Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Eric Raskin
Even the pound-for-pound champ gets pounded a little himself sometimes. Throughout his rise to the top of the strawweight, junior flyweight, and flyweight divisions, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez has frequently looked to be the perfect fighting machine, a silky-smooth destroyer who makes folding another man in half look easy. But in claiming a title in a fourth weight class at the Forum in Inglewood, California on Saturday night, the Nicaraguan got all he could handle from defending junior bantamweight belt-holder Carlos Cuadras. Chocolatito’s record remained perfect, and his P4P claims remained valid, but his swollen eyes and puffy, purplish cheeks told you he had to work like hell for his unanimous decision win.
And his words did too: “This is the most difficult fight I’ve had,” Gonzalez (46-0, 38 KOs) said after it was over.
The ringside judges were all on point, reflecting a competitive fight but one in which the 29-year-old Gonzalez did enough to separate himself. Robert Hecko had it 115-113, Max DeLuca saw it 116-112, and Cathy Leonard scored the fight 117-111—perhaps a touch wide, but within the bounds of reason. Not since a majority decision over Francisco Rosas in 2009 had an opponent won more than four rounds on any card against Chocolatito. And, of course, most don’t get around to hearing cards read, as Gonzalez had won 10 of his previous 11 by knockout.
But the 28-year-old Cuadras was on a different level than most Gonzalez opponents, and he hinted at it in the very first round, when the Mexican jabbed and circled effectively and outworked Chocolatito 75-49 by CompuBox count. Over the next three rounds, Gonzalez ramped up the aggression and looked more like his usual self, overwhelming Cuadras in spots with punches in combination and relentless pressure.
Right at the bell to end the fourth, however, Cuadras seemed to wobble Gonzalez with a hook, and that marked the start of a subtle shift, as there was hardly an easy-to-score round the rest of the way. Gonzalez’s bodywork was magnificent, and he was picking off many of Cuadras’ wide punches with his gloves, but quite a few were slipping through and marking him up. In round six, Cuadras opened a cut over Gonzalez’s right eye, and by the seventh, Chocolatito’s left eye was swelling from underneath. The boisterous crowd of 6,714 rained a few boos upon Cuadras for moving too much in the eighth, but that quickly gave way to the more familiar cheers for elite-level action.
Cuadras suffered a cut over his right eye in the eighth—from a clash of heads—and Gonzalez stunned him with a left hook in the ninth. But Cuadras (35-1-1, 27 KOs) had more in the tank over the final three rounds. He hurt Chocolatito with a series of body shots in the final seconds of the 11th, and as the determined diminutive warriors swapped punches through the final bell, Gonzalez appeared the more thankful of the two that it was over.
The CompuBox stats favored Gonzalez, who out-threw Cuadras in 11 of the 12 rounds and out-landed him in nine of them. Gonzalez finished 322-of-983, while Cuadras nipped at his heels posting a line of 257-of-889.
Is this hard work a sign of things to come in Gonzalez’s new weight class? Or just an indication that Cuadras is no joke? Given the entertainment value of these 36 minutes of action, a rematch would be welcomed. But the potential dream fight in the division is Gonzalez vs. Japan’s unbeaten Naoya Inoue, who was ringside at the Forum scouting his hypothetical rival. “With pleasure, it would be a blessing to fight him,” Gonzalez said when asked about Inoue. Looking at Chocolatito’s overinflated, uneven visage, it’s hard to understand the “pleasure” or “blessing” for him in another tough scrap. For fight fans, however, the pleasure and blessings would undoubtedly be abundant.
The HBO broadcast opened with Yoshihiro Kamegai and Jesus Soto Karass returning to the ring after their April junior middleweight slugfest ended in a 10-round draw. Five months later, we got a repeat of the slugging, but not of the too-close-to-call element. The fresher Kamegai dominated the weary-looking 34-year-old Mexican veteran, earning a stoppage when Soto Karass’ corner mercifully surrendered after round eight. The 33-year-old Kamegai (27-3-2, 24 KOs) hurt Soto Karass with a left to the body midway into the opening round, and body shots remained his primary weapon throughout the fight. The slow-fisted Soto Karass (28-11-4, 18 KOs) never got on track, and the Japanese banger’s body work produced a knockdown in the eighth—which was apparently the last bit of evidence Soto Karass’ corner needed to see to take the decision out of referee Jack Reiss’ hands.