Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez is one of the greatest fighters in the squared circle today not named Floyd Mayweather. Gonzalez has a perfect record of 42-0, with 36 knockouts. He's earned his pristine record not by walking through taxi-car drivers or running around the ring. He's fought tough opposition, the best there is at 112 pounds. He's come away with blow-out knockouts and hard-earned, action-packed scraps that have made him the hardcore fan's exciting little secret. But soon the larger boxing world will get a chance see a lot more of this soft-spoken fighter in his prime.
In 2014, I picked Gonzalez as the Fighter of the Year on The Hook Boxing show, a decision that did not happen without some debate. But the debate was partially motivated by the fact that not enough casual boxing fans, or even the more well-versed, have had the opportunity to watch Gonzalez. It's easier to pick Terence Crawford as Fighter of the Year because everyone who has HBO got to see him take Yuriorkis Gamboa apart in one of the most exciting fights of 2014. Well thanks to a new deal between Gonzalez — a native of Nicaragua — and HBO, many more boxing fans will soon be able to see how much excitement and skill can be crammed down into the flyweight division.
Gonzalez is a come-foward stalker with technique — a thinking brawler. His combination punching is furious and exciting. In many ways he's a meld of Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. He's fast and aggressive like the young Pacquiao but has Marquez's bigger tool box and ring smarts. Fans started to understand just how much thought Gonzalez puts into even his brutal beatdowns when he shared a psuedo-ring with Juan Manuel Marquez on the popular Spanish ESPN boxing show, Golpe a Golpe, where Gonzalez broke down the beating he handed Akira Yaegashi (one of the four knockout victories Gonzalez had in 2014!).
Gonzalez is a must-watch on his skill and excitement alone, but his demeanor provides curious onlookers with another reason to watch. As the biggest fight in recent boxing memory approaches, there are several who've cast the Mayweather vs Pacquiao matchup as good vs. evil. Hyperbole to be sure, but the marketing has roots in commonly held notions that Mayweather is an unsavory character. At least part of that character was developed by Mayweather after years of a humble Pretty Boy Floyd not getting his due (both in his mind and in fact) from fans and his promoter. He turned heel, and the big-boy checks started rolling in. Years later, people are calling for Mayweather to be less crass and more humble.
If you want a champion with elite skills, a fancy unbeaten record and a quiet persona outside of the ring, then Gonzalez needs to be on your to-watch list. The truth is that elite status seldom pairs with humbleness. Eliteness destroys humility, but not always. HBO is giving Chocolatito, the quiet scrapper, a venue to shine and to get wide exposure to the American boxing fan base, even though he does not speak English (yet).
On May 16, Gonzalez will get in the ring against Edgar Sosa, the number 4 ranked flyweight in the division (according to The Ring Magazine). Gonzalez knows that he's in the fight of his life, not because Sosa is favored in the fight, but because even though Gonzalez has a multi-fight deal with HBO he may only have one opportunity to impress on the channel's premier boxing series, World Championship Boxing. If he doesn't impress, he might end up on HBO Latino, the same way that Edwin Rodriguez did after he lost to Andre Ward back in 2013.
So for those of you looking to encourage champions to stay humble, then tune in to catch Gonzalez. It promises to be an exciting appetizer for another Gennady Golovkin destruction.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.