Chocolatito Ready To Go Through Hell To Reclaim Title

Prior to his last bout in March he was undefeated, closing in on Floyd Mayweather’s record and was ranked no lower than number two on most pound-for-pound lists of the best fighters in boxing. Yes, the four division title winner Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez 46-1 (38) was on a roll defending his title in a co-main event alongside middleweight champ Gennady Golovkin.

Prior to fighting Srisaket Sor Rungvisai 43-4-1 (39), Gonzalez was beginning to escape the shadow of the two fighters who sucked the air out of boxing circa 2009-2016 – Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. And because their fight in May of 2015 was a monumental letdown, boxing fans smartly started looking at other notable fighters to watch with Gonzalez leading the charge. Prior to fighting Rungvisai, who few had seen fight before, most thought Gonzalez would win and begin getting star treatment as he was closing in on the record then shared by Mayweather and Rocky Marciano.

The fight with Rungvisai, a southpaw who was naturally the bigger man, turned out to be a war. Gonzalez went down in the first round but didn’t appear rattled. But as the bout progressed he found that Rungvisai was not only physically stronger and terribly awkward, but a con artist as well. Despite initiating the touching of gloves before the start of most rounds, Rungvisai proceeded to head butt and foul Gonzalez in a manner that would impress greats like Andre Ward and Bernard Hopkins and make them smile. Neither fighter ever really had a firm command of the fight but Gonzalez exhibited extreme boxing skill throughout. Even the knockdown wasn’t that big of a deal. It was partially a balance shot – it’s not like Gonzalez was even hurt. For a majority of the fight Gonzalez displayed better ring generalship with his transitioning from offense to defense, moving in and out of position to both defend and attack….reloading and landing two and three clean punches in succession.

In addition — aside from the “accidental on purpose” head butts from Rungvisai in round six, in an attempt to stabilize the tide Gonzalez made him miss quite a bit and parried and blocked many of his shots with his arms, before getting head butted again to disrupt his momentum. Yes, Rungvisai landed some nice body shots during the fight but they were usually met with crisp clean counters by Gonzalez who had success working both the head and body. There were patches in which Rungvisai was the aggressor and moving Gonzalez back, but what the judges missed was how Gonzalez was leading him to do that so he could set him up for his counter assault, while catching him flush on the way in. Gonzalez’s blend of aggression and countering, once he found how strong Rungvisai was, worked nicely with only a few bumps here and there.

I thought Gonzalez clearly won and was a little stunned when the decision was read. Two of the judges saw it 114-112 in favor of Rungvisai and the third had it 113-113. Watching it live as it unfolded I saw it 114-112 Gonzalez. In fact, I was so annoyed by the decision I did something I don’t usually do….and that was watch the fight again. I govern myself by the creed that judges only get one shot to score a fight and that’s it and my only score that counts is the one watching the fight live. But I wanted to see if I saw the same fight watching the replay, and to my surprise I saw the same fight only Chocolatito looked even better from a boxing purist perspective.

Going into the rematch this weekend, Gonzalez is in a tough spot regarding his preparation because he thought he won the first meeting. Because the judges didn’t see it that way, in his mind he needs to do even more this time…but he just can’t over-think it and go too far away from what he does best. Now he knows that Rungvisai is stronger and also takes a good punch, so barring a stoppage on cuts the fight will more than likely go the distance again. So he can’t wear himself out trying to get Rungvisai out of there.

Gonzalez also knows that Rungvisai is going to bring the fight directly to him and look to beat him down. Roman had no trouble finding and hitting Rungvisai the last time, but he now knows he probably wasted too much energy trying to stop him. Chocolatito is a volume puncher who usually pushes the action, but this time he can use his Thai opponent to do most of the work for him….and by that I mean instead of trying to force Rungvisai back, Gonzalez needs to hold his ground and half-step back and ram him with straight shots as he moves in.

Against most opponents Gonzalez isn’t terribly effective going back, but Rungvisai fights with such a bully mentality that he’ll still be there to hit after Gonzalez touches him. During the last third of the first bout Gonzalez was beautiful in how he pivoted with his feet, after scoring with his jab and right cross, and he hooked to Rungvisai’s body and head with well-placed shots……and the best part about doing that was that Gonzalez was out of position to be countered back.

Speaking with Ring, Gonzalez said Saturday’s fight is “the most important task in my life right now. I know this will be a hard fight but I am training like I have never before and with my new coaches and the supervision of Mr. Honda, I believe I will win this fight, God willing.”

Gonzalez’s long-time trainer Arnulfo Abando passed last year and he is now being trained by Sendai Tanaka (who once worked with Marco Antonio Barrera). That said, Gonzalez knows more than his corner does regarding what he’s in for against Rungvisai this weekend. And to beat him he’ll have to fight the smartest bout of his career, hope that he doesn’t get cut and cross his fingers the judges take note of his nuances during their infighting and clinches.

Unfortunately, Rungvisai is going to be the fighter most remember in regards to Gonzalez’s career due to their two high profile bouts. He needs to beat him and regain his title or he’ll be remembered most by the fighter he couldn’t beat instead of the 46 he did beat. That’s not necessarily fair but that’s how boxing goes.

Since I thought Gonzalez won the first fight and there’s no chance he can be caught by surprise this time, I have to go with him to win a hard-fought decision in the rematch. But it’s not a strong lean and there is no doubt he’s hit the wall and it’s just not conceivable he can move up in weight again and win a title. I expect many close calls this Saturday and Gonzalez will have to go through hell to win but I think he’s special enough to do it.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland

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