By Francisco Salazar
Joet Gonzalez has quietly put together an unbeaten record while fighting in co-featured televised bouts and in preliminary action on fight cards in Las Vegas.
Gonzalez has patiently waited for his opportunity to not only fight in a main event, but to make a statement to the featherweight division.
The unbeaten Gonzalez could have fought a journeyman fighter to pad his record, but he, along with his promotional and management team, signed off on fighting a fringe contender who has only lost once as a pro.
Gonzalez will face Rafael Rivera tonight at The Novo at L.A. Live in Downtown Los Angeles. The 10 round bout will headline a live 'Golden Boy Boxing on ESPN' telecast (7 p.m. ET/ 4 p.m. PT).
Gonzalez (19-0, 11 knockouts), who resides in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendora and trains in nearby Azusa, last fought on Mar. 22, knocking out Rolando Magbanua in round five in Indio, California. Gonzalez has displayed more aggression and power in recent fights, having knocked out his last five opponents.
The combination of facing tough sparring in recent months and the hopes of landing a main event slot on national television are likely reasons he has displayed power and confidence over the last year or so.
"I've sparred Oscar Valdez, Mikey Garcia, (Vasiliy) Lomachenko, and Leo Santa Cruz over the last year or so," Gonzalez told BoxingScene.com in a recent phone interview. "It's straight business with all of them. I handle my own (in the ring). They like the sparring. I'm the smallest guy out of all the sparring partners."
The 24-year-old Gonzalez faces a fight in Rivera who fought and lost to Joseph 'JoJo' Diaz in his last bout on Sept. 16 in Las Vegas. Rivera does have victories over modest opposition that should provide a stern test for Gonzalez.
"Rivera is a tough fighter and he's coming to win," said Gonzalez, who fights under the Golden Boy Promotions banner. "This is a big step for me, but a bigger step could be waiting for me after this fight. I have to show what I'm made of in this fight."
Manager Frank Espinoza agrees.
"Joet has really improved with each fight and the time has come to see where he is at as a prizefighter," Espinoza told BoxingScene. "He's facing a fighter in Rivera, who faced 'JoJo' Diaz and gave him a tough fight. Joet has all the tools to be a contender and he knows what he has to do to make that happen. He can blossom to become that special fighter."
Gonzalez has waited for his turn while other Golden Boy fighters, such as Ryan Garcia, have enjoyed headlining fight cards or have gotten a significant push from the promotional company.
"There are times I wish I was moved quicker, but I've always been patient and stayed quiet. Seeing some fighters that are ahead of me didn't get ahead of me, but I never get ahead of myself. Frank (Espinoza) and Golden Boy know that I'll fight anybody."
That mindset of fighting anybody could be the motivation to one day become a legit contender, but it is his family and friends that give him that mental push. His younger brother Jousce also fights and they maintain a close relationship outside the ring.
Gonzalez is also motivated by the younger fighters who he trains alongside most days in the Azusa gym.
"My family pushes me. I do this for myself and them. But I want to continue being a role model for the young kids who train at the gym with me. They look to me, and I have to show that through hard work, they could reach their goals."
"I'm still improving and getting better. I know that the more I fight, I'll be facing better opponents. But I've been a pro since 2012 and I'm finally getting my opportunity to headline a fight card. And it's on ESPN. I'm really excited about this."
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing