Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
The man who had most recently wore the crown of the pound-for-pound best boxer in the world placed, at least in the last several years of his reign, a premium on defense, daring opponents to hit him and, when they failed to do so cleanly, pot-shotting them on his way to victories that were as aesthetically pleasing as they were emotionally unsatisfying.
The successor to his throne takes an entirely different approach. Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez presumably likes being hit no more than did Floyd "Money" Mayweather, but he follows the aphorism that the best defense is a good offense – an approach that has brought him victory in every one of his 44 professional outings to date and which saw him dominate and ultimately stop Brian Viloria in the co-main event at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
In a long professional career that began shortly after he competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Viloria has been, by most standards, highly successful, winning 36 of his starts and picking up world titles at 108 and 112 pounds along the way. He has lost a few times, too, but almost always in closely-fought contests; never before had he experienced what it is like to be completely overwhelmed by a dominant opponent that rendered him effectively helpless. Yet that is just what Gonzalez did to him in front of 20,000 fans at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
Viloria (36-5, 22 KOs) actually started brightly enough, charging out of his corner toward Gonzalez and seeking to be the aggressor, digging hard punches to the Nicaraguan’s body and winging shots at his head. Gonzalez (44-0, 38 KOs) blocked most of them, but the opening round went to Viloria – and the second might have as well. Yet even at the time of his greatest success, the signs of trouble were there for the Hawaiian Punch: Gonzalez never appeared hurt or even concerned by his assault, and instead appeared to be biding his time, looking for the opportunity to fire back, launching tracer bullets in the form of straight punches that pierced the Viloria guard and prepared the ground for the heavy artillery that was to follow.
The first explosive detonation came in the third, when Viloria walked into a short right hand and dropped to his knees. He beat the count, but the tenor of the contest had immediately changed. From that moment onward, Gonzalez was on a mission to seek and destroy, attacking Viloria with an almost unfathomable relentlessness.
If some boxers – think, for example, former bantamweight champion Wayne McCullough – are volume punchers, others are known for the one-punch power they possess, with Mike Tyson being perhaps the modern exemplar. Few throw high numbers of punches with accuracy and heavy-handedness, and those who do are the Holy Grail of boxing fandom. Manny Pacquiao at his peak achieved the synthesis better than just about anybody, and was accordingly beloved; Roman Gonzalez is from a similar mold, with perhaps a smidgen less highlight-reel power but an attack that is, if anything, more suffocating. Small wonder then that the capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden was screaming Chocolatito’s name from the moment he walked to the ring to the time his hands were held aloft in victory.
Round after round, Gonzalez came forward, throwing blistering combinations from every conceivable angle, in bunches of not just two or three or even four, but five, six or seven, each of them launched and landing with such rapidity that Viloria – who, it is worth underlining, is a high-caliber former champion – was simply powerless to respond. As much as the volume, the punches were staggering for their variety: a hook to the body transitioning to an uppercut, followed by a right hand, another hook to the body, another straight right.
At times, Viloria looked like the victim of an electric shock, rooted to the spot by the Gonzalez attack and able to move again only when his attacker stepped back and turned off the current. By the end, as he fought back vainly with ineffectual punches, he brought to mind a desperate prey animal launching its last token resistance against a particularly sadistic predator.
The end, when it came, was almost arbitrary, referee Benjy Esteves stepping in at 2:53 of the ninth round with Viloria against the ropes. The Hawaiian seemed in no greater distress than at any other point, but further resistance was futile, victory was beyond him, and he offered no protest at the stoppage.
The crowd ululated, as well it might. Gonzalez is a rare breed of fighter, and a spectacular one. Fully 44 fights into his career, his widespread recognition at the most exalted levels of the sport is a relatively recent phenomenon. But it’s a place he seems destined to hold for a long time yet, and it promises to be a genuinely exciting and praiseworthy reign.