like the loser after 12 rounds.
So, who wins if the best Yafai turns up?
That, as stated earlier, depends on what the Nicaraguan legend has left in the tank. Even a tainted version might have enough to push the champion to his limits. Gonzalez obviously hasn’t lost the ability to punch hard, but do the shots come in the amazing variety of angles that they did in his heyday?
This is an even-money fight on so many levels taking place now rather than 3 years ago but I feel that while Yafai has looked like a fighter still on the rise, Gonzalez will have too much big fight experience for the 30-year-old champion.
Prediction: Gonzalez to stop Yafai before round 10.