By Jake Donovan
No death report is ever good news, but the boxing industry was dealt a heavy blow over the weekend when it learned of the passing of Julio Cesar Gonzalez.
The former lineal light heavyweight king was 35-years old at the time of his death, which occurred when he was struck by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle in his Guerrero, Mexico hometown. He is survived by his wife and their two sons.
Enjoying privacy in a secluded area came with its setbacks. News of Gonzalez’ death didn’t reach the mainstream press until nearly a day later, when revealed on the Twitter feed of close friend and current welterweight contender Alfonso Gomez.
According to various reports, Gonzalez was on his way from working on his ranch when he was struck by an oncoming vehicle. Among the informal announcements was the revelation that medical help took nearly 1½ hours to arrive to the scene of the accident.
Those closest to Gonzalez knew him as a fun-loving family man who always had time for his fans and friends, which made for a lot of time considering everyone was his friend.
“When I started Goossen he was one of my first fighters,” informed publicist Rachel Charles, who remained close with the amicable Mexican even after no longer working directly with him. "He was a really good guy - funny, friendly and always had time to stop for a photo op with a fan or sign an autograph. He was a gem – he really was.”
In the ring, Gonzalez left behind a mark of 41-8 (25KO). His career as a whole varies depending on the viewpoint. Some believed him to be underrated as a fighter, skilled enough to have served on Mexico’s 1996 Olympic boxing squad but overshadowed by his action fights as a pro.
Those who saw him as a limited pro fighter (due to his action-first style) also recognize him as an overachiever, becoming the first-ever Mexican fighter to capture the light heavyweight crown. The feat came on the road, preventing history in the process.
Dariusz Michalczewski was 48-0, on the verge of breaking Bob Foster’s record for most successful lineal 175 lb. title defenses as well as approaching Joe Louis’ mark for most consecutive successful defenses of any time, having turned back the challenge of 23 straight contenders prior to Oct. ’03.
Gonzalez was two years removed from his lone loss, a humiliating near-shutout loss to Roy Jones in Los Angeles, an hour from Gonzalez’ adopted hometown of Huntington Beach, CA. He was half a world away from any place he ever called home, but had his way with Michalczewski to take a well-earned decision and the lineal crown in their Oct, ’03 bout in Hamburg, Germany.
His stay at the top was short-lived, dropping a lopsided decision to unbeaten Zsolt Erdei in his very next fight just three months later, which also took place in Germany.
The fight that officially put Gonzalez on the map as one to watch was his ESPN2-televised instant classic with Julian Letterlough in Feb. ’01. Gonzalez was floored three times, but came back to score two of his own for a thrilling unanimous decision win that put him in position to challenge Jones later in the year.
Gonzalez’ brief run as light heavyweight king served as the pinnacle of his career, with the remaining seven years producing some memorable moments and some tough ones as well. Wins over David Telesco and Montell Griffin helped put him back in the title picture, but twice came up short against Clinton Woods in separate alphabet belt challenges.
The rematch loss to Woods in Sept. ’07 was the start of a five-fight losing streak to end his career in 2011. Included among the lot was the lone stoppage loss in 14 years as a pro, as Tavoris Cloud turned a competitive fight into a sight for sore eyes in stopping Gonzalez in the 10th round of their Aug. ’08 title eliminator, which aired live on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights.
Regardless of the end-of-night result in any given fight, at no point in his career was Gonzalez ever accused of shortchanging his fans. His fights were also must-see, whether if for the light heavyweight championship or an eight-round time filler as he always left it all in the ring.
Few if any in or out of the industry ever had a bad word to say about Gonzalez, sadly the latest in a trend of good people being removed from an industry always in need of a touch of class.
“Boxing has lost some great guys lately, most recently Angelo Dundee,” points out Rachel Charles, referencing the recent passing of the famed trainer and boxing ambassador. “I can see Angelo now, saying "Come with me kid I'll show you the ropes.’
“We have to keep Julio’s wife and kids in our hearts and remember him for the champ he was.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]