By Eric Raskin
If he were facing anyone else, you’d give McWilliams Arroyo a chance. Juan Francisco Estrada, Amnat Ruenroeng, Brian Viloria—there are plenty of world-class fighters at flyweight, and Arroyo would be, at worst, a very live underdog against any of them.
Any of them except the one he’s sharing the ring with on Saturday night at the Forum in Inglewood, California.
Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez is, in a word, unfair. His combination of speed, skill, and power leaves a quality practitioner like Arroyo, who lost by the slimmest of margins to Ruenroeng on enemy soil in his only previous alphabet title shot, facing a task that borders on impossible. Often in boxing, we get swept up and overhype the undefeated fighter, and it might seem that sentences like the two preceding this one are doing just that. But Gonzalez has done enough to prove himself worthy of the hype. He’s had 44 fights, he’s won them all, and he’s ended 38 of them early. He’s dominated three weight divisions. You might not recognize the names because they’re mostly foreign and are built like a jockey, but he’s beaten eight current or former beltholders. And only once in his 44 fights has he been pushed. (And by “pushed,” we mean two of the judges had it as close as eight rounds to four.)
If there’s something that makes this fight different, it’s that the Chocolatito coming-out party is wrapping up. This is his first fight since his status as the number-one pound-for-pound fighter in the world became pretty much agreed upon. After Floyd Mayweather announced his retirement last September, some observers needed Gonzalez to impress against Viloria a month later before they’d feel comfortable moving him into the top spot; nine rounds of combining technical precision with terrifying punishment accomplished just that. Saturday night’s fight will be the first for which Gonzalez comes in with both the spotlight and the pressure of standing alone atop the P4P mountain.
But while the fans and media are quick to pencil in another win for the lineal 112-pound champ, Gonzalez isn’t taking his hard-punching Puerto Rican challenger, who boasts 14 KOs on his 16-2 record, lightly. “This is a big opportunity for Arroyo,” Gonzalez said. “He feels like he should already be champion from his close, split decision loss to Amnat Ruenroeng, and I know how strong and well prepared he will be for this fight. This is a big test and very important fight for me.”
If he passes, promoter Tom Loeffler indicated on the HBO Boxing Podcast that it will likely be the last time Chocolatito plays opening act to Gennady Golovkin. Instead, the 28-year-old dynamo from Nicaragua will advance to headline billing on major cards. Traditionally, flyweights from Central America don’t do that in the States.
But traditionally, humans wearing boxing gloves don’t do very many of the things that Gonzalez can do.