By Nat Gottlieb
In street clothes, the 5'3" Roman Gonzalez would not stand out in a crowd. But put him in a ring, turn him loose against another flyweight, and it’ll quickly become obvious that you are watching a giant of a man who towers over other boxers.
Along with Gennady Golovkin, Gonzales is often considered as the best pound-for-pound active fighter in the world. The unbeaten Nicaraguan is every fan’s dream boxer: a two-fisted, perfectly-tuned boxing machine with a breathtaking ability to destroy everything put in front of him.
But don’t expect Brian Viloria, a former two-division world champion with terrific punching power, to be intimidated by all this when he and Gonzales face off as the co-feature for the Golovkin-Lemieux main event on Oct. 17 at Madison Square Garden, airing on HBO Pay-Per-View at 9 PM ET/PT.
“I’ve fought and won on the world’s biggest stages against the best of the best,” the 34-year-old Viloria (36-4, 22 KOs) says. “I’ve prepared my whole life to win at every level of competition, from the world amateur titles to the Olympic Games to professional world titles.”
Still, the Hawaiian-born Viloria acknowledges the high degree of difficulty he’s facing in defeating the 28-year-old Gonzalez (43-0, 37 KOs). “This fight against Roman Gonzalez is likely to be my biggest challenge yet. But it’s Roman’s biggest challenge, too. This is the realization of my dreams and I will make the most of it.”
There is little doubt that Viloria, who at times has come into fights not fully focused, will be bringing his A-game. But will it be enough against a boxer who’s almost supernaturally gifted, one whose mere presence in the ring has been known to intimidate the best of opponents?
“Chocolatito,” as Gonzalez is called, had his coming out party on the same card as the Golovkin’s fight with Willie Monroe last May at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. While it sounds strange to say a fighter with a 42-0 record had a “coming out party,” the lowest weight class boxers are rarely featured on the biggest of stages. Because of that, Gonzalez had flown under the radar of casual fans until that point.
It took less than two rounds at the Forum for all that to change.
Gonzalez absolutely obliterated Edgar Sosa, a formidable foe, with a brutal TKO in the second round that left the sellout crowd gasping. The dominance Chocolatito displayed in less than two rounds was enough to skyrocket him to the top of the pound-for-pound charts.
Viloria says he pays no attention to stuff like that. Having been around the block against better competition than Gonzalez has faced so far, Viloria may be Chocolatito's first opponent who won’t be overwhelmed by the moment.
What must Viloria do to win? Whatever he does he will need to do it quickly. Connecting with an early big punch seems to the most likely method, and Viloria is certainly capable of doing that. Above all, the Hawaiian cannot allow Gonzalez to get a lock on his timing. To avoid that, he needs to use a lot of movement, which is again something he can do.
Viloria has shown he has the one-punch power to change the course of a fight. But the question is whether he can get through Chocolatito’s superb defense without being on the receiving end of counter blast from either of the Nicaraguan’s heavy hands.
As sensational as Gonzalez has been so far, though, no fighter is perfect. Viloria must recognize and exploit the only detectable possible flaws in the Chocolatito's style. The unbeaten champion at times throws wide hooks that leave him open to a straight shot down the middle. He also has a tendency to drop his left when throwing a big right hand, and lower his right when firing a left hook to the body.
In order to exploit these tendencies, a fighter must have very quick hands, because by the time you throw your counter punch, Gonzalez is already in the midst of shooting another shot at you.
Even at 34, Viloria still has fast hands.
Another possible factor is that for all appearances Gonzalez chin has never been tested. That being said, the Nicaraguan’s aggressive offense keeps his opponents from putting it to test. Gonzalez certainly can’t be blamed because his whiskers haven’t come into play. But it’s still an unknown factor in this fight, and for sure, Viloria does hit hard.
Viloria’s own chin has been tested and proven to be sturdy over the course of 40 professional bouts. Of his four losses, only one came by knockout, a 12th round stoppage in which he clearly ran out of gas when he was ahead on two of the three judges’ scorecards. Unfortunately for the Hawaiian, lack of stamina has been an on-going problem throughout his career. All three of his other losses went the full 12 rounds. The common thread in each of those defeats was that Viloria would win many of the early rounds, tire, and then drop too many rounds in the second half of the bout.
Despite those losses, the game Hawaiian has never been dominated. Besides the 12th round stoppage, Viloria lost one bout by split decision, another by majority decision, and a third, while unanimous, was relatively close on two of the scorecards.
Will the sensational Gonzalez be the first to completely overwhelm Viloria? He certainly has the tools and power to do so. Even if the supremely confident Gonzalez is just being generous, he acknowledges the challenge he faces in Viloria.
“I know that Brian Viloria is an excellent champion and he’s a great fighter,” Chocolatito says. “He is a tough opponent and it will be a hard fight. I have my arsenal and he has his arsenal and whoever is in the best physical condition on Oct. 17 is going to win the fight.”
The only thing for certain is that however long this fight lasts, the action will be fast and furious and perfectly set the table for the Golovkin-Lemieux battle.
Also on the card is a pair of fights featuring latecomers to the game with good records who could have an effect on the heavyweight and middleweight divisions. The battle of the big men is between heavyweight contender Luis Ortiz (22-0, 19 KOs) and Matias Ariel Vidondo (20-1-1, 18 KOs), both of whom started boxing professionally just six years ago. The 36-year-old Ortiz is a Cuban defector with an extensive amateur background in both Cuban and on the international scene. The 6'4" Ortiz, with a big 82 inch wingspan, had a stellar amateur record of 343-19. Vidondo, 39, is another in a long line of Argentinean sluggers who’ll be making his American debut auspiciously at the Mecca of Boxing.
In the second fight, Tureano Johnson (18-1-13) will take on Irish boxer Eamonn O’Kane (14-1-1, 5 KOs). The winner of this bout will become the mandatory challenger for the victor of Golovkin-Lemieux.