A strong second half surge by Jonathan ‘Bomba’ Gonzalez was enough to spare Puerto Rico the feeling of being left without a single male boxer to hold a major title.
The Caguas, Puerto Rico-based southpaw turned away the challenge of Philippines’ Mark Anthony Barriga, claiming a twelve-round, unanimous decision in defense of his WBO junior flyweight title. Judges Rose M Lacend (115-113), Efrain Lebron (117-111) and Alex Levin (117-111) all scored in favor of the reigning champ in the ProBox TV main event Friday evening from Osceola Heritage Park (OHP) in Kissimmee, Florida.
Gonzalez returned to his adopted home in Central Florida more than eight months after an upset win over Elwin Soto to claim the WBO title last October in Fresno, California. The title defense marked his fourth appearance at OHP, where he was the clear crowd favorite among the rabid Boricua base.
Both fighters tasted the power of the other in the opening round. Gonzalez connected with a long left hand but walked directly into a counter right hook from Barriga. Gonzalez shook off the sequence and looked to impose his will as the bigger man, claiming to replenish up to junior lightweight after the weigh-in. Barriga showed stellar punch resistance, absorbing the incoming to outwork the defending titlist.
Barriga came out behind a high and tight guard to begin round two, coming forward as Gonzalez looked to use angles. Gonzalez sat down on his punches more, shooting his right jab and following with left hands to the body and right hooks wherever he could find an opening.
Time was called early in round three, as Gonzalez absorbed a very low blow. The sequence was unavoidable by Barriga, who was attempting a body shot. The Boricua southpaw pulled down on the back of Barriga’s head, changing the trajectory of the punch. Gonzalez resumed action after spending three minutes recovering, though he was also forced to contend with swelling around his right eye.
Barriga pumped a triple jab to begin round four. Gonzalez quickly adjusted, connecting with a jab but missing with an ensuing left hand. Gonzalez got away with holding behind the back of Barriga’s head despite the incident taking place directly in front of referee Samuel Burgos.
Barriga spent the rest of the round playing defense and making Gonzalez miss. A similar strategy was employed in round five, though Gonzalez managed to slow down the tempo enough to impose his will at his pace.
Time was called prior to the start of round six, as the ringside physician examined Gonzalez’s right eye. The bout was permitted to continue, with both southpaws looking to re-establish their jab. Barriga got the drop on Gonzalez, connecting with an uppercut and following with a straight left hand. Gonzalez shoved a jab in Barriga’s face in the final ten seconds, which Barriga walked through to connect with a counter left.
Gonzalez jumped out to a quick start in round seven, though action quickly slowed. Barriga spent a good portion of the round with his back against the ropes, but Gonzalez often overcommitted on his looping power punches.
Both boxers were warned for frequent clinches in round eight. Gonzalez adjusted his attack, offering more movement and angles to disallow Barriga from planting his feet and landing check right hooks. The jab was once again working for Gonzalez, who was able to keep the action at his distance and pace for the first time in the fight.
Gonzalez resumed control of the action in round nine, though in a frame where he had to wade through several low blows. Barriga landed two in a row below the belt at one point, with Gonzalez turning away in pain but instructed by the referee—who missed the fouls—to continue fighting. The Boricua obliged, pumping his jab and frustrating Barriga to the point of forcing him to frequently hold.
The wheels began to fall off for Barriga, who was wild and unsettled in round ten. Gonzalez worked his way inside through a steady jab and used slick footwork to immediately avoid the incoming.
Round eleven saw both boxers commit more to their punches, perhaps to a fault. Barriga was missing wildly with his power shots, while Gonzalez was willing to sacrifice offense for the sake of controlling the action through slick footwork.
Barriga showed signs of fatigue entering the twelfth and final round. Gonzalez boasted the superior engine, fighting through a swollen right eye and cut atop his left cheekbone to thoroughly outwork Barriga down the stretch. The visiting Filipino challenger was too spent to counter, instead holding whenever Gonzalez let his hands go. Gonzalez consistently scored with classic one-twos, which Barriga took well but was unable to offer a response.
The late fade by Barriga resulted in his second title defeat, falling to 11-2 (2KOs). The setback ends a modest two-fight win streak for the 29-year-old Filipino, whose lone other defeat came in a 12-round split decision to Carlos Licona in their December 2018 vacant IBF strawweight title fight.
Puerto Rico can breathe a sigh of relief as Gonzalez remains the island’s lone male titleholder. The win advances his record to 26-3-1 (14KOs), winning his fourth in a row and retaining his WBO junior flyweight title that he will likely next defend in November.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox