Déjà Vu as Chocolatito Prepares to Fulfill Alexis Arguello's Promise



By Diego Morilla

Another night of championship boxing. A bell that rings, two fighters colliding for a claim to glory. An underdog that lands a hook to the body and a straight hand to the face, and a stunned crowd that goes silent. The unthinkable has happened. The "Hawaiian Punch" has dropped the pride of war-torn Nicaragua on the bottom of his trunks. Silence fills the stadium. And yet, the champ rises and fights on, claws his way back into the contest and attempts to reclaim a victory that seemed all but guaranteed – and which comes four rounds later, much to the relief of those who had already anointed him as one of the best fighters in the world.

As improbable as the repetition of this scene may be, this has already happened. Boxing, as it turns out, has a way to perpetuate its drama by reinventing its most memorable plotlines, and that's how the May 22, 1982 fight between Nicaragua's Alexis Arguello and Andy "Hawaiian Punch" Ganigan at the Aladdin in Las Vegas has a chance to see its second chapter this coming Saturday, October 17, when Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez will meet Brian Viloria (36-4, 22 KO) for a shot at the same green WBC belt that was in play on that fateful night, along with a chance to one-up their predecessors, and with a much larger assembly of bragging rights at stake.

The bout, which will be shown on HBO in one of the most anticipated boxing nights of the year headlined by the Golovkin-Lemieux middleweight title fight, will be under a considerably brighter spotlight than the one under which Arguello (who would later become Gonzalez's mentor) and Ganigan once fought. Back then, Arguello was defending his lightweight title and was already being considered the second-best fighter in the world. But today, Gonzalez (43-0, 37 KO) is the pound-for-pound king according to most independent rankings available, a position that Arguello once famously predicted that he would occupy.

"I have a lot of memories from Alexis," said Gonzalez about the former champion who died in 2009. "The moments we spent together, the combinations he taught me, how to train like a real champion. And that has kept me focused through the years."

Some of those years have been harder than others for the new darling of boxing connoisseurs worldwide. His early years in the impoverished Barrio La Esperanza were marked by his dreams of becoming a fighter just like his father, and his grandfather before him. But even the most basic equipment was a luxury for the Gonzalez family back then. Young Roman would fill up milk bags with sand and hang them from the old guava tree in the back yard, slipping his tiny hands into a pair of oversized rubber gloves to start punching his way towards a boxing career – most often on an empty stomach after just one meal a day and a glass of water with sugar as dinner.

Soon enough, all that water and sugar and milk and sweat would turn into a sweeter treat under the heat of his punches, and his name of "Chocolatito" would just make it official. Later, he would hone those natural skills in the gym that Arguello set up a few blocks away from his home, and the rest is history.

A pressure fighter with solid technique and a knockout punch to match, Gonzalez has been impressing hardcore boxing fans for years in his fights around the world, grabbing titles in three different world classes (matching Arguello's achievement in the process) and preparing to make an indelible impact in the sport.

"We're taking it with a lot of pride," said Gonzalez about his involvement with HBO, where he will be fighting only for the second time after beating Edgar Sosa back in May to explode even further into the big time. "They have given me the opportunity to demonstrate my qualities in boxing. [Viloria] is a very strong opponent. He has the hunger to win, but he knows he will be crashing against a truck. We've studied him day and night, every punch and every combination, but our conditioning is truly what will carry us during the fight. The one in the best shape will have the tools to do the right thing on fight night."

With a win in this fight, many will see Gonzalez as having surpassed his departed mentor, but Chocolatito will always put Arguello one notch ahead.

"Some people say I am better than Alexis, but even if I win a fourth or fifth title, I will never be better than anyone," said Gonzalez. "Alexis will remain as the number one fighter in the world to me. He was the person who taught me his qualities, just like my dad did, and taught me with his experience. He gave me a lot of advice on how to train every day as a champion, and that is what has kept me at the top for so long."