By Francisco Salazar
Finally. The day boxing fans in the United States have been waiting for.
May 16 is the day Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez will be fighting on network television.
No more trying to get a stream whenever he fights in Japan or his native Nicaragua. No more waiting for someone to upload a recent fight on YouTube.
Gonzalez will make his long-awaited network debut tonight when he fights Edgar Sosa in a 12 round bout at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The bout, which will precede the Gennady Golovkin-Willie Monroe, Jr. fight, will air live on HBO, beginning at 10 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. PT.
Gonzalez (42-0, 36 KOs) has become sort of a cult hero to boxing fans. While his fights have drawn sellout crowds in Nicaragua, Mexica, and Japan (he is promoted by Teiken Promotions), his appeal to boxing fans in the United States has been equal, if not higher.
While fighting on HBO will be a first, fighting in the Los Angeles area is not unfamiliar to him. He fought twice in Southern California in 2012, stopping Raul Hirales in the fourth round in Pomona and winning a thrilling 12 round bout against Juan Francisco Estrada.
“That was a special day fighting in front of a lot of Nicaraguans,” said Gonzalez in a recent interview with a small pool of boxing writers. “It was almost like fighting at home. I enjoy fighting here. I would like to fight here often so people would recognize me here just like they recognize me in Japan.”
That could become a reality should Gonzalez look impressive tonight against Sosa, a former junior flyweight world title holder. Sosa has won his last two bouts in a row, but some in boxing wonder if the Mexican fighter, at the age of 35, can withstand 12 round against one of the best fighters in boxing, let along win.
Gonzalez is not underestimating his opponent.
“He is a good fighter. I've known him for a long time. We sparred years ago. For me, there is no opponent to small. He throws good combinations. I think we will give the boxing fans a very good fight.”
Despite the success Gonzalez has had, he remains extremely humble. He still resides with his parents in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, but still pays homage to the fighters who put the country on the map.
One of those fighters is Alexis Arguello. The former world champion has achieved God-like status in the country, even working in the corner of Gonzalez before his death in July of 2009.
It was even Arguello who gave Gonzalez the nickname most boxing fans refer to him today.
“My father boxed and he was known as ‘Chocolate’. When he retired, Arguello would call him ‘Chocolate Viejo’ (old chocolate), but he would refer to me as ‘Chocolatito’ (small chocolate). My father was the one who taught me about boxing, but it was Alexis Arguello who taught me crosses, hooks, and how and when to set up my combinations. Anytime I’m in the ring, I always hear his voice.”
“I don't consider myself to be famous. People compare me to Arguello, but I don't believe that. He's number one. I'm trying to create my own path. There have been great champions like (Luis) Perez & (Rosendo) Alvarez.”
Should he defeat Sosa, there are plenty of options for Gonzalez later this year and next year. One fight is a possible rematch against Juan Francisco Estrada, something boxing fans and those that cover the sport have asked for.
“It is whenever my handlers or the handlers of Estrada would want to make that fight happen. It's whenever God decides is the right time and we want to take advantage of that opportunity.”
“But I do want unification bouts. The Thai fighter (IBF flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng). Even fights against Brian Viloria or (Naoya) Inoue.”
With so many potential fights on the horizon, Gonzalez is leading the way for the smaller weights to receive more credibility and attention in the sport. Even HBO has gotten into the act as they will broadcast a flyweight bout for the first time in over 20 years.
While Gonzalez gives credit to his father and Arguello, he cannot forget a high power who gave him the tools to be the fighter today.
“God has given me the strength. I've trained hard for this fight, but God has given me this opportunity. It's the door to many opportunities down the line for me.
“We have trained harder because greater challenges await. I love boxing and there are greater responsibilities within the sport. I don't let success get to me. I do the best I can.”
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 (CA) Star newspaper, RingTV, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing