Joet Gonzalez lived up to his pre-fight promise of delivering a far better performance than when last seen in the ring.

It required an 11-month wait and a fight cancellation, but the former title challenger delivered arguably the best performance of his career in a dominant 10-round win over Miguel Marriaga. Judges Lisa Giampa scored the contest 97-93 while Dave Moretti Steve Weisfeld scored the bout 99-91 in favor of Gonzalez in their ESPN+ streamed chief support Saturday evening from The Bubble in Las Vegas.

“It was what I expected. He was a tough guy,” Gonzalez told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel after his latest win. “He’s been in there with three world champions. He tried to make a last run for it, so I expected the best Marriaga because he knows his time was cut short. I expected the best Marriaga, and he put up a good fight.”

Both boxers entered on the heels of extended layoffs and wading through canceled fights following full training camps. Gonzalez was due to have fought on March 19, only for the event to be canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

The same global health crisis ruined plans for Marriaga’s fourth career title fight, as his March 14 clash with then-unbeaten featherweight titlistShakur Stevenson was canceled during fight week. Efforts to get him back in the ring this past July fell apart at the pre-fight weigh-in one day prior, when Mark John Yap showed up more than nine pounds above the limit.

Entering his first fight following a third training camp, Marriaga worked his jab to start the fight and serving as by far the busier of the two boxers. Gonzalez fought behind a tight guard, picking off most of the incoming as was the case in a furiously paced round two. Marriaga let his hands go, though it was Gonzalez who landed the best punch of the frame with a right hand finding its mark and pushing back the veteran Colombian contender in the final minute.

Gonzalez was urged by his father and head trainer to pick up the pace, which he attempted at the start of round three. The Los Angeles native scored with a right hand over the high guard of Marriaga, who responded with a right of his own and left hooks though not always finding their mark. Gonzalez briefly stunned Marriaga with a crisp right hand upstairs late in the round, moving out of harm’s way soon thereafter in causing his foe to reach with his punches.

Round four saw Marriaga double and triple up on his jab, as both boxers looked to work their body attack. Gonzalez took the fight upstairs, rocking Marriaga with a straight right and later on with a combination. Marriaga came back with a left hook to the body late in the round, with Gonzalez responding with a double left hook downstairs and a right hand blaring through his opponent’s widening guard.

The bout never changed momentum from that point onward. Gonzalez continued to come forward, pushing through a rapidly swelling left eye to consistently land the heavier blows. Marriaga failed to make any necessary defensive adjustments, which was vehemently expressed by his corner in between rounds along with instructing the three-time title challenger to begin working towards a knockout. 

The pep talk seemed to stick at least for the moment, as Marriaga offered more angles in momentarily providing an elusive target for Gonzalez in round seven. Marriaga utilized lateral movement, which Gonzalez eventually solved in dialing in with his potent right hand.

Gonzalez resumed full control in a dominant round eight which had Marriaga’s entire corner concerned for his health heading into the final stretch of the bout. The veteran contender—who turns 34 on Halloween—made it to the finish line, though it calls into question what he can any longer provide on this level. Gonzalez nearly had him out on his feet, scoring in combination in the final minute of the contest but had to settle for a lopsided points win in lieu of a stoppage victory.

It was every bit as dominant as Gonzalez landed more (177 to 108), threw more punches (466 to 357) and connected at a higher percentage (38% to 30%) according to Compubox. With it, Gonzalez picks up his first win since last summer, which put him in line for a shot at a vacant featherweight title fight. That opportunity led to his lone career defeat, laying an egg versus Stevenson in their pairing of unbeaten contenders last October.

Saturday’s victory now puts Gonzalez (24-1, 14KOs) in line for a shot at the winner of the upcoming vacant title fight between former 122-pound titlist Emanuel Navarrete (32-1, 28KOs) and unbeaten contender Ruben Villa (18-0, 5KOs), which takes place October 9 in this very venue.

“This puts me back in the position I want to be,” insists Gonzalez. “I wanted to be back in with tough guys. I told my manager, Frank Espinoza, and my team at Golden Boy that I didn’t want no tune-up fights. I wanted to show people that I could compete with the top guys and be in with heavy hitters and boxers and compete for another title real soon.”

Marriaga was hoping to move towards a fourth career title fight, one which was due to him this past March versus Stevenson. Instead, he suffers his first career non-title defeat in falling to 29-4 (25KOs). His three previous defeats all came on the title stage, dropping 12-round decisions to Nicholas Walters and Oscar Valdez while suffering a stoppage loss to Vasiliy Lomachenko in August 2017.

The back-to-back defeats to Valdez and Lomachenko saw changes made in Marriaga’s career, rolling to a four-fight win streak which came to a close on Saturday.

The bout served as the chief support to a 10-round welterweight clash between Lithuania’s two-time Olympian and former welterweight title challenger Egidijus Kavaliauskas (21-1-1, 17KOs) faces Quebec’s Mikael Zewski (34-1, 23KOs).

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox