by Cliff Rold
Both men know what it’s like to be called a world champion. Only one knows what it feels like to get paid for it.
Saturday night, on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin-Dominic Wade (HBO, 10 PM EST/7 PM PST), 2008 Olympian and 2009 world amateur flyweight champion McWilliams Arroyo has the second title opportunity of his professional career. He’ll only have to knock off the man many think might be the best fighter in any weight class today.
Anything can happen in boxing, but Golovkin-Wade feels like a foregone conclusion. This one does not. Arroyo has got a shot.
Of his three outings through HBO so far, this could end up being Gonzalez’s toughest assignment. Arroyo had tricky Thai titlist Amnat Ruenroeng (IBF) on the deck in 2014 before fading down the stretch to lose a debatable (but reasonable) split decision. The challenger can punch, he can box, and he’s never going to get a better stage.
How real are his chances?
Let’s go the report card.
Title: Lineal/TBRB/Ring/WBC World Flyweight (2014-Present, 3 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBA Minimumwieght (2008-10, 3 Defenses); WBA Light Flyweight (2011-13, 5 Defenses)
Weight: 111 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Managua, Nicaragua?
Record: 44-0, 38 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 13-0, 9 KO (14-0, 10 KO including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 8 (Yutaka Niida TKO4; Katsunari Takayama UD12; Ramon Garcia KO4; Juan Francisco Estrada UD12; Francisco Rodriguez Jr. TKO7; Akira Yaegashi TKO9; Edgar Sosa TKO2; Brian Viloria TKO9)
Title/Previous Titles: None
Weight: 111 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Fajardo, Puerto Rico
Record: 16-2, 14 KO
Rankings: #6 (BoxingScene), #8 (TBRB, Ring)
Record in Title Fights: 0-1
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 1 (Amnat Ruenroeng L12)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Gonzalez B; Arroyo B
Pre-Fight: Power – Gonzalez A; Arroyo A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Gonzalez B+; Arroyo B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Gonzalez A; Arroyo B
One can argue that Arroyo brings some of the same threat to the table for Gonzalez that Juan Francisco Estrada did in 2012, if more in the nature of the fight than the styles.
The more public pressure, as it was then, is on Gonzalez. Arroyo is fairly well known, if more by name, than most flyweights in the US market. He’s fought on television quite a few times here and his brother, McJoe, won a title at 115 on Showtime last year. Arroyo has never been a champion, has talent, and unlike some of the names Gonzalez has racked up thus far at flyweight, he has less miles on him.
To Gonzalez’s credit, this is the third consecutive legitimate top ten opponent he’s faced in his class. Look at a sampling of press-based ratings (TBRB, Ring, ESPN) or even at BoxRec. There aren’t that many fighters who can say that among the titled upper echelon. Is Gonzalez letting some of his new fame get to him? Pictures of the fighter a few months out showed a man who was enjoying his time off and he cut off a press meet earlier this week to stay focused on making weight.
Fighters struggling with weight can be in danger against serious punchers, especially early in a fight. Arroyo can definitely punch. He had Ruenroeng in trouble and his longest win since a distance contest in March 2012 made it only to the seventh.
That could work for and against Arroyo. Plagued by inactivity, Arroyo has fought only once in the 18 months since the Ruenroeng fight. Three full contact rounds are all he has on the docket since. Gonzalez has fought four times since then. Shaking off rust against Gonzalez is a risky proposition.
In terms of strengths, Arroyo has more than power. Both he and Gonzalez are quick handed but speed isn’t the central attribute of either. Arroyo is a good body puncher with steady feet and a stiff, straight jab. That jab will be a key as Gonzalez comes forward and Arroyo fights, and stands, a little taller than the champion. He sometimes can get caught looping his right hand but he puts good leverage into his shots. More methodical than Gonzalez, Arroyo picks his spots but gets off in combination when he finds an opening.
The guard of Arroyo is typically high and he picks off shots well. However, he also leaves himself open to the body and that’s an area Gonzalez will exploit. Gonzalez is as good a combination puncher as there is in boxing. He knows how to land and keep landing, mixing it up and turning opponents with his feet while he works. If he starts to find a rhythm, Arroyo will have to find a way to counter his output. Both men can be hit but Gonzalez has a way to making it look like he’s getting hit more than he is. Of the two, Arroyo is more like to be caught clean upstairs as fighters come through or around his guard.
Arroyo will also have to find air as the fight goes along (if it goes along). There was no mistaking his fade against Ruenroeng late. Yes, the oft-dirty tactics of Ruenroeng might have been a factor. That wasn’t all that happened. Ruenroeng is an underrated, calculated boxer when he wants to be and he had more gas in his tank down the stretch. Arroyo could find himself off to a good start but can he sustain it? Gonzalez can be the sort of fighter who gets better with each round, his landed blows having a multiplying effect.
Along with questions about his struggle to stay at flyweight, one can also wonder if Gonzalez might get caught looking ahead. There’s been lots of talk about tomorrows: an Estrada rematch, a move to 115, HBO main events, bigger purses. Being a good fighter is often not as hard as learning how to be a star. The fighters who can truly handle both have the chance to be great ones.
Gonzalez has the look of a potential great to many. He’s not there yet.
Arroyo is a serious challenger in a serious weight class. Few divisions have had the run flyweight has this decade and it’s not done yet. Whether Gonzalez sticks around the class long enough to finish his run at 112 lbs. remains to be seen. He should still be on track after Saturday. Arroyo is a good boxer and a good puncher but in looking for reasons he will win much turns to outside the ring issues. Inside the ring, he has been too often absent, not active enough over the course of his career, and collected too few rounds. Gonzalez is the more complete offensive fighter and appears better defensively. He’s also far more experienced as a professional.
Arroyo’s best chance is probably to catch Gonzalez early, slow his offense down, and then keep the fight at his pace. It’s easier said than done. Gonzalez has struggled to make weight in all three of his weight classes so far but he’s still young enough to be able to shake it off in the ring. The Nicaraguan is the sort of fighter one doesn’t pick against until someone proves it’s worth the bet. The pick here is Gonzalez with a second half stoppage in a crowd-pleasing affair.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2016: 13-5
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]