Photo: Will Hart
By Nat Gottlieb
The best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, the unbeaten Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzales, is moving up a weight class, and he isn’t exactly testing the water with his toe. The Nicaraguan sensation is plunging into the deep end to take on another undefeated boxer, reigning junior bantamweight champion Carlos Cuadras, on Sept. 10 on HBO’s World Championship Boxing at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
Adding more drama to the main event is that Gonzales (45-0, 38 KOs) will attempt to win a fourth weight division championship, something no Nicaraguan boxer has ever done, including the great Alexis Arguello, who passed away in 2009. Gonzalez is keenly aware of his potential date with history. “I dedicate this fight to my mentor, Alexis Arguello,” he says. “I know how badly he wanted a fourth divisional championship and I want to do this for him.”
Gonzalez has won titles at strawweight, light flyweight and flyweight. The power-punching Arguello (77-8, 62 KOs) blasted his way to belts in the featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight divisions, but had the misfortune of facing all-time great Aaron Pryor when he stepped up to junior welterweight, failing in two straight attempts to beat Pryor and grab a fourth title.
Will the 29-year-old Gonzalez run into a similar roadblock when he faces Cuadras (35-0-1, 27 KOs)? It’s way too early to talk about the Mexican boxer in the same sentence as Pryor, but so far Cuadras has easily powered through every opponent put in front of him and is now gunning for a seventh-straight successful defense of the junior bantamweight title he won in 2014.
While supremely confident, Chocolatito is well aware of the difficult task ahead. “Cuadras is an undefeated world champion who I respect greatly,” he says. “It’s a very tough fight for me.”
Cuadras readily acknowledges that Gonzalez, who’s promoted in the U.S. by K2 Promotions, represents a major step up for him. “Without a doubt this is the biggest fight of my career,” the Mexican said. “I’ve known Gonzalez for a few years now, we have the same (Mexican) promoter, Teiken Promotions, so we’re stablemates, we’re friends, but I’ve also wanted to test myself against him.”
And a big test it will be. Gonzalez is the perfect fighting machine: He possesses a tremendous skill set, including blazing hand speed, elite power in both fists and the ability to throw a high volume of punches round after round. In his last fight, a hard-fought unanimous-decision victory over a tough McWilliams Arroyo, the Nicaraguan threw 1,132 total punches, according to CompuBox, connecting on 360 of them (32 percent).
But the big question is how many of those punches will Gonzalez be able to land against a masterful boxer like Cuadras, who moves beautifully around the ring. The Mexican’s ability to avoid taking shots could prove to be a major problem for Chocolatito. Although the Nicaraguan won his last fight handily against Arroyo, his opponent’s elusive defense frustrated him.
“It was a very difficult fight,” Gonzalez said after he saw his streak of 10 straight fight stoppages come to an end. “Arroyo moves very well. He knows how to avoid the punches. I wanted to fight him, I wanted to roll him and catch him with counter punches, but it was difficult because he moved quite a bit.”
Gonzalez can expect the same from Cuadras, and the Mexican is a far better fighter than Arroyo. That being said, Cuadras failed to impress in his last fight, when he forced Richie Mepranum to retire on his stool after eight somewhat lackluster rounds from the champion. For most of that fight, Cuadras atypically fought flatfooted, showed only average hand speed and threw sloppy punches.
But there appears to have been a valid excuse for Cuadras’ underwhelming performance versus Mepranum. The Mexican weighed in two pounds under the 115-pound limit. Had that been a light heavyweight fight, two pounds would’ve been relatively nothing. But in the tiny weight divisions, two pounds is a tremendous amount, especially considering how little meat is on their frames to begin with. It is likely that Cuadras over-trained and was dehydrated.
A far more typical Cuadras performance came in his bout prior to that, when he went to Japan to defend his title against Koko Eto and dominated the fight on the challenger’s home turf. After weighing in at 114 ½ pounds, Cuadras displayed dazzling hand and foot speed, short and crisp combos and a powerful jab. On defense, Cuadras’ superb upper-body and head movement made it very hard for Eto to lay a glove on him.
Suffice it to say Cuadras will be in superb condition on Sept. 10 and won’t be standing flatfooted in front of Gonzalez. What makes the Mexican different from boxers who dance around the ring to avoid engaging is that Cuadras moves with purpose, trying to create new angles of attack.
One advantage Cuadras has is that he is the naturally bigger fighter, having boxed at junior bantamweight since the beginning of his career. At 5-foot-4, he’s also one inch taller than the Nicaraguan and has a two-inch reach advantage. Gonzalez, on the other hand, started his career at the minimum weight (105 pounds), moved up to light flyweight and then settled in at flyweight four years ago.
Yoshihiro Kamegai vs. Jesus Soto-Karass
In a co-featured fight that’s sure to get fans buzzing before the two champions step into the ring, high-octane fighters Yoshihiro Kamegai and Jesus Soto-Karass, who in April fought to a fast-and-furious draw in what some consider the Fight of the Year, will do it again in a much-anticipated rematch.
The Kamegai-Sotto Karass junior middleweight bout figures to be the proverbial barnburner. Neither fighter is considered a title challenger, but both represent the best in boxing as they always turn in high-octane, crowd-pleasing performances and leave everything in the ring. Expect them to come out throwing non-stop punches and to keep doing so as long as both are still standing.
Soto Karass (28-10-4, 18 KOs) has double-digit losses, but only because he’s been willing to take on the best boxers in the division, including Marcos Maidana, Devon Alexander, Andre Berto, Alfonso Gomez and Selcuk Aydin, among others.
In their first fight back in April, Soto Karass averaged a jaw-dropping 113 punches per round while Kamegai (26-3-2, 23 KOs) threw 75. And despite having unleashed enough shots to wear himself out, Soto Karass somehow threw 168 punches in the 10th round. “To be honest, I was surprised that I threw that many punches,” the 33-year-old Mexican says. “I’m towards the end of my career, but those kinds of numbers are encouraging.”
Neither boxer made much attempt at defense in the first fight -- the bout resembled a basketball game between two run-and-gun teams in which the squad with the most points at the buzzer wins. It was the type of fight in which the fans felt just as exhausted as the boxers just by watching them, and the rounds were so similar you might have thought the first round was played in an endless video loop. It was exciting, it was raw, it was non-stop action. And at the end, when it was declared a draw, you wanted to see a replay -- live, not on tape. And that’s why this rematch was made.