Roman Gonzalez spoke with his usual humble determination prior to his meeting Saturday night with former pound-for-pounder Brian Viloria but once the bell rang to signal the beginning of the action, that cloak of humility fell away and this three-weight belt-holder and he was swathed instead in the lethal robes of an aspiring great. Viloria, an excellent fighter in his own right, had no chance.
Still, he started directly while Gonzalez took his customary look, and wonderfully lit upon the fight plan I wrote would serve him best in previewing the fight earlier this week, a direct battle-plan forged on an aggressive platform. It brought him the first round and perhaps the second in which he looked faster, busier and in the form of a double left-hook to body and head to punctuate the round, a fighter with a pet punch designed to do a job.
In the third though, Gonzalez found him.
This is the great problem with facing Gonzalez. Like an earlier great punching technician, Joe Louis, once Gonzalez has found you he has found you for all time. There is no escape. Gonzalez announced his acquisition of Viloria with a sublime counter-right hand early in the third, flashing Viloria who was only mildly hurt but now under the microscope of one of the best ring scientists of this century.
What this means in practical terms is that Viloria was now the subject of the best combination punching in boxing today. He recovered from the knockdown, the cause of which was a right-hand that covered perhaps as much as five inches, but was now to spend the remaining rounds having his fighting retreat cut off with gathering footwork that is as good as any I have ever seen.
Viloria, having taken note of the terrifying head of steam Gonzalez builds up against retreating opponents, did the right thing and stayed in the pocket and the fight in round four, boxing in straight lines but looking to step off it and land a left hook to the body when possible. Gonzalez, for his part, just began the grim work of beating Viloria back, of breaking him; a fighter that breaks ground against Gonzalez is a beaten fighter. Viloria landed a good right hand on Gonzalez to break the chase but what isn’t said often enough about Gonzalez is that his chin is granite; his heart is wrought iron – his toughness, forged on the streets of his youth, is indomitable. Viloria, a power-puncher who has never been stopped, did not, at any time, trouble him excessively.
Perfectly balanced, Gonzalez was now moving around his man, stepping left and right to find gaps for his punches, which were savage. Viloria is world-class; Gonzalez added this layer of mobility in the pocket specifically to foster confusion and it worked. Body punches slowly eroded the Viloria guard; menace and pressure on the front foot sent him scurrying against his will. Superb technical protection did not serve the Hawaiian as Gonzalez found his way through and around it with great ease.
By the seventh, the fight had taken on the feel of a spar between a great champion and his chief training partner. A booming right hand at 2:10 of that round and a surging, hellacious attack behind it first made me wonder about, perhaps, if it were not time to rescue the proud Viloria, but he came back, like the champion he is, swallowing the double-left uppercut Gonzalez fed him like he was nothing, eating the lead rights behind which Gonzalez threw svelte combinations that come close to running into the double digits.
He throws that lead right with about as much nonchalance as anyone, ever. It’s not just the punch but the ones that follow it that truly terrify, and the fact that he always has shot two welded to shot one makes the occasional miss of small consequence.
He is a monster.
Pushed back to the ropes and beaten up in earnest in the eighth, Viloria’s face was beginning to take on the shine of the thrashed at the beginning of the ninth and the Madison Square Garden, which had booed action rounds earlier in the card but were consistently roused by Gonzalez and his best work, seemed to sense this.
Viloria, like the wild thing from the poem, never spent a moment feeling sorry for himself. He was frozen solid on the bough of the Gonzalez attack but he never stopped trying and he should be proud of his performance.
There were two opportunities for the referee to stop the fight as Gonzalez finally broke his man and drove his enemy before him; the moment the referee stepped in, they were enemies no more, and Gonzalez embraced Viloria, spoke to him softly.
Some have fostered other names deserving consideration as the best in the world. Let me just say: No.
We have a pound-for-pound #1, a man and fighter we can be proud of. The things he does well, he does as well as any fighter has ever done and the things he does badly…
…I’ll get back to you on that.